This month’s Hands on History session ‘Safety First’ considers objects from the museum collections that were created and used to keep people safe. Objects which have protected people from adversity including extreme weather conditions, poor sanitation, war and disease will be explored.
In this post, I’d like to look at two pieces we will share with our visitors on Saturday 17 March, both of which express human inclination to seek spiritual protection.
The first of these is a postcard originally sent to a Mr R Rowley of 132 Bucks Hill, Nuneaton. The illustrated postcard has a poem on the front called, ‘A Soldier – His Prayer’. This poem emerged during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War at the Battle of El Agheila in Libya.
During this battle, Field Marshall Rommel of the German Afrika Corps advanced and forced the British Army into major retreat. The poem is reported to have fluttered into the hands of a soldier sheltering in a slit trench. It was written on a scrap of paper.
The opening lines of the poem reflect the soldier’s appeal for strength, companionship and protection from God:
‘Stay with me God. The night is dark, The night is cold; my little spark
Of courage dims. The night is long. Be with me God, and make me strong.’
The final lines of the poem similarly call to God for support and help in facing death:
‘Help me again when death is near,
To mock the haggard face of fear,
That when I fall, if fall I must,
My soul may triumph in the dust!’
This deeply emotive prayer-poem was first published in a collection entitled Poems from the Desert: Verses by Members of the Eighth Army in 1944.
The second object to contemplate embodies a wish for spiritual protection: a charm from our Islamic Treasures collection. The charm is a circular glass bead resembling an eye.
Charms of this type are referred to as evil eyes and their purpose is to protect their wearer or owner from the evil eye itself. The evil eye is a malevolent look, also referred to as a ‘death glance’, inflicted by one person onto another with the intention of causing them harm. The evil eye is especially attached to jealousy, wherein the purpose is to cause injury or misfortune, to the envied person. Belief in the evil eye is widespread and appears in many cultures of the world. The evil eye is cited in Ancient Greek and Roman texts and is acknowledged throughout history.
The evil eye charm from our collections is attached to a postcard on which it is written in ink:
‘Charm to avert the evil eye – to tie onto a lock of hair and dangle over a child’s forehead.’
This particular charm is therefore intended to provide spiritual protection for a child from the evil eye.
Drop in at Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery on Saturday 17 March, to discover more objects that have contributed to the protection of people, between 11 am and 4 pm.