Colchester Castle Museum in Wartime

In a letter to his cousin, Maitland Underhill, (Honorary Curator of Hambleden Museum), Eric describes how the war is affecting his work at Colchester Castle Museum particularly with reference to displays of wartime propaganda in museums:

7th December 1939

My dear Maitland,

I must congratulate you on the announcement in the “Museums Journal” that Hambleden is carrying on as usual. I sincerely hope that you will do, and that you will not have anything to do with this wild suggestion that museums should co-operate with the Ministry of Information in displaying “war material”, “atrocity pictures” and similar miserable propaganda.

On looking up the "Museums Journal" for 1914-1918 I find that the same sort of thing was being done, very largely with the approval of museum curators, although a few sensible men stuck out and maintained that museums were repositories of antiquities, science, natural history, etc., and should not be used for any other purposes.

Here I have already "struck a blow for freedom". As soon as the war began my chiefs ordered than an exhibition should be arranged of all the material we have relating to the last war, German rifles, helmets, food cards, a machine-gun, bombs and other rubbish. As this is all packed away in the most inaccessible places, I was called upon to fetch it out and arrange and label it. This I flatly refused to do.

I consider that it is of the utmost importance that museums should carry on in a perfectly normal manner. I intend to do anything I can to combat what is practically a scheme to turn museums into Government propaganda shows.

I have not had any holiday this year but have not given up hope. Perhaps if I get a week or so off in the New Year I might be able to give you a look in, if you are now free of evacuees.

Yours, EJR

For more information on how the Second World War affected Britain's museums, please see my article here.


robssmith said...

Good for eric for standing up for his principals, must have been hard at that time. I wonder what his bosses thought of him!

E J Rudsdale said...

Many thanks for your comment and yes, you are quite right, Eric's independent stance got him into trouble at work a few times! It certainly wasn't easy to take such a stand in wartime but it's interesting to find that people such as Eric did preserve their own point of view and acted according to their conscience. CP