Category: Education

‘Bombshells and Bedbugs’: a despatch from the Morison Room

By , November 15, 2010 11:41 am

A ‘guest post’ by Hannah Haines of the Library’s Entrance Hall staff.

Robina Hodgson demonstrates a respirator

Robina Hodgson demonstrates a respirator

On Saturday 30th October, as part of the University’s Festival of Ideas, the UL hosted Robina Hodgson of the Imperial War Museum, who led a hands-on workshop, ‘Bombshells and Bedbugs’. Using a collection of objects from the museum to illustrate her lively discussion about life in the trenches during the Great War, Robina demonstrated how to cut barbed wire, how to improvise trench weapons, and how to keep warm on a bitter night in northern France (with the assistance of a goat-skin jerkin and a tot of rum). Although she spoke about some of the worst aspects of trench life – the smell created by decomposing bodies, trench toilets and petroleum tea – she wryly promised to ‘watch what she said about Officer poets’, and was keen to show that life for the British Tommy in the Great War wasn’t always the badly-managed, unrelenting hell described in the most famous of the war poems. She emphasised that humour was ever present in the direst of conditions, showing a rum jar stamped with S.R.D. — an abbreviated form of ‘Service Reserve Depot’ according to the army, but popularly interpreted as ‘Seldom Reaches Destination’ — and considering the horrors of having a teetotal Commanding Officer who would withhold rum rations from his men.

Robina Hodgson with a selection of First World War artefacts

Robina Hodgson with a selection of First World War artefacts

After the talk, encouraged by the selection of recruitment posters from the Library’s collection calling for them to ‘join in and do their bit’, visitors enthusiastically took the opportunity to examine the artefacts first hand. The Pickelhaube was particularly sought after, although those trying to squeeze into the jacket of the British uniform were disappointed to discover that shoulder width has increased substantially over the past century…. A very successful morning, and great to see library staff bringing their children along to join the activities and get involved in an event inspired by the Sassoon archive.

‘Bombshells and Bedbugs’ hands-on event

By , October 29, 2010 11:20 am

Blog readers, especially those with older children looking for a half-term activity, may be interested to know of event taking place in the Library tomorrow:

Saturday 30 October 2010, 11.00–12.30


Bombshells and Bedbugs

What was life like for a soldier in the Great War? Find out in this interactive workshop led by Robina Hodgson of the Imperial War Museum. Using a historical collection of uniforms, weapons, personal belongings and artwork from the IWM, Robina will describe the day-to-day life of conscript soldiers and officers in the trenches during the Great War. There will be the opportunity to handle artefacts such as uniforms and gas masks, and participants will be encouraged to think about how people record their experiences in letters, diaries and poetry, linking this to the ‘Dream Voices’ exhibition.

For children of 12 years and upwards, with accompanying adults.

Admission free, but pre-booking essential: telephone 01223 766766 from Monday 6 September.

This event is part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas: