The uncomplicated, yet very fitting words of H. V. Morton, regarding World War 1 and the effect it had on every community in Britain (and of course, other countries too). You can barely switch on the television, open a newspaper or open an internet browser without finding something about ‘The Great War’ at the moment and rightly so. But really, ‘great’ is hardly a word I would use for World War 1. Anyway, let’s not digress…
Rural Britain sent the greater part of its manhood and male youth to the trenches. Of the half a million or so rural men and youths who served, nearly a quarter were killed or wounded. The social impacts of this vast scale of death and injury were far-reaching and were felt in virtually every English city, town and village. Moreover, the casualties of World War 1 were spread evenly among every class of society, so that there was a unity in grief and mourning.
This last weekend, I was delighted to get up at 6am – slightly later than I had the previous three days – and drive to Stratford-upon-Avon. Never having been there before, after a little magical mystery tour up the Fosse Way, I was amazed to find that the trip took a significantly shorter time than both Gertrude (my Satnav) and I expected.
The reason for my visit was that the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) are planning to stage a play entitled The Christmas Truce, based on the true stories of soldiers. Phil Porter will be writing the play which will open at the RSC in late November and the company stated in a recent interview for the BBC, “when soldiers along the Western Front left their trenches on Christmas Eve to meet their enemies in No Man’s Land to talk, exchange gifts and play football”.
People with relatives who fought in World War 1 were asked to help shape the play and on Saturday, they did exactly that by bringing photos, letters and other documents, as well as sharing their memories. My part in the event was to advise and guide them about research they could undertake to find out more about their family’s involvement in World War 1.
From 10am until 3pm, I had a queue of people wanting to find out more about what particular individuals did for the war effort. Imagine Antiques Roadshow and you’re not too far wrong! I managed to find some amazing information for the individuals who came along, from Soldiers Service Records, the location of war graves (thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website), Medal Roll Index Cards and even a previously unseen photograph of a serviceman.
I would encourage you – if you have any ancestors who served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment – to get in touch with the RSC and share your stories to make The Christmas Truce a roaring success based on as much fact as can possibly be included.