First of all, despite what the heading says I’m not Melanie. Instead allow me to introduce myself, my name is Alexander Crisp and I am the current intern at The Rifles Collection. As a part of my Masters degree course in Cultural Heritage and Resource Management (CHaRM) from the University of Winchester I am required to do a placement with a heritage organisation or other appropriate body for a total of 180 hours in order to allow me to gain some industry experience. With an already keen interest in military history (conflict archaeology is one my specialist fields having graduated in BA Archaeology from Winchester in 2014) The Rifles Collection offered me the perfect opportunity for a placement and luckily they were willing to have me. As such the first four weeks of my six that I have so far spent on my placement at the Rifles Collection have been a rather eclectic mixture of documenting, developing an educational plan and being able to attend various events both with and on behalf of the Collection.
One of the tasks that I have been set is developing an education program for the collection. As the regiment was formed in 2007 and the collection deals solely with the history of the current regiment as opposed to its antecedent regiments, the collection therefore does not fit within the framework of the Department for Education’s history curriculum. Instead the aim is to create a program aimed at Key Stages 3 and 4 based around citizenship as it is felt that The Rifles Collection, as a current and modern museum, can offer pupils an experience that they might not be able to gain elsewhere. One of the key means by which they will hopefully be able to interact with the collection is by looking at the way in which the modern British Army, and by extension The Rifles, contributes to British society and the role servicemen and women play in both civil and military life. The activities that they will potentially be set will aim to encourage critical thinking. For instance, one of the main areas that I have been focusing on is the notion of recruitment within the army, along with introducing ideas of propaganda and how this is used in recruitment posters to try and glamourize a life in the Army. From this a key area of debate for the pupils will focus on whether it is right to aim recruitment campaigns at such a young audience who might be more susceptible (for instance the current recruiting posters inspired by the Battlefield and Call of Duty video game franchises). In addition to creating an educational program for schools I have also been working on helping to put together short, 20 minute lectures for the Army Cadet Force (ACF) of which there are over 200 units that have an affiliation with The Rifles and wear the regimental cap badge. The aim of these presentation is that new recruits can, in a short, easy to digest lesson, learn about the traditions of their parent organisation and what it is that make The Rifles unique amongst the British Army.
One of the aims of the placement module is that I am able to gain experience with the documenting and recording side of working within a heritage body. As such I was given the chance to help with the cataloguing of the regimental newspaper archive. As an active regiment with links throughout the country The Rifles generates a huge amount of press coverage, especially with the reserve battalions (6 & 7 RIFLES) being a regular feature within the local newspapers such as the Exeter based Express and Echo. The process of cataloguing involves photographing each individual article, story or image, then recording the following types of information (the details are an example and not an actual article):
• Date: 27th August 2013
• Publication: Western Mail
• Title: City welcomes returning Afghan heroes
• Personnel mentioned: Rfn Smith, Sjt Jones
• Battalion: 6 Battalion
• Summary: Details the return of reserve personnel from a tour in Afghanistan.
While the task can be enjoyable, if laborious, it does sadly come with a more human element. The Rifles were formed in action as at the time of their foundation troops were deployed in Iraq, and since then the Rifles have, due its size, suffered the some of the highest casualty rates as a regiment from both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. As a result, a large number of articles were unfortunately either obituaries, tributes or stories relating to the legacy and memories of Riflemen who died as a result of injuries sustained whilst on operations. It is noticeable that since combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan drew down and ceased the amount of articles has dropped off as the regiment suffers fewer casualties and therefore fewer instances are needed to be reported within the media. Instead the stories often are about reservists on exercise overseas and about the charity fundraising efforts of members of the regiment.
Another form of documentation that I have had the chance to get to grips with is Modes, a cataloguing system that allows curatorial staff to create computer based databases which will help to provide an easy to access catalogue for the Collection, thus making it easier to understand what is in the collection. Unfortunately, I have at the time of writing this post not been as able to access the collection’s own system as the laptop that we were using in the collection store decided to stop working, in effect rendering the computer useless. Luckily for the collection the Modes database was backed up on another computer and the data was recoverable and Luckily for me, the system is also used by Horse Power; King’s Royal Hussars Museum downstairs. As such they were kind enough to allow myself, under the supervision of the Rifles Collection’s assistant curator Evie Collins, use of their system to input some of their catalogue on the system. The system is fairly intuitive and while there are a great number of options available on Modes when creating a new record form, once you get the hang of the system the different names of data types are reasonably self-explanatory. So far I’ve only really had the chance to have a brief go on the system but in the next two weeks I hope to have more of a chance to get used to the system, which is one of the most widely used in the heritage sector, thus setting me up for using it elsewhere (that said each museum and store has its own unique way of doing catalogue entry so no two recording styles will be the same).
In addition to these activities, on the 18th of October I was given the opportunity to attend the 2016 Army Museum Ogilby Trust (A.M.O.T.) Conference in the City of London with both Melanie and Evie. Held at the Mercer’s Hall near St Paul’s Cathedral, the conference was a meeting of the majority of army museums in the UK, including the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum, the Tank Museum and The York Army Museum. The conference had a more sombre tone, than I am told was the case in previous years, as it dealt in a large part with the ever looming spectre of museum closure. One of the most interesting talks was given a representative from the Museum’s Association on the ethics of museum closure and the aftermath. According to figures provided, since 2010 50 museums have closed within the United Kingdom and as cuts from both councils and the Ministry of Defence begin to impact ever more on the museum sector this number is likely to rise. An example that he made use of was the recent closure of all Lancashire County Council museums following a 93% cut in their museum spending (the remaining 7% is retained by the National Trust as LCC had to honour their agreed funding for Gawthorpe Hall). As a result of this the seven museums that had once come under the council’s ownership were closed and their collections put at risk. However the collections were, for the most part, saved as a group of now unemployed museum staff from the museums grouped together to form the Museum of Lancashire which will include both civil and military collections. Other interesting topics discussed included the impact on museums of Brexit in regards to changes in both EU and UK firearms legislation along with a more hopeful talk about the recent partnership between the museum of the Royal Fusiliers based in the Tower of London and the Scouts Association to tell the story of Roland Philips who was killed in action on the Somme and left a large house in London to the Scouts, thus endowing them with future funds for scouting activities. The conference provided a highly useful insight into the world of military museums, the particular issue sets that they face, along with the general state of the heritage and museum industry within the United Kingdom.
Another event that I was sent out to on behalf of the collection was the Hampshire Cultural Trust’s Big Theme Networking Event which was held at the Winchester Discovery Centre on the 26th of October. The event was set up by the Hampshire Cultural Trust (HCT) as a means of introducing interested bodies to the themes of various Big Themes that will be launched in Hampshire for the coming four years and to also allow representatives from the bodies to network and share ideas with other representatives. For those unaware of the Big Theme, each year there is across the board theme that is created by HCT with the aim that as many different museums and bodies in Hampshire may be able to join in with the overall branding and the opportunity to promote themselves that it offers. Of those present the type of organisation varied widely and included; Butser Ancient Farm, The National Trust, Burseldon Brickworks and HMS Warrior as well as various charities, youth organizations and industry specialists. The event which ran during the afternoon consisted of presentations along with networking workshops in which the attendees were given a theme of discussion, for example how to create events for future Big Themes which are:
2017 – Jane Austen 200
2018 – Creative Genius – looking at the various ways that Hampshire has contributed to science, art and culture.
2019 – Second World War
2020 – Diaspora (this is a working title) – focusing on the relationship with Hampshire being a gateway to the world with particular focus being on the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth.
As a result of the group discussions I was able to both help with suggestions to other bodies where they might be able to participate and on the part of the Collection come up with various ideas of ways and methods in which we might participate with the future themes which I have put forward to Melanie.
So to round up, my time so far with the Collection has been both enjoyable and also highly informative, allowing me an insight into the world and inner workings of a heritage organisation that are so often hidden from the public view. At times things have been slightly manic (the first week saw the office window crawling with flies and the temperature within the office does meant that one needs to wear a coat at all times, along with computers deciding to stop working). Despite these minor issues the people I have been working alongside have all been very friendly and have been readily willing to help offer useful constructive criticism that will help me to create better products at the end of my time with the Collection. Having come from a background of working as front of house staff at another museum, it has been really nice to be offered the chance to use my imagination and creativity to help put together something meaningful, and for that at the very least this placement has been a wonderful opportunity.