On Friday 30th October 2015, Heritage and Culture Warwickshire (HCW) brought to life the sights, sounds, stories and emotions of those living during the First World War in a performance called Fallen Voices: Echoes of the First World War, at the Royal Spa Centre in Leamington Spa.
Poetry and photographs
Presenting actual records held by HCW, this evening performance mixed a range of well-known First World War poems with excerpts from original letters, postcards, diaries, newspapers, school logbooks and other written material from Warwickshire’s archives, accompanied by a backdrop of stunning First World War photographs from our collections.
Letters from the front line
The audience was invited to meet Warwickshire characters such as Private George Bubb of the Army Veterinary Corps, writing home to sweetheart Alice, or brother and sister ‘Rollo’ and ‘Dotty’ Fielding as they recount their experiences on the front line as a Lt-Colonel in the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards and an ambulance driver in letters to their mother. Attendees also heard how Warwickshire people coped back on the home front. From school children picking blackberries for the war effort, to the women of St Nicholas Parish, Kenilworth, making bed rests for the wounded, to the vicar persuading his parish to ‘eat less bread’, everyone had a part to play.
Bringing the characters to life
The stories and characters themselves came from HCW’s archives and were evocatively brought to life by performers Kieron Attwood and Hannah Graham and underpinned by a musical score arranged and performed by Derek Nisbet.
“We selected an initial list of documents, images and poems,” explains Antonia Beck, Arts Officer at HCW, “but then it became a very collaborative process with the creative team. Sometimes the material that we thought was interesting to read didn’t necessarily come across as effectively when it was performed.”
An eclectic mix of stories
It was fantastic to have had the opportunity to work with professional artists to explore how original archives and records can be released from the page to a live performance, and the end result was an eclectic mix of moving, interesting and sometimes funny stories about people in all sorts of different situations during the First World War. The one thing they had in common, of course, was that they were all Warwickshire voices, and we were keen to showcase both represented and under-represented voices from that time. This was picked up on by some of those who came to see the performance. One audience member described it as “an excellent portrayal of World War One in Warwickshire” and another said “I really enjoyed Fallen Voices. It was informative, educational – and entertaining. Very professional. I hope the performance is repeated at some point.”
Breathing life into historical documents
From a personal point of view, myself and the team learnt a lot about how archives can be used as source material for a performance of this type. The performers took letters, diaries, and other material that I thought I knew well, but they changed how I viewed them. They became, not just historical documents, but living, breathing mementoes from people who really existed.
The performance was made possible thanks to funding from Warwick District Council. HCW is now exploring ways to repeat the performance, including at other community venues and schools. For more information contact Antonia Beck (01926 412355, email@example.com) or Rowan Fisher (01926 736397, firstname.lastname@example.org).