I am making new work for an exhibition that is coming up in a couple of months time. It is for a group exhibition, The Archive Project. The group consists of four artists that explore ideas through responses to archives and collections, using textile and mixed media. The exhibition is at The Cello Factory, 33-34 Cornwall Road, Waterloo London SE1 8TJ from Thursday 4 May 2017 – Friday 12 May 2017.
The starting point for my work is a personal archive – a journal that was written by my grandfather, Charles Thomas Sewell, who was a Leading Signalman on the Light Cruiser, HMS Southampton, during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He survived the battle and left a concise, but personal, account of the events of 31 May and 1 June.
The morse code spells out: ‘The sea was very calm with a light haze.’
The main events of the battle are told using key words and phrases that have been taken either from my grandfather’s memoir or from the record of Naval signals that were sent during the battle.
During WW1 signalling methods in battle were a mixture of flag, semaphore and Morse code: both wireless telegraphy and searchlight. Flags had been part of the Navy’s core skills since the Napoleonic Wars and a signalman would be able to read and transcribe messages with ease.
The Leading Signalman ‘badge
The Signalman takes the form of three ‘flags’ where the narrative of each is notated with a different method of signal communication. Each flag commemorates a different part of the battle. 1. The beginning, 2. The day action and 3. The night action. I have finished the first flag …
Flag 1: The beginning
Message: The sea was very calm with a light haze.
Signal method: Morse Code
Materials: Linen, wire, cotton, brass
Written by Charlie Sewell in his memoir:
‘On Tuesday afternoon May 30th 1916 the Battle Fleet under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe (in his flagship HMS Iron Duke) and the Battle Cruiser Squadron under Sir David Beatty (in the fleet flagship HMS Lion) put to sea on customary sweeps…. my job was as a Leading Signalman, acting foreman of the Action Watch and my place on Monkey’s Island was the passing of orders to make signals.’
My Grandfather’s Official Number