Recently I visited the WW1 Centenary Exhibition at the Melbourne Museum to see many items, large and small, brought over from the Imperial War Museum in London. Over 350 historical artifacts, rare film and artworks showed how the war was fought on such an industrial scale.
There were a few large-scale military guns that you would expect but it was many of the smaller, personal, intricate objects that spoke to me. Due to the shortage of materials later in the war, nightdresses were made out of paper but they were still decorated with lacework and fine stitching. Bandages and shrouds were paper too, facts I had never known before. Most of all, I loved the old film footage covering so many areas of life. I could have stood and watched them for hours.
Some other items that had an enormous emotional effect were the handmade signs that helped soldiers and runners to find their way through the trenches. Many names were from places in Australia, and a macabre sense of humour came through in names like 'Suicide Corner'.
In that same week I read an article in the Guardian about Oxford fellow Dr Paula Byrne, who has written ‘“Jane Austen was prescribed to shell shock victims after the First World War as an antidote to mental trouble. She was read in the trenches. She was a prescribed script for tortured, troubled souls.’
The romantic plots of her novels were seen as giving soldiers a sense of security, and having a soothing effect on their troubled minds. It seems that wherever you go there is a link to Jane Austen!