I have decided to share the text of the speech that I gave at the ‘Bexhill Remembers’ exhibition opening at Bexhill Museum on 28 February 2014. The speech expressed my sentiments about the exhibition and Bexhill’s war experience more generally. It is hoped that those who intend to visit the exhibition may use what I have said to inform their own interpretations.
NB: This is very much my own opinion. Please DO NOT cite or quote without prior permission.
It is a great honour to be asked to open this exhibition. The final result is a testament to the hard work and generosity of the museum’s employees, volunteers and supporters. I think this exhibition and the way it was put together embodies the sense of community spirit that typified Bexhill’s war experience.
In the course of my work I have come to see Bexhill’s war experience from two standpoints:
– As a location – Bexhill was ideal for training and housing soldiers
– As a community – provided a welcoming and accommodating environment
When I was walking around the exhibition I was struck by how Bexhill, although fully immersed in the war, in a way provided a refuge from it;
– Soldiers – convalesce, to regain strength and morale, and train
– Residents – watch sport and shows
– Visitors – Discover Bexhill – to holiday and enjoy the beach
– Re-discover – Returning ‘home’
My Project has given me the opportunity to re-discover Bexhill. What I thought would be a surface project has actually reshaped my research interests, provided new opportunities for research. For example I will be writing a paper on the Catholic Army Huts in Bexhill and Cooden for a conference in Canada in July.
My aspiration for the exhibition and the WWI centenary is that it sparks a new interest in our town, encourages new contributions to the understanding of its history, entices more visitors and tourists so that we can showcase what is great about Bexhill today.
For me this exhibition provides not just an opportunity to remember but to explore Bexhill further. Thank you.