How “Churchills Finest Hour 1940-1945” exhibition came to be
By Niels Bjerre
The opening of my new photo and fact exhibition “Churchills Finest Hour 1940-1945” at Bristol Central Library May 3th was at the end of a long journey.
My most recent exhibition about Churchill was in October 2000, with Mary Soames kind enough to open “Remember Winston Churchill” in Copenhagen. It marked the 50th anniversary of Churchill visit to the Danish capital in 1950. I created that together with René Højris; a keen collector of Churchill memorabilia. My first Churchill exhibition “Churchill – his life in pictures” was at The Royal Arsenal Museum in 1994, graciously opened by Robert Hardy.
Between these two about Churchill, I changed subject in 2007 when a created the exhibition “Eisenhower – general and diplomat” to coincide with the release of his book in Danish, “A Crusade in Europe”. Later, I took the exhibition to ten cities around Denmark.
Last summer I finally did have luck in getting some funding for a new Churchill exhibition and in the autumn I found out that it theme should be about Churchill´s war years 1940-1945. I wanted this Churchill exhibition to open in England.
It was first during a visit to Cabinet War Rooms in 1987 that inspired my interest in Churchill. The mission became clear; The Danes had never had an exhibition in Denmark about Churchill so why not create one? Like many other countries which were occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War, we see Churchill as the savior of the free world. Still moving to me are Churchill’s many wartime speeches; how he used them to succeed in kindling the spirit of the British people and rousing people everywhere to join the underground movements all over Europe.
I chose Bristol because Churchill paid a visit in April 1941 and we are now upon the 70th anniversary of this date.
In 1941 it was a large party that travelled with Churchill to the bomb-scared city, just days after heavy air raids by the German Luftwaffe. With Churchill were his wife Clementine and daughter Mary. Lady Soames recently recalled for me her visit; their arrival at the Central Railway Station to see that many people had turned up to greet them. The British people were surprised by all of Churchill´s travelling during the war and the arrangements were of course all kept secret to the very last minute.
Also there on April 12th were the American Ambassador to Great Britain, Gilbert Winant and the Australian Prime Minister Mr. Menzies. After Churchill had toured around parts of the city, they were each presented with honorary degrees at the University of Bristol.
I must get to the idea of the design for my exhibition. The fact that I would be traveling overseas this time meant that I would need to have an exhibition which would be light and easily packed away. I sorted out all of these details earlier this spring. The exhibition was to be built using 17 “Trend Banner´s” (Made in Germany). They are easily put up in different venues, whether large, or where space is at a premium.
I then had to write the text for the photographs and come up with the final design. The exhibit includes 60 photographs of Churchill from 1940-1945. Each one has been carefully sorted out and there are some which the public doesn’t often see in publications. On top of each banner there are a timeline “Action This Day” showing important dates for Churchill and the Second World War. Each year has 10 photographs of important events. I also included six Churchill quotes from his famous speeches, one for each year 1940-1945.
My sister, Michala Randahl Bjerre was kind enough to complete the design to my specifications. I am particularly pleased with the banner about Churchill´s wartime travels 1941-1945, which I always wanted to include in one of my exhibitions. I must also thank the graphic designer on the Danish newspaper Berlingske, who provided the exhibition with the world map used to show Churchill wartime travels.
Another of the banner’s shows books, DVD’s and CD´s about Churchill, many of which were published in the last several years.
Allen Packwood, Director of Churchill Archives Centre and Executive Director for The Churchill Centre – UK, provided the exhibition with a number of interesting documents, including copies of two pages of the “Finest Hour” speech.
When I asked Bristol Central Library´s, Robert Harrison back in the autumn 2010 if I could open and exhibit in May, the clear message was: “Yes”. I was also able to persuade The Lord Mayor of Bristol, Colin Smith, to officially open the exhibit.
The exhibition was completed and we had an “un-official” opening for friends and family April 30th.
On the morning of May 2th I flew from Copenhagen to Heathrow Airport and arrived to Bristol in time for the final preparations.
It is always a challenge to put up an exhibition in a new venue, but it fit perfectly in the Reference Corridor in Bristol’s Central Library. The next day was the opening and everything was in place in time to greet The Lord Mayor Colin Smith and the other invited guests at 1:30 pm. Pol Roger was very kind to provide us with wonderful champagne.
My dream of travelling with Churchill has finally come true and the tour will go on.
The plan now is to get it other locations in the UK and on the continent of Europe. From the beginning of August to the end of October 2012 it will be displayed at The Winston Churchill Memorial and Library in Fulton, Missouri.
Photos courtesy of photographs Jonathan Bowcott / Bristol