What we did
The final part of our project took place throughout 2016 and into 2017.
We started by looking at some of the War Memorials in Whitby and in the villages close by and along the Esk Valley. This gave us an idea of how every community was affected in some way by the loss of their young men in World War 1. The memorials, or the lists inside the Church, detailed not just those who died, but the huge numbers who enlisted or were conscripted, and so were also away from home for up to 5 years. Many of these men were battered emotionally and physically by the injuries they sustained, the horrors they witnessed and the conditions they lived in, and were not the same person on their return as the one who went away.
We tried to find out more about some of the names on the memorials and we also explored what life was like for people living in the area at the time of the Great War.
Using the information we discovered from the memorials, online, from local documents and books, from exhibitions at York and Whitby Museum and directly from some of the local families, we started working on a musical play to stage at the end of the project.
Our Shoots & Roots Group, as well as young people from Botton School, Eskdale School and the Whitby Music Centre have taken part in various activities including workshops and performances at our May Great North Folk Festival with Bob Fox (The Warhorse Songman), John Ward, Richard Grainger and People From the Past .
Since September 2016 we have visited the WW1 exhibition at York Castle Museum and had workshops on local social history, creative writing, research techniques, songwriting, music, drama and performance.
We decided to create a production set at Christmas and we worked with Richard Grainger to write about Christmas traditions and families celebrating and coping at that time. Included was was the story of two friends discussing whether to enlist, deciding to do so and then how they felt and their experiences at the Front.
Song: Listen to No Man’s Land, by Richard Grainger, from the Ghosts of Heroes CD
The family scenes showed the pain and emotions felt with their sons away at War and also some of the practical problems they encountered coping without the young men in the family businesses such as farming and fishing.
We also tried to show how ‘life goes on’ too; how families celebrated the festive season and the preparations and traditions that took place 100 years ago.
Poems from the period were included as they give a vivid and powerful insight to the time,as were accounts from diaries. Songs and music written during the war also formed part of the production and we wrote some new songs to help tell a more local story. These were performed by Whitby Music Centre students and Richard Grainger with other singers singing harmonies.
Eskdale School created a wonderfully moving piece about the loss of so many young lives on the battlefields. One student read out a long list of names (only about a quarter though) from the local memorials and another interspersed the names with lines of the poem, ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke. While they read, the rest of the drama group performed a superb piece of physical theatre, striking ‘battlefield’ poses such as shooting, aiming, look outs, ducking, saluting etc. When their allocated name was read out, they would individually fall down dead whilst dropping a blood red ribbon.
The Soldier poem
Two of our main actors, Jayden and Austen, played the two friends from Whitby feeling the pressure to enlist. They talk about the advantages and disadvantages, as they see it, of signing up. Later we catch up with them in the trenches as they tell us what they are enduring and what they are missing of home.
We have recorded a CD which includes the songs and music as well as some of the poems, narrative and dramatic sketches from the play. The CD is for sale, with proceeds going to The Festival on the Moor for further educational projects.
For more info and to purchase check out www.festivalonthemoor.co.uk