MEMBERS of The VC Gallery attended Pembroke Dock’s Military Cemetery along with students from Pembrokeshire College on Wednesday (May 17), to learn more about the soldiers buried there as part of a project called ‘Realities of War’.
The group were given names on a piece of paper, and then had to find the graves of the people listed. A photography competition was also held, in order to create something beautiful and peaceful.
The Herald spoke to the founder of The VC Gallery, Barry John MBE, who said that the project encompasses photography and art, to be able to get a ‘flavour’ of the loss that pembrokeshire felt during the war.
He said: “We’ve got a huge mix of both veterans of all different ages, as well as young students who are going off to start their careers, and everyone’s got tasks to be able to find and allocate a male or female soldier, or a navy personnel who has died in the firsty or second world war.”
The Herald asked Mr John if he felt it is important that people understand the history of the First and Second World Wars. He said: “It’s so important. Every year we do an art remembrance exhibition and it’s because we want to keep memories alive, and help people understand sacrifice, selflessness, as well as what we have done as a country to provide to war effort.”
The Herald also spoke to Michael Warley from Pembrokeshire College. He said: “We’re working alongside The VC Gallery to help us understand the realities of war, alongside learning about the military history of the area.
“It’s mainly to aid us for our military training. We have exercises in Normandy and Belgium to help us come to terms with the realities fo the job we will eventually be going into, and the realties of conflict itself.
“This project with The VC Gallery is very important and beneficial to the students it supports.”
When asked if he thought people don’t fully understand what happens when people join the army, he said: “To an extent, but with projects like this – visiting memorials and graves – people who may not understand why people join the army or not understand the risks, can come to terms and understand what happens with the job we will do, the sacrifices, the benefits, and the opportunities that open up alongisde the risks.”
Mr John added: “I feel that understanding history before you join gives you a really good balance before you actually take on that job role. The retention of young people going into different job roles within the armed forces, understanding about where they’ve come from, what they’re going to do, and having an understanding about conflict and history and what they’re going to do is really beneficial to them and their families.”
After the students and veterans had a photography competition among themselves, the group were given a tour around the cemetery, and informed of what each person died of. And, interestingly, not everybody there had died whilst in conflict.
Mr John said: “There were so many war casualties that got discharged from the army because of gas attacks, it went into their lungs and they suffered with severe chest injuries. They came home and came back to the local hospitals or went home to their parents or their wives, and they died and were put into unmarked graves or family plots.”
He explained that this represents that they did in fact contributed to the war effort and they suffer terribly, but didn’t die during conflict and instead came back home.
He said: “All of Great Britain has a massive percentage of unregistered war heroes. There were lot of bombs and casualties, and they couldn’t identify people, but in some cases they didn’t know. But, if they did, they would write it in a diary and make a note of it, but unfortunately the people making the notes sometimes died as well, so the information never made it back home.”
The information about the people who had died had come from a relative of Mr John’s, who had received an intriguing family heirloom, that inspired him to start a project that looked into the lives of those who had died.
Mr John said: “A lot of our reference material that we use is derived from a project called the West Wales Memorial Project, set up many years ago by a relative of mine. He got the inspiration because he was given a family heriloom, which was a Bible with a hole in it.
“It was given to keep a soldier safe during the war. This young man went off to Mamets Wood, where 3,000 Welshmen died taking their position, and this young Haverfordwest soldier put the family Bible across his heart.
“But, the snipers were very good at shooting directly into the heart, so as he approached Mamets, he got shot straight through the Bible and straight into his heart. When my relative was given the Bible, he found out a lot about this story, and it sent him on a path to find information about every single soldier or navel personnel that had died within west Wales – he’s covered every single site!”
If you would like to keep up to date with The VC Gallery, you can do so by visiting www.thevcgallery.com