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Royal Armouries Voices: Daniel Ward

Royal Armouries Voices is a new series talking to our colleagues at Leeds, Fort Nelson, and the Tower of London about their experiences working with one of the world’s largest and most important collections of arms and armour. Their answers were recorded and transcribed for publication below.

Today I met with Daniel Ward, one of our Museum Assistant s here at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. He’s not been with us very long so I was interested in his fresh insights into the museum.

What made you want to work at the Royal Armouries?

Daniel: While I was doing my degree in Military History at Sheffield Hallam, I always had the Royal Armouries in mind. Its collection fits so closely with the interests of my degree. It’s also such an old collection, so being part of that history and being able to engage with the collection was really appealing for me.

Museum Assistant Daniel stands in the foreground of a display case containing two mounted machines guns and a suit of trench Armour.

Dan’s speciality is modern military history. These machineguns are from the First World War and can be found on the third floor of the museum.

Which gallery is your favourite here at the Royal Armouries Museum Dan?

Daniel: The War Gallery on the second floor has the largest chronological range with objects from prehistorical and ancient times, and going right up to the present day. If someone only had an hour to spare I would recommend the War Gallery because of that. Also it’s nicely laid out with lots of space so interesting to explore. I also like the Oriental Gallery as it feels really peaceful up there, with the contemplation area and chessboards, even if I don’t know as much about the objects it’s still enjoyable to walk around.

A live demonstration was starting in the War Gallery as we chatted, and it started filling up with excited onlookers. We left to walk around the museum getting out of the way of the crowd and ending up in the quieter upper level of the Tournament Gallery where I asked Daniel my next question.

Do you have a favourite object in the Royal Armouries Museum?

Daniel: My favourite object is a damaged German machine gun from the First World War on the third floor. It’s tempting to pick something that’s beautifully ornate, engraved or in pristine condition. However, the reason I like that machine gun in particular is actually because of its damaged state. This object’s appearance clearly shows it was used in a conflict, giving it one of the best visual stories in the museum. For me it raised a lot of interesting questions: was it used to fire shots in anger? May have unfortunately killed someone?

A mounted Machine gun pointed towards the viewer. It is rusted from age and bent from battle damage.

Captu LMG 08/15 machine gun. From a German aeroplane shot down by the Machine Gun Corps near the village of Dadizeele in 1918.

Daniel: That in turn raises the question; is it ethical to display objects that were used to cause suffering? I find it really interesting that from this single object sprout so many questions that are not even about it; but about our museum and even how our society views certain aspects of our history. I just hope that we don’t associate displaying an object with condoning or glorifying what it was used for. When the real value in displaying it is about inspiring questions to be asked and tackle them in an open and free space. That’s why I love that object, it sums up all those interesting ethical questions about museums that are fascinating.

Daniel and I chatted some more before he returned to his duties. What he had to say about the ethics within museums and also the deeper stories behind our collection made me think about how different people see our collection so differently, and how his insights were so different to those that we normally see presented.

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