In our first guest blog, IWM’s Charlotte Czyzyk writes about researching the life stories behind the brand new From Street to Trench exhibition.
For the past year, I have worked as a Researcher on the special exhibition From Street to Trench: A World War that Shaped a Region, which opens at IWM North in Manchester on 5 April. The exhibition focuses on the lives and experiences of people connected to the North West of England during the First World War, both those who served overseas and those who remained at home. I have encountered so many incredible stories during the research process.
One of the most moving pieces on display in the exhibition is a scribbled note by Frank Middleton (pictured above) to his mother, to apologise for leaving to join the army without saying goodbye and asking her not to cry.
Frank Middleton’s note
“I go away today … please don’t weep”
Last week I got paid up at the Starch works, but did no[t] like telling you. On Monday I went to join the army and [first?] I go away today but don’t [k]no[w] where to, but will let you know. Please don’t weep, same has [sic] I am now, I know that I am doing wrong but its [seams?] to that I had to go.
From your loving Son
Researching the life story behind the note
Frank wrote home again on many occasions, the last time just two weeks before he died – we know from Frank’s medal index card that he was killed in action on 16 June 1915.
Using the data sets available on Lives of the First World War, I have been able to piece together additional information about Frank’s life – that Frank was born in 1891 in Rochdale, Lancashire to Martha and Charles Middleton; that he had two sisters; that he worked as a quilt weaver and labourer in Eccles and that he joined the army just after Christmas in 1914.
Finally, his service record told me that he was believed to have been buried by the Middlesex Regiment, 8th Infantry Brigade. However, his grave must have later been lost, because looking at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database, his name now features on the Menin Gate memorial to the missing in Ypres.
Help us to uncover more about Frank’s story
Now that the exhibition has opened, I look forward to taking my research further by piecing together the stories using the Lives of the First World War digital platform. It would be wonderful if together we could fill in the missing pieces of Frank’s story – does anyone have a photograph of him to share? Do we know anything about his interests and hobbies? When Lives of the First World War launches, we’ll need your help to uncover the stories of thousands of men like Frank Middleton.
The From Street to Trench exhibition launches Saturday 5 April 2014 at IWM North in Manchester. Find out more about the exhibition.