detail of a wood carving depicting soldiers running with rifles

The Story of the World War One and World War Two Panels

The West Riding Woodcarvers’ Association (WRWA) was founded in Huddersfield in 1992 and today has approximately 70 members. Throughout its lifetime, members of the club have produced several large-scale carved panels to support the fundraising activities of local charities (see Woodcarving issue 52 January/ February 2000, and issue 101 March/April 2008).

You can view images of all the panels on Flickr® by clicking on the links below

World War One panels
World War Two panels

In 2007, the association produced a panel commemorating the 25th anniversary of Overgate Hospice in Elland, Calderdale, in which local scenes and activities were depicted. It was well received and helped raise money and awareness for the hospice. The success of this venture prompted the membership to undertake a similar, but more demanding, project. The subject matter this time would be scenes from the First and Second World Wars, the intention being to show, in a series of individual carvings, the horror, suffering, courage and human spirit of those who took part in these conflicts.

Carved wooden panels
Overgate Panel. 2.8 X 1m [9 X 3ft], depicting 41 scenes of Calderdale, for the Overgate Hospice, 2007.

Initially, only one large panel was envisaged but when 54 carvers showed a willingness to be involved, it was quickly decided that we could produce two panels, commemorating each conflict.

Themes

On each panel, five ‘themed areas’ were planned, as shown in the two diagrams below-Air (blue), Sea (teal), Europe (green), Home Front (purple) and Rest of the World (orange). Each area would identify and separate the main conflict zones associated with each of the World Wars. On the finished panels, these areas would be clearly defined by a larger spacing between them and the eventual 95 individual carvings.

Plan of panel themes

A sub-group of the membership was formed from volunteers to collect suitable photographs and pictures representative of the five selected themed areas, and to plan the overall dimensions and layout of the two panels.

Three people looking at plans
A group of volunteers planning the dimensions and layout of the panels

It was agreed that the overall size of each panel would be 3.048 × 1.524m (10 × 5ft), including a 100mm (4in) wide utile (Entandrophragma utile) hardwood frame. As with previous panels, the timber for carving would be lime (Tilia spp).

Two people looking at plans
All collected photographs were redrawn to assist the carving process

Our aim was to cover as many sectors as possible of the armed forces and civilian population which played a part in both conflicts, such as the Bevin Boys, the Land Army Girls, Fire Fighters and animals used in war, along with the frontline fighting forces.

Eventually, 95 pictures of various sizes were selected, which would involve varying levels of skill and difficulty in carving. Because suitable photographs from the 1914/18 period were both scarce in variety and very dark in colour, a small group of very good artists amongst our members set about re-drawing all 95 pictures into line drawings to assist with the perspective and actual carving. These drawings were photocopied and resized to specific dimensions to fit into their allotted place in a full-size paper plan of each panel.

Designs laid out on floor
The layout of panels showing a mix of photos and line drawings

Location & finance

The Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, was chosen for the final location of the panels. As the Museum is Britain’s oldest and has one of the greatest and most comprehensive collections of arms and armour in the world, it was a perfect match to the military theme of our project. Plus with the museum located in West Yorkshire where all our members reside, the panels would be easily accessible.
On approaching the Royal Armouries, armed with a full-scale paper plan of each panel and samples of relief carvings done by club members, they were delighted to immediately enter into a joint partnership with the club.

Meeting of people looking at plans
Discussing the panel designs at a club meeting

Our club charges an annual subscription of £20 and it has never been our intention to accumulate funds beyond our general running costs, but to seek grants for any charitable project we undertake. On this occasion, we approached the Leeds Community Foundation for financial assistance with material costs. We were offered a very generous sum to cover nearly all materials, administration and publication costs, and we are extremely grateful to the Foundation for their encouragement and support throughout the project.

Materials

Hands holding a chisel carving wood
Mike Chambers carving his Hiroshima scene for the WWIT panel

We returned to a supplier with whom we have a close relationship -Hexhamshire Hardwoods in Northumberland. They supplied 95 individual 32mm (1%in) thick, machined lime pieces to the sizes we requested. Our members were issued with instructions encouraging them to carve deep to create shadow, but to leave 1Omm (3/ain) of background to ensure that the carving could be screwed from the back onto an MDF backboard.

Carving of Bletchley Park
Bletchley Park, by Trevor Metcalfe -part of the WWII panel

Club together

The volunteer carvers were given three photocopies of their particular picture and a block of lime wood, both to the exact size dictated by the master paper plan of each panel. A set of brief instructions was issued regarding the depth of carving, keeping fine detail away from edges in case the size of the carvings had to be altered slightly on completion, and the need to not bleach or use any form of stain.

5 stages of work in the creation of a carving
Carving stages of Trevor Stanley’s Memorial Plaque featured on the WWI panel

As the carvings progressed, it became apparent that everybody was determined not to let down their fellow carvers, and members were inviting each other to their home workshops to swop ideas. The overall outcome were carvings to an admirably high standard. One of the overriding reasons for undertaking this project was to bring club members together so that everybody, irrespective of skill, could become involved.

8,000 hours

Everyone was encouraged to keep a check of the hours they put into the carving process. As a conservative estimate, we are sure that just over 8,000 hours of carving went into completing the panels.

War in Burma
War in Burma, by Jim Wrathall-part of the WWII panel

Once finished, each carving was dipped for protection in a clear sealant and brushed over with a proprietary woodworm killer solution, so as not to introduce woodworm into the priceless exhibits within the museum.

Many hours were put into the machining, sanding, polishing and construction of the two custom-made frames by two of our long-serving members, and the individual carvings were precisely mounted onto a 19mm (3/4in) MDF backboard. The construction was such that the frames and backboard holding the individual carvings could be separated for transportation.

A wooden cover to encompass both frame and panels was made to protect both.

Forget-me-not Hospice

From the outset our aim was to raise funds for the new Forget-me-Not Children’s Hospice, serving the people of Kirklees and Calderdale, through the sale of commemorative booklets featuring a foldout cover, front and back. The inner of the foldout cover shows a diagrammatical representation and key to individual carvings, together with photographs of the completed panels. Each carving, photographed by one of our members, Graham Lockwood, is accompanied by detailed and interesting information regarding the subject matter, sourced by the carvers themselves.

Advanced Dressing Station
Advanced Dressing Station, by Bryan Hodgson-part of the WWl panel

With the proceeds of the Leeds Community Foundation grant, and the assistance of the Royal Armouries on design and printing, 3,000 booklets were produced to a very high quality. Help with financing the printing of the booklets resulted in us being able to sell them at the relatively modest price of £4 each, with all the funds eventually being passed to the Children’s Hospice.

Official unveiling

HRH Prince Michael of Kent speaking to a war veteran
HRH Prince Michael of Kent officially unveiled the panels at the Royal Armouries in Leeds
Every November the Royal Armouries undertakes a month-long ‘Reflect and Remember’ project which leads to a special Service of Remembrance, attended by local dignitaries, children and adult choirs, trumpeters and WWII veterans on Remembrance Day. During the two-minute silence, poppies descend from the upper galleries onto the heads of those gathered for the service. It was agreed that this occasion would be the perfect setting for officially unveiling the panels in their permanent home. We were honoured that HRH Prince Michael of Kent, accompanied by Dr Ingrid Roscoe, Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire, agreed to unveil the panels.

The day of the 11 November 2010 was a lovely occasion, with over 130 of our club members, family and guests attending. After a suitable introductory speech by a Director General of the Royal Armouries, Prince Michael unveiled the panels and took great delight in meeting and talking to many of those present.

The panels were displayed and stewarded by our members from the 11 November until the end of the month in the ‘Hall of Steel’, which comprises over 3,000 items of armour and military equipment in the largest mass display of its kind in the world. On the 1 December, the carved panels, glass sheet, video information and carving details were moved to their permanent location on the 3rd floor at the entrance to the War Gallery.

The many wonderful comments expressed about the panels, the generosity of people who wouldn’t accept change from £5 or £10 notes for a booklet, and generally just talking to the very interesting, warm and lovely people who took time to view the carvings, was truly humbling for our members. Their comments, and the funds we raised for the Children’s Hospice, fully justified the many hours the club had spent undertaking this project.

Information booklets available in the Royal Armouries bookstore on the Ground Floor. Price £4.00 each.

All proceeds to the Children’s Hospice.
Total amount donated to-date (October 2011) £8.500.00.

Did you know?

Guardian angels?

The Mauryan kings were guarded by women trained in the use of the sword and the bow.

Specialist enquiries

Got Excalibur in the loft or "that arrow" from the Battle of Hastings above the fireplace?

Contact our experts to find out if you've got a historical gem or a car boot sale classic.