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New Big Picture Show Service and Separation: A Volunteer Nurse in Afghanistan
Camp Bastion in Afghanistan at sunset.

MANCHESTER.- I don’t want to talk about the downside of life here. I don’t want you to worry about me but it has really made me appreciate all I have at home.’ Claire Davies-Griffith writing to her husband from Afghanistan in 2010

Imperial War Museum North in Manchester launched a brand new 360-degree Big Picture Show, exploring the experiences of a female Territorial Army nurse who served with the locally-based 207 (Manchester) Field Hospital, in Afghanistan in late 2010. This unique show, which is projected onto the walls of the Museum’s Main Exhibition Space, features intimate footage of one family, providing insight into the work of this volunteer unit, the effects on those serving, and the impact on the family back home in the UK.

Focusing on the themes of service and separation, this film looks at the work of Claire Davies-Griffith who volunteers as a nurse with 207 Field Hospital but usually works at an NHS hospital in the West Midlands, where she lives. Using exclusively filmed footage of Claire and her family it focuses on the correspondence that took place whilst Claire was in Afghanistan to explore her experiences at Camp Bastion and her family’s experience of her being away from home. This show gives a glimpse into the work of Claire and her comrades through the use of 360-degree surround sound and a multitude of different film clips and photographs, brought together to provide a fully immersive experience in the Museum’s Main Exhibition Space.

Everyday life back home is sharply contrasted with real-life trauma, made particularly poignant by the normality of Claire’s daughter watching medical drama Holby City on television set against the reality of Claire’s long shifts in Camp Bastion, one of the busiest military hospitals in the world. Particularly moving is the thank you letter Claire reads out from 2 Para Battle Group about the care their troops are receiving and how reassuring it is that they are only a helicopter ride away. The show’s soundtrack is the song Hanging in the Wire by PJ Harvey from her current album ‘Let England Shake’, specifically chosen because the song echoes the same balance of optimism and sorrow that is felt in the correspondence between Claire and her family.

The Big Picture Show has been a highlight of any visit to Imperial War Museum North since opening in 2002 but has recently undergone a dramatic digital transformation. Originally set up using 64 carousel slide projectors and over 2,700 35mm slides, this system and the existing shows have now been transferred to a new digital projector system. The new system allows, for the first time, the use of moving images rather than just static slides, bringing the Museum’s Main Exhibition Space to life in a far more dynamic, engaging and emotive way. In between these shows the space is now animated by projections of images from Imperial War Museum’s Collections including posters and film.

Building on the Museum’s existing relationship with 207 Field Hospital, an exhibition looking at the wider theme of medicine and war will launch at Imperial War Museum North in October 2012.

Jim Forrester, Director at Imperial War Museum North said: ‘We are exceptionally grateful to Claire Davies-Griffith and her family for allowing us to feature their experiences in this new Big Picture Show. We are pleased to be launching this new show during the Summer Holidays, giving our visitors and their families insight into the extraordinary work of Manchester’s volunteer field hospital during their recent tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010.’

Captain Kevin Thornley from 207 (Manchester) Field Hospital said: ‘We are delighted to have been able to work with Imperial War Museum North on this new Big Picture Show. Before, during and after our recent deployment to Afghanistan the Museum supported the Unit’s Welfare Office and families with a number of events, for which we are very thankful. We are also grateful to the Museum for increasing awareness and understanding of the work that we do, and look forward to working with them more in the future.’

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