Over the last 15 months, the Essex Record Office has been at the centre of a project called ‘Now the Last Poppy has Fallen’. It’s been funded by the National Lottery and Essex County Council, and is a commemoration of the people of Essex during the First World War; or the Great War as it was known at the time (because obviously no one knew at the time that another terrible war was to come).
The project has involved historians, archivists, local history societies, artists, poets and school children to uncover and tell the stories of the men and women of Essex who in so many cases gave their lives during the war.
Much of the research has been shared on social media – via the Now the last Poppy Has Fallen Facebook page, on twitter and on a website One of the main outcomes of the project has been the development of the ‘Now the Last Poppy has Fallen’ exhibition.
To tie in with this years Heritage Open Days weekend the project team organised an ‘Essex at War 1914-1918’ event which was held over the weekend – the Saturday at the Essex Regiment Museum, and Sunday at Hylands House. Hylands House itself has strong links with the war, as it was used as a Military Hospital.
We went to Hylands House on the Sunday and to start with took the opportunity to hear Paul Rusiecki’s fascinating talk entitled The Lights Go Out In Essex, where we discovered how unprepared the people of Essex were for war. As the war broke out the Dedham Choir was actually in Belgium, getting back to England just as the borders were closed. The people of Colchester were reported as being “agog” with excitement at the number of troops on the move through the town, and cars queueing up North Hill and Head Street to get the latest news from the High Street, whilst Frinton and Walton were calm. (So no change in those three towns then!)
We visited the tea tent where we had lovely homemade cakes and tea – but declined the trench cake. I’m quite pleased about that, as since the visit I’ve checked the recipe, and discovered that it doesn’t have any eggs in it, but it does have vinegar – yuk! Whilst we had the cake we listened to the Essex Yeomanry band playing very evocative tunes of the time; including Keep the Home Fires Burning and It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.
Inside the house there were numerous displays, including one by the Western Front Association, and another displaying photographs of Hylands as a military hospital.
A major part of the project had been to research the lives of some of the Essex men who had died during the war. The results of the research was available for visitors to read. There wee so many stories that it was almost overwhelming – but it did hint at the scale and magnitude of the war.
There were lots of other events taking place that we didn’t have time to take part in. We could have taken a carriage ride with Joe the lovely shire horse (pix below), discovered a little about the experience of soldiers in the war with the 10th Essex Regiment WW1 Living History Group, or we could have visited the Recruiting Office where there was a man with a rather large moustache waiting to turn every one into soldiers.
We left long before the end of the day, but found out so much about the Essex experience during the Great War. The Now the last Poppy has Fallen project will be continuing until at least the end of 2015. During that time artists and poets will be continuing their work with school children and adults, and more research will be done to uncover the wartime experiences of the people of Essex. For anyone interested in the First World War and the history of Essex, I’d really recommend following the Poppy project over the next year.
Here are a few pictures from the gardens we took, and you can head over to YouTube for the official video of the day (it really does give you a feel of the day!)