First World War Heritage exhibits at GCU

A unique art project in remembrance of those who died in the First World War was exhibited at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

GCU was the first university to host assembly, a touring installation commemorating the fallen and inspiring reflection on the legacy of the war 100 years on.

Created by Val Carman, the first artist-in-residence at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Belgium, assembly features five memorial chairs taken from Passchendaele’s St. Audomarus Church, which was the scene of one of the worst battles of the conflict, and is accompanied by a memorial book which forms an integral part of the installation.

Members of the public and students and staff were invited to participate in the art project and share their stories, memories and reflections of the Great War or other conflicts – drawn from their own experience or which have been passed down from families and friends. These accounts were recorded in a memorial book, alongside the names of more than 174,000 soldiers who died on the battlefields in Belgium, to become part of the In Flanders Fields Museum’s special archive.

Artist Val Carman said: “The chairs brought a familiar, tactile and simple memorial of loss from Flanders and represented the emptiness that would have been physically present within many homes and communities. The accompanying memorial book contains many names, but shows only a fraction of the total loss, and is a reminder of the immensity of the tragic events.”

GCU was chosen as Scotland's first venue in recognition of the contribution made by one of its founding institutions, the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science, during the war years.

The College trained soldier cooks who went on to be stationed on the Front Line and in Military and Red Cross Hospitals while students and staff supported families on the home front by spearheading campaigns on rationing. Public lectures and experimental cooking, which supplemented flour with ingredients such as split peas, lentils, haricot beans, barley or rye, were taught to help families to combat food shortages caused by the German U-boat blockade campaign.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Pamela Gillies CBE FRSE, who launched the installation, said: “It was an honour to host assembly, which commemorates the centenary of the First World War and is a poignant reminder of the lives which were lost. As the University for the Common Good, we were keen to hear from our students, staff and the wider local community and to gather together the untold memories of the stories and experiences of their relatives, friends and loved ones who participated in that terrible conflict. I have been privileged to visit Ypres myself, and I am pleased that we have played our part in ensuring that these compelling stories of sacrifice and survival are being told as widely as possible.”

GCU archivist Carole McCallum added: “assembly asked the local community to become part of the story by contributing to this special commemorative archive.”