Chiltern Open Air Museum has always been one of our favourite places to visit. We used to go quite regularly but hadn’t been this year. I’d been cautious about visiting at the start of the season due to lambing as I was pregnant with Thomas and then we just didn’t have the heart to go for a while after Jessica died.
A sunny autumn afternoon was the perfect day though to revisit it. There was a WW1 themed event taking place that weekend which sounded interesting. I knew it probably wouldn’t interest Sophie, but she would still enjoy spending the afternoon at the museum.
There was a poppy trail around the museum with poppies placed in various buildings. Sophie has her favourite places to visit in the museum though and we’ve not had much success with following trails in the past so we decided to give this a miss. The sensory trail does tend to attract Sophie’s attention though. She loves spotting the symbols on fences and buildings and taking a moment to describe what she can see, hear, smell or feel.
As I’d suspected, Sophie wasn’t very interested in the WW1-themed areas set up near Leagrave Cottage. She was quite happy to pose for a photo by the replica WW1 single seater pusher biplane though!
Our first point of call as usual was the Amersham prefab. The toys in the back bedroom have always been a favourite with my girls. I knew this would be the hardest place to revisit. Jessica loved those toys so much, especially the bagatelle board. It made me feel quite sad to watch Sophie playing it without her big sister there.
Our next stop was the newly constructed WW1 Nissen hut. Sophie marched through the hut, stopping only to glance briefly at a WW1 nurse’s outfit laid out on a table.
“Jessica would love that,” she said.
“Jessica would have loved this” was a recurring phrase throughout our visit from both Sophie and myself. Memories met us everywhere we went. I could picture the girls running together on the village green, jumping in puddles on the path to the tea rooms, playing with toys in the Amersham prefab and the Thame Vicarage Room. Sophie was quite disappointed this time though that she couldn’t play with the toys in the Thame Vicarage Room as it was set up to show a film of the Home Front in Bucks.
The Henton Mission Room was set up as a mini hospital building with a chaplain and a VAD nurse present. I didn’t realise the man was the chaplain at first due to the officer’s uniform – the dog collar wasn’t immediately obvious. It was interesting to chat with him and I learned a little about the role of chaplains in the war – how they tended to the injured and dying in No Man’s Land, provided support to those in hospital and helped to boost morale amongst the troops. They would also provide practical support – for instance, chaplains often helped soldiers write letters home.
I would have liked to have chatted to the VAD nurse as well, but Sophie was keen to head to the playground. Another place where memories of Jessica were particularly vivid. The rope swing was always a favourite with the girls. We could never push it high enough to satisfy Jessica. Sophie doesn’t like to go quite so high though! As I pushed her on the swing, we chatted about our happy memories of all those previous days out.
It was lovely to hear Sophie talking about her memories of days out with her big sister. As much as we missed Jessica, the day was mostly one of smiles rather than sadness. Jessica would indeed have loved it.
Visiting Chiltern Open Air Museum – what you need to know:
Chiltern Open Air Museum
Chalfont St Giles
The museum is open daily, 10am – 5pm, from late March – late October.
For more information, visit the museum website here.