August 2015

August 2015 - Ernest Bevin's hip flask

Ernest Bevin's hip flask‘In the light’ wrote Alberto Manguel, we read the inventions of others; in the darkness we invent our own stories.’ In the darkness of the museum store we can invent our own stories. Within the racks of shelves, containing humanity’s legacy, we wonder what life objects have had and what life they have given. Such is the nature of collections that some shed light on the past. But some objects present scenarios we can only dream of.

Ernest Bevin was born in Somerset 1881. By the age of 11 he worked as a labourer and lorry driver. In 1914 he became organiser for the Dockers’ Union, and in 1922 a founder member of the colossal Transport and General Workers’ Union. He was anointed by Winston Churchill to be Minister of Labour in 1940, then appointed by Clement Attlee in 1945 to be Foreign Secretary. He joined Attlee at Potsdam, sitting round the table with Joseph Stalin and Harry S Truman, Presidents of the USSR and America respectively.

Bevin died in 1951, his legacy cemented. The leader of the Liberal Party, Clement Davies described him as ‘massive in personality and massive in character and intellect.’

Facts are easy, however, only the dead live by dates. What of the man and his habits? Was the flask at Potsdam? Did Bevin turn to it in moments of need? Was it a constant companion in his red despatch box, nestled next to the official papers of state; a reassuring nectar in a confused dangerous world? Perhaps only in the darkness of the store, when we invent our own stories, will we ever know.

  • This Object of the Month is not currently on display in the museum, however you can make an appointment to visit our collections stores by contacting exhibitions@phm.org.uk.