People generally see Museums as sources of accurate, authoritative information. They often regard them as sources of knowledge and expertise. When we collect objects for our collection, or re-visit things we already have, we try and record as much as we possibly can about them. When they’re put on display, we use some or all of this information in putting displays together.
Sometimes however we don’t always have all the information we need. For really old things it’s because the surviving information and evidence is very fragmentary, so we have to fill in the gaps with educated guess-work or using knowledge from other places. It’s also true of things at the other end of the scale – those things that are so recent that we are still gathering information and knowledge about them. In most cases the people that have used those objects know far more about them than we do.
We recently had to put together a costumed figure as part of an update to our Afghanistan display. Changes in technology and introduction of new clothing and equipment meant that we had to source a lot of it from scratch. We also knew that a lot of people looking at the figure would have served in Afghanistan. We wanted to make sure that we got it right for them.
We spoke to quite a lot of people about different aspects of the figure. There was a lot of detail that we could have easily missed. As a result we ended up doing a lot of things to it, that we could never have worked out from photographs. These included the black Velcro tab sticking out from a pocket on the upper arms of the combat shirt. The tab is part of a tourniquet and it makes sense to have it accessible like that, so it can be reached easily if needed. Unless you’ve carried one like that, you probably wouldn’t know.
Other more obvious things we could tell from photographs. The Assault Rifle he carries now has a different flash eliminator – these are fitted in Afghanistan and removed when people return to the UK. It also has a different sight.
So what about the paint brush ? We’d seen these in photographs and they were stuck either in body armour, or in people’s pockets. We’d assumed that they were for brushing dust from weapons, until someone was able to tell us that they are used to carefully remove earth around lethal Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). The importance of a simple paint brush can’t be understated and it is important that we can record this, so that in 50 years time people don’t have to guess.
If you'd like to meet Royal Marines recently back from Afghanistan come along to our event 'Destiantion Afghanistan' on Thursday 7th June. A great family fun day out, with military vehicles, combat displays, a helicopter, paint balling and more. www.royalmarinesmuseum.co.uk/da
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