September 28, 2020

Parallel Lives

It is a truth universally acknowledged (or at least it is here) that, if there is an empty room anywhere in the Castle, is will soon become a convenient dumping ground. The rooms on the top floor vary from ordered storage, to handy spaces and then just “stuff” piled in, although it is of course a bit of an effort to get it all up there.

Pushing open various tall panelled doors, there is just enough faded fingers of light bending around window shutters, contracted and warped over the years, to cast an eye around large rooms from another century.

Searching for exhibits for our History at Highclere exhibition (October 10th and 11th), I think I remember, or perhaps I saw but wonder where I saw, some stacked children’s cots and an old gas mask which I thought I would reassemble, as well as gathering together some rather amazing old toys and prams. Things like these are not just paragraphs in history books, or dusty stories from the past but represent details of ways of life from the challenging years which our parents and grandparents faced. Thus, the idea is to suggest some of the details of life here between 1939 to 1945 when Highclere was a home for evacuee children.

Highclere “Dad’s Army”

Facing our own challenges 75 years later, what do the parallels in life and resilience look like? These photographs provoke thoughts about the courage of the seemingly cheerful young women (from the diaries they were rather homesick) looking after tiny children at Highclere for 5 years. There was little time off, though there was enough food but no central heating in the Castle. The parents, living and working in London, dodging bombs and craters, not knowing in advance whether to sleep in their house or go down to bomb shelters, could only wonder if their toddlers and children were safe. Their fortitude was extraordinary.

There was also the resilience and new skills acquired by the land girls driving tractors, working with animals and growing the fruit and vegetables in the old walled garden here at Highclere. Plus, the young men stationed nearby, climbing into planes after only a few hours training and the local boys sent off as soldiers to fight in too many corners of the globe.

Resilience lay at the heart of the well organised government gathering the best and brightest from all walks of life, working all hours to, in their words, “keep calm and carry on”. There was a spirit of cooperation and service.

We will also have vintage cars, a history of flight exhibition and costumes to bring colour to our memories although sadly this is not the year to host a speakers’ tent. Instead, we are pre-recording a number of conversations to share on line each day over the weekend for you to enjoy at your leisure whether actually with us or joining us in interest from afar.

Colin Bell flew Mosquitos during World War Two and is still fascinating at 99 years old. Best-selling author Robert Harris has just published a new thriller “V2”.  It is a great story, set in 1944/45, which captures the fear of where and when a V2 rocket was going to drop, was there are a deliberate target or was it entirely random? The sense of dread of an unseen enemy is perhaps more familiar today than we might have anticipated a year ago yet the story is uplifting.

Many history courses at school here end the study of this “slice” of history in 1945 but the war and its consequences shape the world today along with our values and determination to do things differently. Therefore, we have also asked some fascinating writers and speakers to discuss some of these. For example, Gavin Thurston, working as Sir David Attenborough’s camera man for many years, has sought with determined passion to capture and share cycles of life on the planet, to remind us of our responsibilities and its beauty.

HEN Talks

Of course, all things need a good name and searching around for one into which to group this series in order to launch the podcasts and videos on various media, I have come up with HEN Talks. I have often much enjoyed the TED talks.  HEN is just as memorable a title, standing as it does for History/heritage, Entertainment and Nature, plus of course I have my lovely girls, who now live in the shadow of where the land girls worked in the old walled garden.