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Remembering the Burma Campaign

Many of us have carefully stowed our treasured photographs and newspaper clippings into albums for safekeeping. Unfortunately some albums, particularly self-adhesive varieties, are actively deteriorating those items we hoped to protect.

I had the privilege of working on a collection relating to the Burma Campaign of World War Two which included photographs, newspaper clippings and watercolours. These items had been carefully housed within a self-adhesive album. Unfortunately these albums have inherent issues that are detrimental to archival documents, such as acidic board, an adhesive layer and polyvinyl overlays, which will all chemically interact with items enclosed within. 

Freeing the documents

This degradation was visibly evident on the thinner paper objects where the adhesive has discoloured the paper substrate. The chemical deterioration of these items will persist whilst they remain in the album and so they needed to be carefully removed.  Doing so required a gentle and steady hand to prevent any damaging occurring during removal. A microspatula was eased under the documents and, once removed, a crepe eraser gently took off any residual adhesive.

Repairing where necessary

Documents that were fragile or torn were repaired with Japanese paper and wheat starch paste adhesive. When removed from the album, two items of war propaganda were found to be extremely brittle; the acidity of the low-grade war-time paper exacerbated by the album. One piece was under further stress from a thicker paper adhered to the top edge and had sustained a running tear. These two documents were washed to extract acidic compounds from the paper substrate, and to aid the removal of the thicker paper, and were provided with an alkaline reserve to help negate further acidic degradation. They were then lined with Japanese paper to support the weakened paper.

A number of photographs had sustained damage before they were placed within the album and these were also repaired.

Repackaging for preservation

The loose items were then attached to a sheet of SilverSafe paper, using archival photograph corners. SilverSafe is an unbuffered paper manufactured for the storage of photographic material. These were placed within archival polyester pockets and housed within an archival ring binder in the same order as they had appeared in the original album. 

An adhesive-free archival box was made to house the original photograph album.

It was an honour to help preserve these keepsakes of a time which will soon fall out of living memory. I would urge anyone with similar family records to take measures to preserve these memories for future generations, and consult a Conservator for advice.


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