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Thoughts on pillowcases

From the original Resting Place blog written by Dawn Cole

March 14th 2012

Thoughts about pillowcases

My initial ideas for this project centre around pillow cases and particularly hand embroidered ones. As already mentioned in my entry What’s it all about, the war graves at Wimereux somehow brought to mind pillows, all lined up neatly in rows. These men buried here, all died in the hospitals and their last living resting place would have been a bed and pillow. Pillows are a very personal part of bedding, and particularly the pillow cases that cover and protect the pillow. This last place of physical contact with the living world seems a good place to begin researching my ideas.

A meeting I had recently with the wonderful Dr Ruth Richardson (a medical historian and author) revealed that it was quite common during WW1 for men, who were close to death, to cry out for their mother’s. This piece of information confirmed my own feelings, that in death the men would not have been thinking of war, but of home and their loved ones. The connection with the pillowcase and domesticity is therefore all the more relevant.

These men, all buried side by side, their presence marked by near identical grave stones, bearing little reference to the men as individuals. They show their name, rank, number. Regimental badge and a line, chosen by the relatives from a given selection. This lack of the individual struck me quite forcibly and through this project I hope to explore these thoughts, of labels, catalogues and numbering.

At this time households would have mostly had white cotton or linen pillowcases. They were made individual by adding embroidery and lace edges. My first point of research will be actual pillowcases that i have been buying from second-hand shops and online. It is very common to only find one pillow case, hand embroidered, very rarely a pair. Some I have found are embroidered with the word ‘HERS’, but I have yet to find one embroidered with ‘HIM’. It leads me to ask, why so many single, embroidered pillow cases? Where is their partner? And why none with ‘HIM’ embroidered on them. Many die in their sleep and I wonder if the pillow cases become separated when one partner dies, or when a house contents is sold. Many of the pillowcases I have been buying are stained and torn; evidence of the person whose head lay on it.

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