The Last Stand

We spoke to photographer and Terry O’Neill award winner Marc Wilson, to find out more about The Last Stand exhibition, which opens at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson on Friday, 3 May.

What was your Inspiration for the work?
Initially the project came out of a small body of work called Abandoned that I created in 2003. This project included some military locations – from these I realised the importance of the subject matter and I felt I needed to produce a piece of work about it. Many locations have been documented before in some form or another but I wanted to approach it in my own way, and in doing so not only look at the objects themselves, but their place in the shifting landscape over time. Most importantly of all, I wanted to set up a dialogue and hopefully prompt the viewer to reflect on the histories and memories associated with these places.

Like many people today, I have some connection to the two world wars. My grandfather had been in the Navy in the First World War and whilst I did have a relative flying with the RAF during WW2, the main connection was with one side of my family being caught up in the horrors unfolding in Europe. Perhaps, in some ways, this project is my response to that.

© Marc Wilson

© Marc Wilson

What has been your favourite location to capture?
I’ve been asked that a few times and it’s so hard to answer. I love the process of photography and I have enjoyed the experience of the journeys and taking pictures at these locations where the landscapes are quite breathtaking. But then at the same time, whilst I strive to produce visually beautiful images, the subject matter at these locations is so dark that the ‘enjoyable’ elements pale away. An odd feeling really.

As for a ‘favourite’ to photograph, the dunes at Newburgh, north of Aberdeen, come to mind. I was 600 miles away from home, up at 4am, and I had to climb out of the hotel bar window as the front door was locked. It was a wonderful hour’s walk through the dunes in the rising light and sea mist before I was greeted with the scene you see in the images in the exhibition. It was then a slow walk back along the beach as the sea mist slowly melted away, back to the hotel for breakfast and an explanation for the open bar window!

© Marc Wilson

© Marc Wilson

What was the hardest image to capture?
The hardest, physically, was probably the image at the Dengie peninsula in Essex. It was another 4am start, followed by a one-hour cycle to the location, over a muddy grass levee in the rain, with my large format camera, tripod and umbrella on my back. I then stood in the rain for an hour waiting for it to stop, which it did eventually. I set up, shot the image and then cycled back with heavier legs and over muddier grass. The trip to Northern France and Belgium was also hard with 10 days of ferry journeys, late afternoon recces, 4am starts and daytime driving to the next location, with evenings of unloading and loading darkslides in neon motels, and four trips up and down the northern coast chasing the light.

© Marc Wilson

© Marc Wilson

What has it been like to photograph such poignant locations?
I photographed in the South West of England – this location had been recced on a previous visit and so I knew the time of day, direction, amount of sun and height of the tides I needed for the shot.

Yet still this image required over 280 miles and five hours of driving, followed by three hours in place, with the camera set up, waiting for the perfect combination of light and tides.

The image you will see in the exhibition was made at Torcross, nearby Slapton Sands. Some of you may be familiar with the military history of this location but for those that are not, it was used as a training ground for the D-Day landings due to its similarity to the coastline and conditions in Normandy, France. The local villages had all been emptied of the residents and the troops had moved in.

In April 1944, during Exercise Tiger, the three-mile-long convoy of vessels on their way to the exercises was attacked by nine German torpedo boats.  Two tank-landing ships were sunk, with the loss of 749 American servicemen. Over 1,000 lives were lost during the exercise.

It is a beautiful and peaceful place, and as I now stand in these locations, I am so engrossed in the photographic process that I can at times forget these histories. As soon as I stop though, and begin to pack away the camera, they all flood in, these mass casualties of war, associated with the histories and memories of these sites I am photographing. My imagination though can only scratch at the surface of the reality of these events.

For more information about The Last Stand, visit our website.

Do you have a place, which holds memories that has now been abandoned or destroyed? Are you a serving soldier that has left behind a base you called home whilst serving abroad? Did you document these places at the time or now they are gone? If so, we would love you to share them with us online. Tweet us at @Royal_Armouries using #LostLocations or post on our facebook page.

Horsing Around…

We spoke to Atkinson Action Horses, ahead of this Easter weekend’s stunt show and joust at the Royal Armouries, Leeds, to find out how they prepare for such events.

Atkinson Action Horses are a stunt team based in Eastrington, Yorkshire. They have spent the past 15 years training and providing horses and riders to TV, films and live events around Europe.

The team in action at Royal Armouries Summer show.

The team in action at the Royal Armouries Summer show 2012.

Founder Mark Atkinson tells us more;

“This all came about when I decided to change career from a life of dairy farming, to train my horses and provide them for re-enactment societies.

“Since then we have developed a core team of stunt/trick riders, combat performers, actors and writers to create our story-driven, high energy, action-packed stunt shows.

“For us, all our shows start with the story – without the story, the whole production will fall on its knees. This helps us to create a flow and distribute the action where it will have the best impact. Once we have story and action, it’s down to the music and effects, which are also carefully, placed to best compliment the show.

“The main thing we have learned over the years, is that preparation is paramount, making sure the horses, riders and ground crew are all working as one to make a production run smoothly. Wherever possible, the team will meet to train together. This can be anything from sword and ground combat skills to working on bigger and better stunts!

The team in action at the Royal Armouries Summer show 2012.

The team in action at the Royal Armouries Summer show 2012.

“Ben and I have spent years training our horses to be the best, going out morning, noon and night in all weather conditions working in a variety of styles and situations (smoke, lights, guns, weapons). This helps to find the best action for each horse and keeps them ready for whatever each show could throw at them.

“We are ready and raring to go for this year’s show season!”

Follow Atkinson Action Horses at:
Facebook.com/atkinsonactionhorses
Twitter – @TheActionHorses

Atkinson Action Horses will be at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds on Good Friday (29 March) with an action-packed stunt show and will also appear in the Jousting Tournament from Saturday 30 March to Easter Monday 1 April. For more information and to book tickets visit our website.

Japanese Wakizashi Sword

As part of the Ingham case renovation in the Oriental Gallery, a large number of Japanese swords required cleaning and conservation at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

The swords had a variety of accessories and the highly ornate ones required more in-depth work. One of the most elaborate Japanese swords had approximately fourteen pieces to it – all of which required individual attention.

The object is a Japanese Wakizashi sword and dates back to the 17th century. The blade is signed ‘Hizen kuni ju Tadahiro’ and is accompanied by a wooden replica blade and two sets of scabbards and hilts; one simple and wooden, the other coated in lacquer and highly decorative with accessories.

Japanese-sword-image1

The decorative hilt was the main area of concern as the ray skin coating was fragile in a number of places and the gold dragon decorations showed evidence of copper corrosion. The metal blade collar, washers, utility knife and hair implement all showed signs of discolouration and copper corrosion. The decorative scabbard, while in good condition, had a small fragment of lacquer detached from the surface.

Before Conservators could start work on the sword, it had to be taken apart so that each item could be treated on individually. We took care to note the order and position of the accessories, so that it was not put back together incorrectly. Taking photographs helped with this process.

sword2

The metal accessories were cleaned using cotton wool swabs with a solvent specific for metals. This removed the corrosion and discolouration, without causing further damage to the objects.

The hilt’s decorative dragons were cleaned by brushing on an appropriate solvent, in order to fully penetrate the uneven surface and remove corrosion.  The fragile ray skin coating was stabilised using a suitable adhesive that was applied using capillary action, to strengthen the bond to the base material.

The decorative scabbard was cleaned using an alternative solvent, which would not damage the original lacquer, to remove the surface dirt. The detached fragment was re-attached using a suitable adhesive to secure it back to the wooden base, without damaging the lacquer exterior. The wooden scabbard and hilt, along with the remaining metal accessories, were dry cleaned to remove the surface dust and dirt

To clean the blade, traditional Japanese methods were used, including the application of a dry powder to remove any previous oil. This was then wiped with Japanese tissue to remove it. Finally, the blade was coated with a specially tested traditional Japanese oil to protect it and prevent deterioration.

Blogger: Conservator, Vicky Garlick

Historical Memories…

Oral Historian Tracy Craggs has been working in partnership with the Royal Armouries Museum to complete a two-year European Union-funded project, contributing towards a methodology on teaching historical memory in schools. Tracy tells us more about the project.

The Royal Armouries’ team worked with a class of Year Nine History students (aged 13-14) for one term. The students were from the Co-operative Academy of Leeds, a mixed-ability comprehensive school near the city centre. The students studied the Second World War, focusing on the history and memories of D-Day.

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Students interview D Day veteran, Alf Ackroyd

Students learnt about the background to the Second World War, then spent a lesson focusing on D-Day from the perspective of one man, Wilf Todd, who took part in the invasion on Sword beach in Normandy. Using photographs, historical documents relating to Wilf’s service, a letter he wrote to his wife Mary, and extracts from Wilf’s and Mary’s memoirs, students analysed the difference between history and memory sources.

They then used a wide range of eyewitness accounts of D-Day, together with photographs, films and archive sources, to broaden their understanding and assess why the invasion of Normandy was ultimately a success. The class spent a day at the Royal Armouries Museum, where they worked in the museum galleries and handled Second World War weapons and uniforms.

After interview skills training, students met and interviewed D-Day and Second World War veterans in school. Using their interview results, students created digital stories based on the interviewees’ experiences, interpreting their stories in the context of the Second World War and giving their own views on the relationship between ‘official’ history and memory sources.

The Royal Armouries team found that students had a far more mature response to the museum’s collection, particularly difficult objects such as Second World War weapons, when they understood the memories those objects held for people who used them. Meeting living witnesses was an important part of the learning process for young people. However, oral history was more powerful for the students when they had the opportunity to question and compare different narratives rather than seeing it as a piece of evidence telling them ‘what really happened’. Getting young people to deconstruct how interpretations are made, and how social memory is created, made them appreciate the relevance of history to their own lives.

Our team worked with staff from museums and cultural organisations from Spain, Norway, Italy, Slovenia and Poland to create a methodology to teach historical memory that would work in schools across Europe. This methodology has now been made available and interested teachers can access it at http://memoriesatschool.aranzadi-zientziak.org/methodology/

Blogger: Tracy Craggs, Oral Historian

The Wild West – tough times and even tougher characters…

This February half-term, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds is set to be over run by outlaws, bandits, desperados, rustlers and thieves. We need your help to track them down, so keep your eyes out for the shady characters below, from 16-24 February.

‘The Big D’
Wanted for gambling, fraud and horse rustling! Tends to shoot first and ask questions of your dead corpse later. You could arrest him but he’s also the Sheriff!

Wanted Cards Andy

Kid Carlson
Wanted for petty crimes. A man hated in the community for not so evil deeds. People have seen him cheating at poker games, stealing the Sheriff’s lunch money, and tormenting the local cows with nasty words.

Wanted Cards Carl

Hot Foot Holly
Wanted for unpaid tabs. Hot Foot Holly flits from town to town, staying in the grandest hotels, dining in the finest restaurants and when the fanciest tailor in town has just about sewn the last button on a beautiful new gown, she hot foots on out of there without paying a single bill!

Wanted Cards Holly

Wacky Jackie, The Bane of the West
Wanted for horse stealing. It is said that a Native American Chieftain told her that her spirit guide is a horse. She now believes she is one, and is wanted for stealing horses – or as she would say ‘setting her kin free!’ Last seen galloping across the plains.

Wanted Cards Jackie

Jemma ‘The Magpie’ Bulmer
Jewel thief and jail breaker. Married into a life of wealth and luxury, then widowed, she became accustomed to the luxuries of life so now steals from the rich and the elite, any shiny trinket or bauble she likes. She continually breaks out of jail using her charm and wit.

Wanted Cards Jemma

Kit Ducklin aka The Duck of Death
Wanted for army payroll robbery. Sometimes operates as a quack surgeon, now thought to be working as a buffalo hunter somewhere in Montana.

Wanted Cards Keith

Lisa – The Scourge of the Prairies
Wanted for Murder! She hails from the deepest prairies and outside of church she hasn’t had much time to socialise with folks. Wanted for murder in seven counties, she is extremely dangerous. For the sake of your life and your immortal soul do not approach.

Wanted Cards Lisa

Showtime Shona
Wanted for blackmail, extortion and robbery. Her profession as a saloon show girl means she is always surrounded by gentlemen admirers; the perfect opportunity to use her skills and rob them blind of all their worldly possessions.

Wanted Cards Shona

Join us this February half-term (16-24 February) to discover what life was like for the Wild West Outlaws through talks, demonstrations, films and craft activities. Plus don’t miss the daily showdown between our hotshot gunfighters.

Visit our website for more information.

Living History Day: English Civil Wars

We spoke to Dave Lister, a member of the English Civil War Society, to find out what is in store for the Living History Day this weekend.

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Colonel Edward Montagu’s Regiment of Foote from the Roundhead Association, part of the English Civil War Society..

Can you tell us a little bit about the group and what you do?
We are Colonel Edward Montagu’s Regiment of Foote from the Roundhead Association, part of the English Civil War Society. We recreate the everyday life of the English Civil Wars. Our display will provide an insight into how the civilians and military went about their everyday business during the 17th century.

How long have you been established?
We have been part of the English Civil War Society for 35 years now, so we have been around a while. We even have a few members that have been in the society and regiment for nearly as long!

What can people expect from the Living History day?
We will have a variety of stations showcasing everyday life during the English Civil War. These stations will include a cooks’ area providing examples of the diet of the 17th century, a military area with an officer’s post and soldiers demonstrating their duties.

We also have more stations reflecting other areas of civilian life in the 17th century, these include the various crafts such as sewing, spinning and weaving. We also have a scribe – there will even be a chance for you to try out some writing yourselves!

During the day we will be performing a full military drill to demonstrate the weapons used during the English Civil War. There will also be a children’s drill where we can teach the young ones how to be a soldier.

Why do you enjoy doing events such as this one?
It’s good to interact with the audience; you get to see their reactions to hearing what life was like in the 17th century. It also gives our members a chance to learn new skills from others within the regiment and the society.

The English Civil War Society and Colonel Edward Montagu’s Regiment of Foote will be at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds on Saturday 9 February, 10am – 4pm. Visit our website for more information.

The Final Moments of Richard III…

Bob Woosnam-Savage, Curator of European Edged Weapons at Royal Armouries, formed part of an expert team that on Monday 4 February confirmed the identity of the “skeleton in the car park” as those of England’s last king to fall in battle – Richard III. His role was to investigate the battle-related trauma on the skeleton, and attempt to identify some of the possible weapons used to kill the last of the Plantagenets.

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L to R: Philippa Langley (Richard III Society), Dr. Stuart J Hamilton (Deputy Chief Forensic Pathologist, East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, University of Leicester), Bob Woosnam-Savage (Curator of European Edged Weapons, Royal Armouries) and Dr. Jo Appleby (Lecturer in Human Bioarchaeology, University of Leicester).

Bob tells us the story of what historians now believe were the final minutes of Richard III – slain by the army of Henry Tudor, father of Henry VIII.

What we have is a very tentative, first attempt to try and create a possible narrative reconstructing the last minutes and death of Richard III, the last king of England to die in battle. It is extremely important to bear in mind that this is exactly that; a first attempt. It will no doubt evolve as more is discovered.

My narrative that follows is a synthesis, based upon various elements from the historical accounts – the veracity of each is a discussion for another time – and what we presently understand the evidence the skeleton may possibly suggest.  The scenario offered suggests just one possible scenario. Material from existing histories is written in italics.

Richard was described as leading a mounted charge against Henry Tudor in an attempt to kill him. Cutting down Tudor’s standard bearer, Sir William Brandon, there is the possibility Richard’s momentum was stalled by marshy ground, a feature confirmed by the recent archaeology of the Bosworth battlefield. His horse stuck, or slain, Richard, fully armoured, continues fighting manfully on foot, maybe only a few feet away from his intended target, Henry Tudor.

However, the tide of battle had seemingly already begun to turn as Stanley’s forces decided to side with Tudor, and they came down upon the Plantagenets and Richard. Tudor’s own bodyguard would have been defending him as well and so, within a very short space of time, Richard could have found himself outnumbered and in the press of his enemies. But then what?

His armour, successfully protecting him up to this time, probably began to fail under ferocious attack. There is no evidence to say how long this sustained attack lasted but at some point it would appear that his helmet was forcibly removed (possibly cut or ripped away). It is perhaps from these moments that the skeleton appears to begin to provide some glimpses of a possible scenario, regarding the dying moments of Richard III.

At this time, Richard immediately receives more blows; a number of individual wounds from bladed weapons to the head, particularly to the top and rear of the skull, indicate a sustained and repeated attack on an unprotected head, one particularly massive blow possibly proving fatal. That particular blow could well have been delivered by a staff weapon such as a halberd. Other blows, including a penetrating wound to the top of the skull, and another to the base, both again probably dealt to an unprotected head, appear to have been perhaps delivered either near, or at the point of, death, with Richard possibly finally keeling over in a kneeling position or even lying semi-prone on the ground (although the body position must remain speculative at this time). This trauma to the head certainly would appear to fit accounts that include descriptions such as his head was shaved and that his brains came out with blood.

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Halberd. Swiss or German, about 1480 (VII.1497)

However the skeleton bears other wounds which, if it were that of Richard, can only be explained as having been delivered after any armour was removed from the body and therefore probably after the king was presumably already near death, or dead. These ‘insult injuries’ might have included the small stab wound to the face; a stab in the back from behind, which struck a rib and, perhaps most tellingly of all, a stab wound, possibly delivered with a knife or dagger, to the buttocks. This last, insulting, blow could easily have been delivered to king’s body by an infantryman with a bladed weapon after it had been slung over the back of a horse, ‘with the armes and legges hanging down on both sides’, as he was borne to Leicester.

A point of interest is that compared to a number of the dead from the Battle of Towton (1461), the face itself seems to bear comparatively little trauma. This may be of significance as the body of the king was subject to at least two days of exposure, from the time of his death to his burial. One of the reasons for such exposure, which was not exceptional at this time, was to allow an individual’s death to be witnessed and accepted – a severely damaged or unidentifiable face, preventing recognition, would obviously largely defeat this purpose.

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The skull of the skeleton found at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester.
© University of Leicester

Finally it should be borne in mind that the trauma to the skeleton (over 10 wounds) must be regarded as an under enumeration of the number of wounds the body originally sustained – for Richard may well have borne wounds to the soft tissue, which have not been preserved. The state of his body would therefore no doubt have matched descriptions, which say Richard was all besprinkled with mire and blood.

This investigation has been an excellent example of everyone working together within the research team. Our real work is now only beginning.

Visit our website for more information and images.