Galsworthy and WWI: Human Battles on the Home Front at Rose Theatre Kingston
On becoming Chief Executive of the Rose, Robert O’Dowd envisaged the theatre’s lofty corridors as public spaces embracing art, heritage and culture. Two and a half years on and the opening of this WWI centenary audio-visual exhibition has allowed his dream to be realised. With the gallery the Rose has become not merely a theatre but a hub of creativity, and its airy halls, which for O’Dowd have a Tate Modern feel, house the exhibit perfectly.
The exhibition explores the life of Nobel Prize-winning novelist John Galsworthy, born in Kingston and famous for his series of novels The Forsyte Saga. Not only are we reminded of his great literary achievements, such as receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932, but also his great humanitarian efforts. Despite being too old to participate in active service during WWI, he worked as a hospital orderly in France. His experiences here led him to become a fervent campaigner for the better treatment of wounded servicemen, setting up the first magazine for disabled servicemen and advocating training for injured serviceman so that they could make a living again. Galsworthy’s efforts as a social reformer also spanned women’s rights, prison reform and animal welfare.
In addition to Galsworthy’s life are personal stories from local residents whose lives and families have been affected by the war. Wendy Eatenton tells the story of her grandfather who died fighting in Egypt in 1917; her mother was born three weeks later, leaving her grandmother ostracised by her husband’s family. John McCarthy recounts his father’s survival when nearly dying he dragged himself out of no-man’s land back to the trenches.
The exhibition not only unearths the much-forgotten philanthropy of one of London’s greatest author’s but also, through local stories, connects us to an event that a century on can feel extremely distant. The combination of personal tales and Galsworthy’s biography all framed within the context of the war creates an exhibition large in scope, yet with intimate and meaningful layers that speak to us today. Small touches such as the diary excerpts and letters, written by local soldiers and the embroidered postcards written with messages of love from the front, give an intimate touch making their sacrifices seem all the more devastating.
The audio element is particularly moving, as hearing the voices of soldier’s children and grandchilden as well as their undergoing rehabilitation at Headley Court make the exhibit all the more poignant. Affecting and absorbing, Human Battles is a touching tribute to a local experience of war.
Galsworthy and WW1: Human Battles on the Home Front is at Rose Theatre Kingston from 1st September until 25th October 2014, for further information visit here.
Watch the trailer for the exhibition here: