In Flanders Fields Museum #booksandmuseums series
Michael Morpurgo was inspired to write this book by a letter he saw while visiting In Flanders Fields Museum in Belgium. It was a letter from the army to a Private’s mother saying that her son had been shot and killed for being a conscientious objector. Michael Morpurgo asked the curator if this was an isolated incident/letter, and was told it wasn’t. He was then taken to the stores where he was shown many other similar letters.
Here Michael Morpurgo writes about finding inspiration at In Flanders Fields Museum:
‘The first time I went to Ypres, to In Flanders Fields Museum, housed in the Cloth Hall that forms one side of the town square, I was with Michael Foreman, the great illustrator. We were there to attend a conference on books for the young set against the background of war—I had written War Horse some years before, and Michael [Foreman] had written War Boy and War Game. We were already good friends, having collaborated closely on several stories. We had laughed together a great deal over the years, as friends do. Emerging into the harsh light of day after visiting In Flanders Fields Museum, we wept together.
As a schoolboy, I had read the War Poets—Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas and Edmund Blunden (who was a friend of my stepfather’s and often stayed with us at weekends). I had heard Benjamin Britten‘s ‘War Requiem‘, and read All Quiet on the Western Front, and seen the film. I’d worn my poppy every autumn; stood cocooned in silence for two minutes every Remembrance Day. But none of these things touched me so intensely as this museum.
Since that first visit, I’ve been back several times: sometimes to research other stories set in the first world war, such as Private Peaceful; sometimes to perform these stories in folk-song concerts in village halls and churches all over Flanders. I feel I belong here. My grandfather Emile Cammaerts was Belgian: too old to fight in 1914, he boosted the morale of his compatriots by writing poems, some later set to music by Elgar. Ypres has become a place of pilgrimage for me. And always, when I step out into the bustle of the town square after passing once more through In Flanders Fields, I find myself lost in sadness.
Last year I went to Museum Next in Geneva, and before that spent a week visiting printing and book museums in Germany and Switzerland. It was such an interesting and inspiring week, and very useful in the research and development process for the new book museum. On April 18th I’m heading to Museum Next in Dublin. Ahead of this brilliant conference – and to try something different on the blog – I’m running a mini series on books that features real museums that you can visit. If you have read any of these books, or visited the museums, please add your reactions as comments below.
Interested in visiting In Flanders Fields museum? Find out more here.
Read more about Private Peaceful the book here.
Quotes from Michael Morpurgo in this post are extracted from an interview with Intelligent Life that can be read in full here.
‘Stories make you think and dream; books make you want to ask questions.’