1944. The Battle of Kohima. James Ash dies leaving behind two families: his ‘wife’ Josmi and two children, Jay and Molly, and his parents and sister in England who know nothing about his Indian family.
2012. Emmie is raising her own daughter, Jasmine, in a world she wants to be very different from the racist England of her childhood. Her father, Jay, doesn’t even have a photograph of the mother he lost and still refuses to discuss his life in India. Emmie finds comfort in the local museum – a treasure trove of another family’s stories and artefacts.
Little does Emmie know that with each generation, her own story holds secrets and fascinations that she could only dream of.
Through ten decades and across three continents, The Ash Museum is an intergenerational story of loss, migration and
the search for somewhere to feel at home.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR VISIT
Welcome to the Ash Museum.
On display are objects and letters telling the story of one hundred years of the Ash family.
The museum’s collection is arranged across many floors and through multiple rooms. You may not be able to see everything on one visit.
Our guide offers a path through the museum that we hope visitors will find enjoyable and enlightening. If you wish to view the displays chronologically (i.e. in the order in which the objects on display were made or discovered), you will have to start elsewhere.
Wooden Tennis Racket – some strings broken (c. 1930s)
Some stupid words from a poem were going round in James’s head when he woke, still sitting and clutching his rifle in the trench. Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, something and something the dance has begun. The moon and stars were bright. He hadn’t meant to drop off, but they had to snatch sleep when they could. Lewis was dozing to his right, Daas to his left. They should have been more alert – he should have been more alert. His back had seized up but he hardly dared move in case he made a noise.
For days they’d been dug in on Garrison Hill, above Imphal on the Kohima Ridge. They were pretty much surrounded, and the Japanese wore soft shoes – some sort of plimsolls instead of boots – so you never knew when they were going to come padding across the broken earth. There were a couple dead a few feet away. Just boys really. The stench was bad. James could see the district commissioner’s bungalow, what was left of it, silhouetted up ahead. Some of their chaps were probably still in there, holding out. He’d envied them at first
– lucky buggers with a roof over their heads – but judging by the mess and word coming down the line, they’d been
some of the first to go.
And here he was on what had been a tennis court. The plateau of it was useful. The grass was long gone but the remains of a tennis racket lay in the mud between him and the dead boys. Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter
Dunn, the dum de dum racket is back in its press. He couldn’t remember enough of the poem to get it out of his head.
Margaret had sent it to him a while ago – his sister was always sending things snipped out of newspapers and magazines. He often had to read both sides of the cutting to work out which bit was meant to be significant. He wondered what she might be doing now, and his parents, and most of all, Josmi and the children. Asleep probably, all of them. Asleep in beds with clean sheets. Still the stupid words were beating time in his head – something about a summerhouse and a veranda and gin. He’d seen straight away why Margaret had sent it – it was about a girl like Lucinda. He hoped he wouldn’t still be thinking about it when he copped it, as he probably would.
They all probably would.
It wasn’t yet dawn and the birds were silent. Any creature with any sense would have fled long ago. A few sounds came
from the forest, occasional shots, and sometimes a vehicle noise somewhere far away. They’d been told other regiments were coming, reinforcements. God, they needed them. They couldn’t hold out forever. They’d be picked off one by one, line by line, and the Japanese would stream over their corpses into India. There was a line about ominous dancing ahead – he had no idea what that meant. Mist was forming, dangerous stuff, ominous stuff. He heard something like a shuffling – shots and cries closer now. He nudged Lewis and Daas to wake up.
Thank you, Rebecca Smith and Legend Press
About the author
Rebecca Smith was born in London and grew up in rural Surrey. She has Indian, English and Scottish heritage. She studied History at the University of Southampton and is now a principal teaching fellow in English and Creative Writing there. Rebecca is the author of three previous novels for adults, published by Bloomsbury (The Bluebird Café, Happy Birthday and All That, and A Bit of Earth), a novel for children and two works of non-fiction.