A patchwork of remembrance

A patchwork of remembrance

We chat with Nadine Muller, War Widows' Stories principal investigator and senior lecturer in English, about the latest work of the War Widows' Stories project: the War Widows' Quilt. 

Every Remembrance Day we commemorate those who have fought and fallen in service for their country. However, we know little about the lives of those who are left behind. War Widows’ Stories helps war widows tell their stories in their own voices, share their memories and raise awareness of their struggles.

As the project evolved, the concept of a memorial quilt resonated with the war widows. Contributed to by over 90 women across the UK, the War Widows’ Quilt is a beautiful piece of art crafted out of deep-felt emotion. As the Quilt unfurls with individual stories, so too does a collective history that’s finally being told.

Nadine explains more…

Why was it important to carry on the War Widows’ Stories project in this way?

“The stories we have been recording for the War Widows’ Stories project were overwhelming, sobering, moving, and inspiring. But it came as no surprise to us that talking not only about oneself but also about deeply personal experiences of love, loss, and grief to a relative stranger is not for everyone, no matter how much they may want to share their story with the world. We knew we had to find more ways to allow these women to tell their stories on their terms and in their own words, to process their experiences, and to make sure their voices are being heard.”

How did the idea for the quilt come about?

“When artist Lois Blackburn and writer Philip Davenport (arthur+-martha) introduced me to the stunning work they had been doing as part of the 'Stitching the Wars' project, it quickly became clear that quilting and poetry would open up new avenues for War Widows’ Stories. Poetry, so much more succinct than an oral history interview can be explicit or subtle, and so can provide a way to express oneself without bearing all, without spelling out, while at the same also adding layers and layers of unspoken meaning.

“Even more powerful, though, has been the art making. The very act of making, of sewing, can have a calming, therapeutic effect that helps process experiences, trauma, and grief. Squares can contain text or images, hidden meanings, and, thanks to Lois’s wonderful creativity, secret messages stashed away safely in the top pocket of a shirt. We’ve been overwhelmed and incredibly moved by the impact the quilt making has had on the women who contributed.”

What sort of impact does this project have, both in terms of bringing people together and as a people's history?

“Coming together in workshops to talk, write, stitch, and make provided both a social occasion and peer support in what could be challenging memories to recall and painful emotions to process.

“Behind each piece of art and each line of verse you encounter lies a story of loss, grief, resilience, and survival, but also of love, of laughter, of hope, and of new beginnings. Together, they form part of a history that deserves to be written, to be told, and to be listened to. The history of war remains incomplete until it includes the stories of those who are left behind in its wake. The War Widows' Quilt is an important piece in our attempt to break the deafening silence that has surrounded the lives of war widows for all too long.”

Some thoughts from war widows involved in the project

Theresa Davidson, whose husband served in the Scots Guards and died in the Falklands in 1982, commented: "I feel such pride and real honour to share my love and grief. The love, grief, loss, and pain never leaves you. It is my own personal war!" The War Widows’ Quilt, she said, has personal as well as public significance: "An amazing project, a piece of history for all, for the present and the future. A quilt of unending love, pain, and grief. A quilt of great honour, a true work of art." 

Another war widow, Angela Evans, reflected on the profound effect that contributing to the quilt had on her: "It’s from the heart. One day you have everything, then the next day you’ve got nothing. Somehow it helps to say something, to express it out loud."

Sue Prichard, Senior Curator (Arts) at Royal Museums Greenwich said: "The Queen's House has long been the site of female power and patronage. As such we actively seek opportunities to reveal the untold female narratives inherent in our collections. It is therefore wholly appropriate that we take this opportunity to commemorate the experiences of contemporary women within the wider context of conflict on land and at sea".

The War Widows’ Quilt was on display during Remembrance weekend at Queen’s House, Greenwich, alongside the oral histories the project has produced.

Nadine is just one of the amazing lecturers within the English department. If you're interested in studying English, take a look at our courses.


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