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Keeping wartime memories alive

This week, members of #TeamNESM took part in an event at Sheffield Cathedral to mark the anniversary of the Sheffield Blitz. We took some vintage vehicles to display - including a wartime K2 fire engine - as well as a number of activities for the public to interact with, ahead of a special service at the Cathedral in the evening.

It's 81 years since the raids on Sheffield on 12/13th and 15th December 1940. The Cathedral event was initially planned for last year, to mark the 80th anniversary of the raids, but had to be cancelled for obvious reasons. So it was great to finally be able to help mark this significant milestone, albeit 12 months later than we had hoped.

Events like this are important for our museum to get involved with. World War II had a profound effect not just on the emergency services but on the life of the nation as whole. As it begins to fade from living memory the need to preserve the experiences of those who lived through the conflict - both overseas and on the home front - becomes ever-more important.

We are proud to do our bit to ensure that these stories are remembered and shared, not just by supporting outside events like the Sheffield commemoration but also by celebrating the role of wartime fire, police and ambulance services in our exhibitions, community engagement and in-house events.

A dynamic display within the museum tells the story of the Sheffield Blitz. Visitors can climb in the back of a genuine National Fire Service (NFS) vehicle, sit inside an original Anderson shelter and hear recorded memories of those who experienced the bombing itself.

Taking pride of place in the exhibition is a Barnsley Fire Brigade engine, which sped to Sheffield's assistance when it was overwhelmed by German bombs and is the only remaining engine to have served in the city's Blitz.

The exhibition also takes a prominent role in a popular workshop for schools, delivered by the museum’s learning and discovery co-ordinators. Primary school pupils can visit the museum to learn about the attacks on Sheffield, find out how they affected everyday life, see the impact they had on the emergency services and handle objects from the museum’s collection that bring the history of World War II to life. Our new outreach offer, called Topic Takeover Days, also lets us take this experience out to school and community groups across the region, as does our new, updated World War II loan box.

In the summer of 2019 we hosted our first ever Vintage Village as part of the Sheffield Fayre. A host of historic vehicles were on show at this 1940s-inspired event, both from the museum’s collection and as part of displays by other re-enactors such as the Ambulance Heritage Service. Our NFS training workshop was launched at the event, and it proved particularly popular with the hundreds of visitors to the village. This gave people the chance to see an Austin K2 fire pump up close as well as take part in training exercises to learn what it took to be a wartime firefighter. This included finding incendiary bombs in a smoky building and bringing them to safety, using a stirrup pump, handling and extinguishing bombs and even learning to roll a fire hose in double-quick time. It was a fantastic event and we're all crossing our fingers that it will make a welcome return in 2022.

And this weekend, 11 and 12 December, we are stepping back to the 1940s again for our Wartime Christmas event; our first major event for nearly two years. Visitors can step back in time to the days of rationing, the blackout and Dame Vera Lynn as our museum's historic Victorian building will be decorated in its forties finest and is filled with things to do, see and hear that together to create an immersive wartime Christmas.

Visitors will get a taste of what a wartime Christmas was like in the Home Front zone, have a go as a home front firefighter and interact with a variety of re-enactment groups over the two days, who will present some amazing military displays and equipment. The museum will be filled with the sounds of the forties, there'll be a recreated forties pub and young visitors can also enjoy some festive crafts. And, of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without the chance to visit Father Christmas in his grotto!

Matt Wakefield, the museum's CEO, said, 'This has always been one of our most popular events and the highlight of our calendar. It's an especially significant one this year though, as it's the first time we've been able to hold it for two years and it's our first major event since before the pandemic. So we're pulling out all the stops!

'When we host any of our World War II events it's always great to see so many people, of all ages, engaging with this fascinating period of history. The emergency services played such a big role in the conflict, especially on the home front, and as we pass 80 years since it started we want to help make sure their contribution is remembered.’

For more information, and for tickets, go to Booking in advance is the only way to guarantee entry to the museum for the event.

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