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August 15, 2018

Bringing together the four Victoria Crosses, VC’s, awarded to the Tank Corps during the First World War for exhibition is no easy task. So how was this achieved?

Planning for the Victoria Cross Exhibit began in 2017. Following the generous loan of Capt. Richard Wain’s VC to mark centenary of the Battle of Cambrai, the Museum saw the upcoming Amiens anniversary in 2018 as the perfect opportunity to bring all four Tank Corps VC’s for together for the first time.

Gathering the VC’s

The Wain, Sewell and West VC’s were accounted for. The family of Lt Cecil Sewell had donated his medals to the Museum in the 1970s. While Lt Col West’s VC, which is a part of the Ashcroft Collection housed at the Imperial War Museum, was kindly loaned to us for the event by Lord Ashcroft. This left one VC, awarded to Capt. Robertson, to track down. Following an appeal, Captain Clement Robertson’s family contacted the Museum and agreed to loan us the medal.

Displaying the Medals

The question then became how we would display all four VC’s, making sure each VC was given the greatest possible care during display and each story of sacrifice and gallantry was told equally. A high spec, high security display case was ordered. Due to its location, the case was fitted with special glass to lower light levels, which can cause irreversible bleaching to objects. Sensors were then fitted to the case allowing us to constantly monitor light exposure and temperature throughout the exhibition period. With these sensors fitted, exhibition staff, who had selected additional objects from the Archive stores, spent three months trialling the case with mock ups and supporting items to find the perfect balance of objects to interpretation.

Following the finalisation of the layout, mounts for the medals were constructed in house. These mounts are made from wood covered with conservation foam and conservation grade fabric. A shelf on the bottom of each mount ensures that the medal weight rests on the shelf rather than the medal ribbon, to protect the VC from damage. Each medal has been carefully mounted by our exhibitions team assisted by supporting collection staff, all wearing nitrile gloves to prevent oils from the skin damaging the metal. While conservation grade entomology pins used in the mounting process prevent the medal from slippage, but are so thin they do not damage the medal or ribbon.

Telling the Story

However, a display case needs interpretation. While graphics, you would think, would be a relatively straight forward process for the exhibition it may surprise you to learn that interpretation material was also subject to conservation concerns. None of the images, labels or interpretation material designed by our graphics department for the display case feature any form of adhesive. This is to prevent damaging gases being introduced to the air tight display case.

For your opportunity to see this historic exhibition, the Victoria Cross Exhibition will be on display Monday 6th August 2018 until Sunday 11th November 2018.

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