Cut into the side of the white cliffs and surrounded by farmland, lies St Margarets-at-Cliffe. It is a beautiful place with magnificent views out to sea. During the First World War this small village was surrounded by airfields, 500 soldiers moved in and due to the risk of bombing was subjected to regular blackouts. Everyone living in the village got involved with the war effort, and life became tough.
Nicole Mollett has created a folded drawing entitled ‘They Also Shall Return’ for the St. Margaret’s Museum. The work is a visual social anthropological map of the community who lived in the village during the War. The prominent feature of the drawing is the faces of people taken from the photographic archive; the soldiers, their families, the parish council and volunteers. A range of individuals both heroic and humble. The portraits are woven together with fragments of images from the frontline, The War illustrated magazine and St. Margarets Village.
The title is taken from a poem by Lance Corporal Joseph Lee first published in 1917 called The Home- Coming. The poem places those that lost their lives in battle at the centre of its story, and asserts their presence and return ‘A dead man shall stand, at each live man’s hand’. This defiance of their invisibility honours the sacrifice they made.
On top of the cliff stands the war memorial on which is engraved the thirty one names of those soldiers that died during the war. In the archive there is a book containing a hand written list of everyone in the village who contributed to the war effort. There are many faceless names. When researching ideas for the project Nicole was drawn to the WW1 collection of personal postcards and photographs belonging to local families. These artefacts gave a window into the human experience of war.
Although now long gone ‘They Also Shall Return’ challenges the invisibility these people. In the drawing they alive, and present. The work celebrates their dignity and the courage they displayed in the face of adversity.
Associated Artist: Nicole Mollett
Associated Museum: St Margaret’s