Heigham Heroes WW1 project with Wensum Junior School
As part of Our Lads, the Wensum Junior School WW1 Heigham Heroes History Project,
Years 3, 4 and 5 at Wensum Junior have created two textile wall hangings from fabrics and embroidery thread donated by The Red Cross shop on St. Benedicts Street, Norwich.
During WW1 soldiers in Red Cross hospitals used embroidery as therapy to help them recover from shell shock and other injuries. The children imagined themselves as wounded soldiers from Heigham in a Red Cross Hospital, using embroidery to develop their own skills of perseverance, patience, resilience and creativity. Like the soldiers, most of the children had never threaded a needle before. Yet, knowing how the soldiers had faced additional barriers such as shaking from shell shock, the children didn’t give up and produced some amazing results. They worked together as a team, helping and encouraging each other.
The children were inspired by the beautiful floral tapestry work produced by WW1 soldiers on display in St Paul’s Cathedral and by the WW1 Bradford Khaki Sewing Club soldiers who were taught embroidery by Louisa Pesel, daughter of a German merchant (based at Abram Peel Hospital, a military establishment for neurological disorders staffed by the Royal Army Medical Corps). They were also inspired by the values of local nurse Edith Cavell who believed we “must have no hatred toward any one” and the values of the Red Cross of “understanding, friendship, co-operation and lasting peace amongst all peoples”.
The first tapestry (140x140cm) focuses on the values the children believe the Heigham Heroes fought for, surrounded by leaves and poppies (the official flower for the county of Norfolk) to celebrate life and remember the brave soldiers (red poppies) and animals (purple poppies) who died during WW1, alongside white poppies for peace. The children had many ideas of what Our Lads were fighting for, including: peace, friendship, respect, harmony, freedom, family, king, country, safety, community, the environment, victory, honour, love and life. Peace, Freedom, Family and Friends were the final values chosen by all year groups from the suggestions, with each letter embroidered by children, teachers, parents and grandparents who took part during the community sew-in on the last day of the workshops.
The second tapestry (110x110cm) focuses on illustrating these values with a badge designed by the children for the Heigham Heroes and inspired by military insignia such as the Norfolk Regiment. Ideas to visually represent the values from tapestry one suggested by the children included: hands shaking, a horse, lion, eagle, swan, donkey, owl, pigeon, dove, dog, cat, flowers, water, hearts, clover, acorns, smiling faces, playing cards and the peace symbol. The final design chosen by all year groups uses the swan defending their young to represent bravery, water to represent strength and freedom, hearts and smiling faces for family and friends, and acorns for new life and the environment.
Children also wrote poems inspired by the project to be included in a book that will go in the school library and embroidered their own bookmarks to keep.