When I visited the war museum in Peronne, France, I was struck by its compelling simplicity, the displays laid out in simple frames on the floor, cream walls unadorned except for posters and a few simple shelves. Blind Regret – current work in progress – includes a trip to this museum, my protagonist in search of her grandfather’s mysterious past accompanied by a French man whom she has recently befriended.
Peronne was a larger town, its streets and squares decked with hanging baskets while citizens strolled about enjoying the sunshine. Housed in a medieval chateau, the museum’s collection was laid out sparingly for maximum impact. On the floor surrounded by ten-inch wooden frames were full uniforms and kits for French, British, Canadian and German soldiers. Similar frames housed rifles, ammunition clips and light trench mortars, a display of medical instruments, ambulance supplies, and signalling equipment. Further on, a display of camouflage techniques showed a hollowed out tree trunk used as an observation post and a range of ingenious materials to disguise artillery and command posts. Along the walls were posters exhorting civilians to donate to the cause or help in some other fashion.
“What does this say, Pierre?” Grace pointed to a sign that seemed to be telling French citizens what to do during an air raid.
“Turn out all lights. Stay away from the windows. If possible, go to the basement. To avoid being hurt by breaking glass, open the windows but only if you have shutters.”
She chuckled. “Well, those are clear instructions.”
“We French love our regulations.”
They followed two men, one walking with a cane, the other holding his companion’s arm to assist with a short flight of stairs. The men stopped in front of a wooden leg displayed on a glass shelf next to a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. When the older man tapped his left leg with his cane, Grace heard a hollow thunk, thunk.
She looked at Pierre. He drew his lips together and nodded.
Near the exit were two rough tables full of debris. A sign indicated that every piece had been found in the trenches and battlefields of the Somme. Water bottles, helmets, boots, bully tins, pickaxes, knifes, petrol cans, breastplates, barbed wire – all rusted and dirty.
Grace sucked in her breath. “My God. This makes it real.”
“Mmm hmm. Almost as much impact as all the earlier exhibits combined.”
They said nothing more, merely stood and stared at the remnants of war.
By the way, the banner you see for this blog is a picture I took of the last exhibit Grace and Pierre see.
A note about the posters: The first poster concerns what I think is a magazine available for sale during the war. La Revanche means The Revenge. The second seems to invite Parisians to an art show featuring works done by artists on the front lines. Profits to go to the war effort. The third poster encourages women to make or buy dolls and send them to children in the Alsace and Lorraine areas. The final one needs no words of explanation.
Note: the photos are on a rather odd angle because they were mounted quite high on the walls.