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100 hearts to mark Somme centenary

06 July 2016

During this centenary year of the Battle of the Somme, SSAFA the Armed Forces charity’s Wiltshire Branch is running a project entitled 100 Hearts for 100 Years, replicating the First World War sweetheart pin cushions that convalescing soldiers made to send home to their loved ones.

Embroiderers and students from The Royal School of Needlework (RSN), in Hampton Court Palace, are creating 20 of the 100 sweetheart pin cushions for the campaign and recently held a workshop at the palace with members, students and future tutors.

Embroiderers from The Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace. Photographer Cpl Jamie Dudding; Crown copyright.

Embroiderers from The Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace. Photographer Cpl Jamie Dudding; Crown copyright.

Creating a sweetheart pin cushion was, for injured soldiers at the time, used as one of the first forms of occupational therapy. These romantic objects were made with regimental felt, buttons and badges and would reflect things the soldier held close to his heart, often with their regimental insignia at the centre. Few remain intact.

SSAFA is the oldest national military charity in the UK and has been in existence for 130 years. It provides lifelong support to anyone who is currently serving or has ever served in the Royal Navy, British Army or Royal Air Force including reservists, and their families.

SSAFA Wiltshire Branch Secretary Lieutenant Colonel Bill Common said: “This Centenary year, SSAFA Wiltshire Branch has commissioned the creation of 100 red replica sweetheart pin cushions by volunteers around the country that will eventually be put on display in an exhibition at Salisbury Cathedral, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Somme.”

“Many of the hearts will be decorated with crests of regiments that passed through Wiltshire during WW1, as well as those of current Wiltshire-based regiments, thus highlighting the continuing importance of the county in our military footprint."

No stitching required

Noleen Wyatt-Jones, of the RSN, an organisation with a long and distinguished history of embroidering for the British armed forces and the royal family, said: “What amazes me is how you can achieve what you achieve with pins. You look at it and you think there must be stitching, there must be glue and there isn’t.”

The RSN has made 20 standard cushions plus a larger heart for each of the single services and SSAFA.

“Each person personalises their heart so it means something to them; people who’ve had relations, grandparents, in the war. So, they’ll pick a regiment, an emblem, or a motif that means something to them. That’s what makes them all so personal,” said Noleen.

“When you see them in their entirety they might have all started from the same two pieces of red felt but they all look totally different, even though they’re using the same pins and sequins. The finished object is a very personal statement.

“In the next couple of months they will go down to SSAFA Wiltshire and meet up with all the other ones that are being done by other organisations and the bigger central ones that our future tutors did in the studio at the beginning of the project.”

SSAFA Wiltshire hopes its WWI commemorative arts project will capture people’s imaginations in a similar way to the Poppy.

Hearts exhibition

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Common continued: “Embroidery and needle craft has always had known therapeutic benefits. During WWI, it was an ideal past-time for soldiers recovering from injury, as it could be done anywhere the soldier was, be it in bed or sitting in a chair.

"Today, these colourful and meaningful love hearts help symbolise the continued significance of the Armed Forces in our community, and the continuing role of SSAFA in supporting the Forces family."

The hearts exhibition will be on display at Salisbury Cathedral during November 2016, for more information contact SSAFA Wiltshire on 01264 382 560.

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