Collection Care blog

Behind the scenes with our conservators and scientists

15 June 2014

‘Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour’ - World War One Exhibition

Conservation work never ends; we had just finished working on the Comics Unmasked exhibition when the First World War material arrived in the studio. The next exhibition: Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour in the Folio Society Gallery is a very topical one. The year 2014 marks the First World War Centenary and the start of commemorative events worldwide. In Britain a number of interesting documentaries, discussions, drama, etc., aiming to explain the events leading to the outbreak of the war have already been aired on television, radio and other media. The First World War Centenary commemorations have not by-passed the British Library.

The exhibition: Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour opening on 19 June 2014, is part of the Library’s contributions to these events. The exhibition will showcase nearly 80 items from our collections looking at the human aspect of the war, and how ordinary people coped with the momentous events of the war. The space for the exhibition in the Folio Society Gallery is smaller than for our main exhibitions, but it will host some large and well known recruitment posters and leaflets, together with smaller, less known and more personal items including letters, postcards, photographs, poems, prayers, songs and even knitting instructions!

Out of the 30 items prepared for the exhibition by the conservation department the majority needed standard hinging and mounting, but some also had to be flattened and repaired.

The top right-hand area of the certificate is pictured in the photo. It features a printed map of the world with different territories coloured in different shades of pink, white and orange. To the right of the map, in the margin of the certificate, Commonwealth flags are pictured. The certificate is lying on a green cutting mat and the right-hand corner has been repaired on the back with a piece of white paper which extends beyond the corner’s edges. In the lower left of the photo a conservator’s hand holds a scalpel above the repair, about to trim it.
Trimming a corner repair


The same area of the map is lying on a piece of cream-coloured mountboard. The repair has been trimmed down so that is flush with the edges of the corner and is therefore now invisible from the front of the map. The conservator’s hand has gone, and three soldiers in khaki uniforms are revealed to be standing beneath the Commonwealth flags.
Finished repair

CC by Pictures 1 and 2: Trimming a corner repair and the finished repair showing the top right hand corner of ‘How the World Is at War’ certificate.

The ‘How the World Is at War’ certificate is one of many the Overseas Club produced for schoolchildren who raised money for soldiers and sailors serving in the war. The one above was issued to Elsie Donald in 1916.

Below are two examples of World War One recruiting posters: ‘These Women Are Doing Their Bit Learn to Make Munitions’ and ‘Lads You’re Wanted: Go And Help’. Both posters are displayed on the wall and needed to be mounted flush (hence flush mounted) onto 100% cotton Museum Board for support.

The poster lies face-down on top of a sheet of white bondina (non-stick fabric). It measures approximately 1.5 x 1 metres and the back of the poster is white. In the left of the picture a conservator’s hands are attaching a tab of white paper measuring approximately 2 x 15 cm to the edge of the poster, in the middle of one of the long sides. Two tabs are already attached to edges of the poster at each of the corners, and one is attached in the middle of the other long side.
Adhering hinges


The poster is now lying on its back on a piece of cream-coloured mountboard. The area of the poster in the photo shows the top half of a woman with one arm outstretched. In the lower left corner of the picture a conservator’s hands are applying adhesive to one of the tabs attached to the back of the poster.
Attaching hinges

CC by Pictures 3 and 4: Adhering Japanese paper hinges to the back of a poster and then attaching them to the back of the board.

The poster shows a female factory worker with one arm raised as she pulls on an overall. In the background are more women operating factory equipment and a soldier holding a rifle waves as he exits through a door. The poster is mostly yellow, white and purple - it is very bright and catches the attention.
War time poster

CC by Picture 5: The poster ‘These Women Are Doing Their Bit Learn to Make Munitions’ mounted and ready for the exhibition.

The poster ‘These Women Are Doing Their Bit Learn to Make Munitions’ designed by Septimus Edwin Scott and measuring 760 mm x 510 mm is one of the larger posters in the exhibition. The black, yellow and purple lithographic print was issued by the Ministry of Munitions in 1916-17 and was aimed at recruiting women for the war effort. The campaign must have been very effective - by the end of the war almost one million women were employed in the war industry supplying munitions and weapons to the Front.

The ‘Lads You’re Wanted: Go and Help’ poster below is smaller, but no less powerful in its message. It measures 760 x 150 mm and is quite long. It was folded in half in storage and therefore required flattening prior to mounting.

The poster lies face up on top of a piece of cream-coloured mountboard cut slightly larger than the dimensions of the poster. The area pictured shows the black silhouettes of two crouching soldiers holding rifles, against a yellow background. In the left of the picture a conservator’s hands are folding a tab of paper underneath the board to attach the poster to it.
Flush mounting

CC by Picture 6: Attaching a poster to a board (flush mounting).

The poster shows the black silhouettes of two crouching soldiers holding rifles as they advance up a grassy hill. The background is bright yellow. The poster text is in white against the black hill.
War time poster

CC by Picture 7: Finished poster ‘Lads You’re Wanted: Go and Help’.

The poster showing soldiers in silhouette will be displayed in the first section of the exhibition explaining how and why people joined the army. The black-and-yellow lithograph was published by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee in 1915. The Committee’s sole purpose was to assist the War Office in orderly recruitment, and the poster campaign was one way of doing so. The posters were published in great numbers by different printing companies, often with slight variations in design, so all had to be passed as fit for use by the Committee. The poster above is from the British Library’s collection and was printed by David Allen and Sons in Harrow.

The exhibition is only one aspect of the ongoing commemorative events. In the run up to the centenary of the First World War the Library has been involved for three years in a major Europeana 1914-1918 Project digitising hundreds of documents including personal papers, trench journals, photographs, letters - as well as newspapers, maps, posters, etc., all relating to the 1914-18 war. Over 250,000 pages of collection items have been digitsed providing a wealth of the material ready to be explored, interpreted and narrated. A selection of the newly digitised material is available free to researchers, historians and students and is introduced through our new learning website, World War One.

The exhibition ‘Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour’ aims not only to showcase the original objects from our collection but will also provide a link to the work done on the Europeana project through an audiovisual art installation.

Iwona Jurkiewicz


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