As the Abandon Ship! exhibition focuses on two ships that sank, it was always going to be difficult to find objects to tell their story, as these now lie at the bottom of the ocean.
As well as free, fun family activities every Sunday afternoon in August, to help visitors understand a little more about the experience of abandoning ship and reality finding yourself adrift in the Atlantic, we developed a sensory table. Objects were chosen to tell the story of survival in tough conditions. They include examples of ships rations (condensed milk and salty hardtack biscuits – ew!) and even a wet woolly jumper.
Can you imagine how hard it would have been for sailors to swim to the life rafts while being pulled down by the weight of their uniforms?
We also worked with Khaki Devil, a company specialising in authentic reproductions, who made us a WWII-era life vest.There was no standard design for vests at the time, and the vest was based on photos showing sailors wearing similar vests.
The craftsmen at Khaki Devil designed a pattern and cut out all the pieces needed, using a strong canvas material. These were then sewn to create a tabard-style vest, with pockets that the floats could be put in to.
The floats were stuffed with kapok – a natural plant material. Early life vests had been filled with cork and some were still in use during WWII, but kapok was less rigid and a little easier to wear.
Unlike modern inflatable life vests, these were bulky and difficult to move in. Come on board to see the finished vest and try it on yourself!
Written by SNiF