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Discovering Devon’s Literature from the First World War

By February 2, 2017January 26th, 2021Member News & Updates

A new exhibition of historic books allows visitors to Exeter Library to explore ideas that preoccupied readers and writers in Devon during the First World War.

The exhibition, War and Prose: Devonshire Literature in the Great War, brings together books from the city centre library’s special collections and from the West Country Studies Library, normally housed at Devon Heritage Centre at Sowton.

Researchers from the Devon Remembers Heritage Project have chosen the books to reflect how Devon’s countryside was romanticised in wartime, how the county returned to its proud naval heritage for comfort and how life on the Home Front affected women and children.

Many of the books are beautifully illustrated, and include children’s stories, guides to the Devon landscape, tales of maritime heroes and charming works by the artist and nurse Joyce Dennys.

Researcher Ciaran Stoker said: “When we consider British literature in the First World War, we tend to think of poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but away from the trenches, people on the Home Front were also writing about their experiences. We found that Devon featured prominently in writings from the war period and many popular writers of the day came from the county.”

Exeter Library, run by the charity and social enterprise Libraries Unlimited, has nine permanent display cases situated around the building and maintains a schedule of free exhibitions highlighting collections of printed books from the medieval period onwards.

Joanne Kirkpatrick, Senior Supervisor at Exeter Library, said: “We’re very pleased to have worked with the Devon Heritage Centre on this exhibition and are glad to continue showcasing treasures held within both institutions. There are some stunning books to be seen here at the library and we hope visitors enjoy discovering them.”

The collection will be on display until the end of February. Visitors can find the exhibition on the ground floor of Exeter Library.

The Devon Remembers Heritage Project, which is managed by the South West Heritage Trust, is running a programme of research, talks, events and exhibitions across Devon to give local people an opportunity to explore the county's First World War experience.  

Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, the project has received a grant of £267,400 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) with additional support from the South West Heritage Trust, Devon County Council, Torbay Council and the University of Exeter.