History comes home

cyrilCyril Page (1899–1918) © Redbridge Heritage Centre

Redbridge Museum will open a new permanent exhibition early next year exploring 200,000 years of local history. In the ninth of a series of articles, Museum Officer Nishat Alam looks at some of the items on show

As part of the Redbridge Museum development, we’ve been busy creating some new displays about the history of the borough, in addition to refreshing and expanding some of our existing displays. This month, I’m looking at a brand new exhibit in the works about the First World War, an important historic event that’s been commemorated by the museum in a major temporary exhibition, website and even a book, but with only one aspect – the war dead – currently covered in the permanent exhibition.

The new display will, of course, expand on the subject of the borough’s fallen soldiers, as well as explore the wider impact of the war on Wanstead, Woodford and Ilford. 

About 1,500 men from Redbridge were killed during the First World War, 320 of whom were from Wanstead. Some 280 of these names appear on the Wanstead War Memorial, unveiled on Tarzy Wood in 1922, including Cyril Page of 32 Gordon Road (pictured above in 1917), whose story was researched by students from Wanstead High School as part of our First World War centenary project. Cyril joined the army shortly after his 18th birthday in August 1917 and was killed in action in France only months before the end of the war a year later. Some of the material in our collections relating to Cyril’s military experience will be on display to illustrate the realities of war for local young soldiers and their loved ones, such as photographs, medals, letters and postcards. 

The display will also look at how the borough pulled together to support each other and the less fortunate during wartime. Hundreds of refugees escaping the fighting in Belgium sought solace in the borough, with many staying in Wanstead in houses like ‘Bellegrove’ on Woodford Road, Snaresbrook, which could accommodate 20 guests in 12 rooms. Local residents also helped to raise funds for the refugees through concerts, including one organised by the Wanstead Primrose League in October 1914, where a Belgian couple performed a violin and flute duet.

The war was transformative in many ways. Women went into the workforce, many for the first time, often filling in jobs traditionally taken up by men in communications, transport and industries. Others, like Cecilia Matthews of Cowley Road, Wanstead, became Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses working in convalescent homes like the Woodford and Wanstead Military Hospital based at Highams Manor (now Woodford County High School).

There are plenty more stories that will be explored in this new display, but I’ll leave it to the objects, archives and newly designed text panels to tell them.

For more information on the impact of war on Wanstead, visit wnstd.com/rww1 

For more information on Redbridge Museum and to complete a survey about the new displays, visit wnstd.com/rm