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In their footsteps: The impact of World War I in West Yorkshire


The First World War was conflict on a massive scale, claiming the lives of millions and having a lasting impact on those who survived and were left behind, both at home and away.

To pay special tribute, the Preservative Party, a group of young history enthusiasts based in Leeds, West Yorkshire have curated a unique exhibition at the city’s flagship museum, exploring how the lives of people from their region were affected during the First World War. The exhibition, ‘In Their Footsteps’ at Leeds City Museum, will open on 1st July – the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.

Running until 8 January 2017, the city-centre exhibition will showcase the First World War’s impact on local civilians, soldiers, nurses and industrial workers, revealing the variety of communication methods from official telegrams to biscuits transformed into postcards, as well as fascinating finds including a doll’s house made by a group of recuperating soldiers.

With the help of West Yorkshire Archive Service, York Army Museum and the University of Leeds’ Special Collections, the Preservative Party has knitted together touching, individual stories from those caught in a global conflict, as well as collating a special collection of items including a Victoria Cross Medal and personal diary extracts.

The soldier experience

The First World War saw the mobilisation of millions of men across Europe, with men from Leeds joining up in their thousands – by the close of the war 82,000 men from Leeds had enlisted. This part of the exhibition will explore the lives of a handful of soldiers from Leeds and look at the men behind the uniforms, including exploring what their story can tell us about their thoughts and feelings while far away from home at the front line. This will be done by using personal letters and diaries from a number of soldiers – many of these items are kindly on loan from one of the museum’s partners, West Yorkshire Archive Service. They include diaries from three men who were all serving and writing at the same time, but recorded their experiences in very different ways:

‘A terrible tale to tell this morning. 2 killed and 7 wounded of our Company. I make out casualty report. The two dead lads are carried in here. Both good friends of mine. Four more poor mangled bodies follow. Then a dead German (four were killed in our wire). Then a fine young man from D. Coy. The shells shriek overhead at intervals, and the birds sing all round the copse in the bright sunshine. It is a sad and ghastly performance to see the pioneers sewing the poor remains up in blankets, as we go about our various duties.’
Mark Wood, 23 May 1916

‘German crawled in from No Mans Land and gave himself up. Told us about 3 missing men being prisoners. Sleep. Fetched water. All the dead brought to Basin Wood. 9 of ours and 3 Germans. Making temporary stretchers to carry them to Cemetery near Sugar Refinery. Carried rations from Euston Dump to ‘D’ Coy HQ down trenches .Sgt. Kirton and Pte. Harrison ‘D’ Coy brought in dead. Also 2 Germ dead. Stg. Newborne died of wounds in hospital making 12 dead. Letter from Bert.’ 
Edward Woffenden, 23 May 1916

‘First German prisoner taken - a fine-looking lad about 20, very well treated by our officers and seemed quite cheerful & happy. Awful day - carrying out dead and wounded, also equipment etc. Basin Wood - a very busy place. No 7 digging at night till 11.30pm and then went to Front Line (A Coy.) and helped to hold the line.’
John Yeadon, 23 May 1916

For more information about the ‘In Their Footsteps’ exhibition, please visit Leeds City Museum can be found on Twitter @LeedsMuseums and the Preservative Party (Leeds Museums and Galleries’ youth group, who curated the exhibition) @PresParty or follow #InTheirFootsteps #WW1Leeds

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