This weekend as the winter sunshine beamed down on the poppy flooded gates of the Royal Engineers Museum in Gillingham, I was immediately immersed back into the 1940s at for their Wartime at Christmas display.
On the Sunday morning when I arrived about 10am, I was immediately greeted by a friendly receptionist who pointed me in the right direction and as I walked through the arch.
The room of poppies directly in front of me was utterly mesmerising.
Not knowing what to expect, it soon became clear that this wasn’t all light-hearted and fun. It served as a reminder for those soldiers who were at war at Christmas time and their forlorn families whose lives had been ripped apart by barbaric violence.
The one thing that immediately stood out to me was the fact that despite history’s discrepancies, they still wanted to show what it was like for the other side at Christmas.
Men and women alike were dressed up in German Army uniform, helping to explain how these people communicated back home whilst being on the front lines too. They also showed letters from German soldiers to their children, and little wooden toys they made in the trenches as Christmas presents.
This human connection was felt through-out all of the exhibition and made a homely spirit to capture the day.
The museum itself, had been converted into a street in the 1940’s, with washing lines hanging over heads and the smell of freshly baked Christmas pies in the air.
With method actors and actresses in character and costume, it did feel as if we were being shown in the purest way how Christmas was really celebrated back in the 40’s.
Steve Hookins stole the show in my opinion, giving historical presentations of the home front. He gave a 45-minute talk, speaking out what people did back home and what the engineers did during the war.
His obvious enthusiastic and slightly inappropriate character, made for quite a comedic sketch. However, you also came away feeling like you had learnt something.
As a self-confessed foodie, I was unaware how little people actually had to live on during the war, despite knowing about the country being under rations.
When they showed the tiny amount, it definitely made me have a new-found appreciation of making a little go a long way, as there were recipes for Christmas puds, and pies!
Lastly, my final pit stop was in the hub of the middle of the museum, where-by grabbing a slice of cake and a cup of tea, I sat down to watch the wartime singers and lindy hop dancers entertain the joyful crowd. Mid-Kent college students were also there, doing women’s hair 1940 style, so if you wanted to look the part you most certainly could!
The whole event lasting unfortunately only two days, made for a good day out. It was definitely for families and all ages. This throwback to the 1940’s created a space of community and served to remind us how lucky we really all are this Christmas time. If the Royal Engineers put it on next year, it is an event you shouldn’t miss out on!