Coventry Library & women in the Great War

Zvezdana Popovic, our Senior Customer Services Assistant, writes:

For those who read my previous blog about women in the Great War, I just wanted to update you on two events I had mentioned –
my What did you do in the Great War, Grandma? Exhibition and talk, one in the British Library, the other in Coventry Central Library: both very successful!

This was my first visit to Coventry so I decided to do a bit of research about the place (like I usually do before going somewhere on holiday) and about the Peace Festival. Coventry is the centre for peace and reconciliation in Britain and this year there were more than sixty events between the 1st and the 14th of November which culminated with the anniversary of the Coventry Blitz, in the Cathedral Ruins, and The Coventry International Prize for Peace and Reconciliation Award, in Coventry Cathedral. (I was not aware that Basil Spence, who designed the cathedral, also designed our own Kensington Town Hall and Swiss Cottage Library amongst many other buildings.)

Nevertheless, nothing could have prepared me for the surprise I received when Lady Godiva and my host, Mrs Slavica Stojsavljevic, came to pick me from the railway station.

Lady Godiva and my host, Mrs Slavica Stojsavljevic (left)

Ms Pru Porretta has been Lady Godiva for more than 30 years; ambassador for Coventry and a real jewel; an absolute source on any possible information about the town, its history and its people. I learned that Coventry “invented twinning” and it is a twin with another 27 cities around the globe, including Belgrade and Sarajevo (from the Yugoslav era).  Belgrade donated wood to Coventry for a new theatre, so the Belgrade Theatre at the Belgrade Plaza still displays its beautiful wooden ceiling proudly. No need to mention that I felt at home – definitely even more so after Joanna Reid, executive director, gave us a tour around the theatre followed by a lunch reception for special guests at the Belgrade Theatre Restaurant. (I had to fight the urge to photograph all the delicious dishes!)

Firstly, we went to Coventry Central Library to set the What did you do in the Great War Grandma? exhibition up and prepare everything. Wow! I was really impressed with the library –  large, modern, open-plan, and because of the people who work there: so many colleagues came and offered help. I have to thank particularly James and Adele for showing me around and successfully managing the event together with all the other public duties they had. A few colleagues even stayed for the talk.

Coventry Library
Coventry Library

In the spirit of camaraderie, I recommended their library to everyone I spoke to and urged the audience to make full use of their brilliant resources, especially if they wanted to borrow books on the WWI topics discussed.

Coventry Library's splendid history collection
Coventry Library’s splendid history collection

Because the event was part of the Coventry Peace festival, some very important guests came – Deputy Lord Mayor Michael Hammon, Rev John Stroyan, Bishop of Warwick, Councillor Ram Lakha, Father Nenad Popovic from Birmingham (who has monthly Serbian Orthodox service in St. John the Baptist church in Coventry), Mr Pribicevic, Serbian Ambassador, and his delegation, members of Coventry Association of International Friendship (who invited me to be their speaker at the annual conference in May), Lady Godiva’s “sisters” and other guests.

Standing room only: audience members at What did you do in the Great War Grandma?
Standing room only: audience members at What did you do in the Great War Grandma?

And during my talk, I found out that one of the women I talked about – Lady Dorothie Feilding – was a local girl, as Reverend Stroyan informed us. He was very happy that I included her.

Commemorating the life and deeds of these brave women, doctors, nurses, drivers, orderlies, administrators on Western and other fronts, we were all pleased when Lady Godiva suggested that both priests say a prayer for them and bless us all.

What a splendid way to end the presentation and exhibition What did you do in the Great War, Grandma?

If you are interested in further reading and research  about women in the Great War, take a look at the Further reading list I have compiled. Please take a look on our catalogue too.