A5: a story not told (introduction)

It’s been a while away from my blog, what with building work at home and heavy work commitments. Now I have time to push through to the end!

Assignment 5 is self-directed, a topic of my own choice built on the lessons learned from the Identity and Place Module. I’ve found that the subject matter for my work is best selected from a genuine interest, not something that is necessarily a convenient fit with the assignment brief or the time constraints I face as a part-time student. Art needs to express something and without a genuine interest in the subject, there is little fulfillment in its creation and it is easily read as fake or frivolous.

For this assignment I return to a subject area touched upon in exercise 4.5, my grandfather’s survival of the torpedoing of HMS Royal Oak, moored in Scapa Flow in the early months of WW2. Whereas the exercise was inspired by a letter from him to my grandmother, recounting his survival, the material for the assignment is more widely sourced and the assignment has become a journey into a part of my family history that my grandfather would not discuss either with me or his children. The significance of his survival to me personal is my very existence; without it my mother would have not been conceived.

The materials and research for this project, which are covered in detail in the entries that follow, include:

– Grandfather’s documents and photos; a letter describing his survival (the only account I have written or verbal), telegrams sent during the war, photographs of him in uniform, naval post-cards.

– Grandfather’s navy uniform; his cap, buttons from uniform and medals.

– Scapa Flow trip photographs; my own photographs from a road-trip to the Orkney Islands and Scapa Flow for the purposes of this project (combined with a family holiday).

– Museum visit to the Island of Hoy, which houses a collection of materials related to HMS Royal Oak.

– Orkney Islands photographic archive visit (housed in Stromness library) to view images of the ship before she was torpedoed.

– History of HMS Royal Oak’ sinking; there is some material availalble on internet sites, but it is difficult to decipher through the propaganda of war, both from the British perspective (with the sinking being a disaster, subject to investigation and debate for many years) and the German persective (a huge success story, with the submariners receiving a hero’s welcome back in Germany). In the end, my main source of understanding for events leading to the sinking of the ship was the well researched book, ‘Nightmare on Scapa Flow’ by HG and HJ Weaver.

From this range of materials, it is my intention to create a series of composite images that tell the story of my personal journey into a  time in my grandfather’s life that he did not discuss. I only recall him telling me, as a boy, that he did not want to talk about the war as too many horrible things happened. My mother explained a similar situation in her childhood, saying ‘they would never talk to us about the war; I think they just wanted us kids to feel safe’. On HMS Royal Oak, 844 men and boys met horrific deaths in the fire of exploding munitions, in the water that rapidly filled the ship where they were trapped below deck, in the icy-cold oil-saturated sea of Scapa Flow, injured or unable to swim.

4 thoughts on “A5: a story not told (introduction)

  1. This is a fascinating subject Andrew and I will follow it with interest. I have all of my Grandfathers records and medals from his time in the merchant navy and always wanted to do something with them. Thankfully he I didn’t go though anything as horrific as your Grandfsther did but there may be a story there just the same. I hope you will continue to share your work on this story after the OCA element is done.

    1. It’s interesting Anne, but I wasn’t quite as interested in the family history until working with photography. I think it is a way to bring it to life and breath some emotion into it through art.

  2. Hello Andrew – had a lot of distractions too but arriving at A5 now. I wonder if this would make a good hand made book made to look like a forces service record. I am planning to go to Manchester to look at a hand made book archive as my A5 will be hand made.

    1. Hello Morris – I’m thinking of a handmade book eventually, but perhaps not within the context of the OCA course but as an extension of the work. This book might include stitching in facsimile copies of original letters and even using the original uniform buttons as clasps. Perhaps a 3D cover using a service medal. It would eventually become a family history to pass down. I attended a book making course a short time ago, but need some time to develop technical proficiency so may just stick with prints for this assignment, which could later be repurposed as part of a book.

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