Age Exchange began working with veterans from the wartime Merchant Navy across the UK in the Summer of 2003. The objective of the project was to work with the veterans, recording their remarkable wartime experience and then to share these histories with the UK public through exhibition, film, and performance. Cruel Sea opened to the public in 2005 marking the commemoration the 60th Anniversary since the end of the Second World War.
Between 2003 and 2005 Age Exchange’s project team led by David Savill carried out 68 interviews with veterans across the country. The result was almost 150 hours of filmed interviews, 2000 pages of transcribed interviews, and almost 1000 digitised photos, diaries, letters of personal effects veterans had brought to show the team during their interviews. When the project concluded in 2006 all material was formed into a permanent archive and, in line with the veterans' wishes, given to major museums to hold in their archive for public use and for the education of future generations. The archive rests with Discovery Museum Newcastle, Merseyside Maritime Museum, The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum Bristol, and with Age Exchange in London.
In order to illustrate the recorded memories and reach as wide an audience as possible, Age Exchange chose three key creative formats for the project, namely: a national touring exhibition, life size photographic three dimensional portraits of the veterans (by Tim Macmillan), and a touring theatre production inspired by the veterans' experience, written, produced and directed by The Liverpool Everyman Theatre Company.
The project has received much support and interest around the country. The veterans gave their time freely in their determination to raise the profile of the Merchant Navy, and to honour their comrades who were lost at sea through enemy action.
As the exhibition toured the country, many of the participating museums set up a rich programme of associated events, including intergenerational workshops between veterans and schools, and visual arts and documentary work. The final element of the project enabled Age Exchange to bring veterans from across the country together in London for 3 days of commemorative events including a visit to the national memorial of the Merchant Navy at Tower Hill. Here veterans lay a wreath to their comrades lost at sea, on behalf of all those who had worked together on the Cruel Sea project.
Funded by The Arts Council England
With support from
The National Maritime Museum
The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum
All images (unless otherwise stated) courtesy of the Veterans' themselves or © The Imperial War Museum, London