Voices From a Time of War

“We heard from those who had crossed that sea. One was a ship’s pilot who brought 88 refugees in a boat that usually takes 15 passengers. A fishing boat for 10 men brought 56 passengers. One refugee ship foundered in the channel, but nearly all were rescued.”

Syrian refugees fleeing to Lesbos? No, Belgians fleeing the devastation of their country in 1914.

In 1914 these refugees were welcomed in England. Towns mobilised to house, clothe and feed them. Even small villages took in a family.

The treatment of refugees is one of the themes in a show I’m putting on in Hertford on Saturday 21 November.

VOICES

From a Time of War

Saturday 21st November 2015

St Andrew’s Church, Hertford

7.30pm – 9.30pm (doors open 7pm)

An evening of readings and songs, expressing the dreams and reality, hopes, fears and frustrations of those who experienced the First World War, at home in Hertford and at the Front.

WW1 themed raffle
Interval refreshments

Tickets: £10

Tickets from St Andrew’s: 01992 504373  standrew.hertford@btinternet.com

or from Hertford Tourist Office: 01992 584322

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Seeing It Through

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Seeing It Through 15 November

Some images from the show, ‘Seeing It Through’ which was performed at Hertford Theatre Studio on 15 November 2014. Our small cast of five – Toni Brooks, Catherine Forrester (seen in the photo playing young Ware soldier Claud Sweeney in the trenches), Rob Madeley and Steve Scales, plus Director Richard Syms who also took the narrator role of the Editor of the Mercury, gave fantastic performances which were very well received by the audiences. (In the pic, left to right: Steve, Toni, Catherine, Rob).

Now we hope we can put it on again!

The story of how ordinary people lived through the First World War is worth telling. It is a powerful counter to the glorification and mythologising of war, while also revealing much about the roots of how we live our lives now.

Secrets and Spies

8 July Harry and Mabel

Scenes from the performance at Hertford Theatre on 8 July. Rhiannon Drake as Mabel and Ken Boyter as Harry in a scene from Erin Thompson’s play Over By Christmas. October 1914: Harry has just told his fiancee Mabel that he has had to enlist, in order to protect Mabel’s teenage brother who was ordered to enlist by his employer. Mabel is not happy.

8 July Seal & King 2

Ken and Rhiannon as 13 year old Scouts Seal and King in 1914, in Emma Blowers’ play Be Prepared and Be Ware, convinced they have stumbled across German spies who are making explosives to blow up London.

8 July Seal & King 5

Seal and King four years on – Rhiannon as a Hertford Grammar School boy in a very fetching blazer!

Scenes on a Summer Evening

scouts

Two plays that have emerged from the Introduction to Playwriting Course in Hertford are getting a script-in-hand performance next week. Both writers have done a lot of work on their plays and a great deal of revising and redrafting is still going on – but it is going to be a really good evening, moving and entertaining.

Tuesday 8 July 2014
8pm – 10pm
At the River Room, Hertford Theatre

Be prepared… and Be Ware
by Emma Blowers
1914. Keen boy scout Seal is ready for the thrilling adventure of wartime, spotting German spies and training to be a hero on the streets and fields of Ware. But the reality of war forces him to learn that doing your duty can mean difficult choices.

Over by Christmas by Erin Thompson
Braughing, 1914. Harry and Mabel are engaged to be married when war breaks out. While Harry enlists to fight in the trenches of France, Mabel is left at home to take over Harry’s job on the railway. Each is changed by their experience and they become caught in a desperate struggle to find a future together in the shadow of the Great War.

Actors: Ken Boyter and Rhiannon Drake

At the mouth of hell…

Zeppelin

Our new show Seeing It Through, about life on the home front in East Herts during the First World War, is now scheduled for Saturday 15 November 2014, at Hertford Theatre Studio.

When I started this project, I had no real idea of what daily life was like in England in that time, in contrast to the vivid and grim picture we have of life for soldiers in the trenches. There’s a vague sense that back in England the gilded Edwardian age was suddenly blighted by the loss of its young men, but otherwise things carried on.

I’m discovering that people at home wrestled with some huge changes. Some they debated and agonised over – should there be conscription? Was it right for women to work on the land? Other devastating blows literally fell on them out of the sky. Zeppelins loom very large in the wartime experience of this corner of Hertfordshire. Many people, including children, were killed in air raids. We are collecting eyewitness accounts of them for Seeing It Through. It’s not clear why Hertford and Ware suffered so much – they were hardly strategic targets. Many of the bombs were probably dropped by mistake: it is thought the Zepps navigated by rivers and one theory is they mistook the little River Lea for the Thames (!).

Hertford’s worst experience was the night of 13 October 1915, when a dozen people were killed. One household which miraculously survived the night was that of Annie Swan, a great character who will definitely figure in our drama. She was a novelist, journalist and one-woman powerhouse who did huge amounts for people’s welfare during the war, as did her daughter Effie. Her husband was a GP. He was out doing his rounds when eight bombs were dropped on their house on North Road Hertford. Amazingly, everyone got out alive.

This is how Annie Swan describes it in a letter:

“The house is entirely destroyed and about half our stuff. There were many marvellous escapes among it, as well as of us. For instance our after-dinner tea poured out in the library was not spilled, though most of the furniture was upside down.
It was an awful experience. I really felt that we were at the mouth of hell. Eight bombs fell, 3 on house and 5 on garden – only the poor cats were killed sleeping in their chairs when the kitchen was blown up. While the bombs were raining on us where we stood on the terrace Effie said quite simply, “Mummy do you think this will be the one”? But God did not take us yet. There must be more to do.”

Annie and Effie had already been working in France, near the front line. They hadn’t expected to have the war visited on them at home.

Seeing It Through

Grandpa Miller

‘Seeing It Through’ is the title of a new drama being written and researched by myself, Emma Blowers and Erin Thompson. We have set out to tell the story of life on the ‘home front’ in Hertford, Ware and the surrounding villages during the Great War, from 1914 to 1919.

We want to explore the First World War, rather than commemorate it. So much of our modern world began in that period, but that was not obvious to the people living through it, especially in a place like East Herts where ancient and modern ways of life were side by side. Getting hands in the field for the harvest was as much of a concern as sheltering from air raids.

Doing the research is a laborious but fascinating business and stories are taking shape. We aim to start off the project with an evening’s show in November, based on verbatim material from the time – letters, reports, newspaper editorials, songs and poems.

Our longer term goal is to do a full length play as a community production, with professional actors alongside local actors to tell what we think will be a moving, surprising and vibrant story.

[By the way, the handsome chap above doesn’t figure in the story. It is actually my grandfather, Raymond Miller, posing for a photograph in his new uniform and surprisingly fancy boots, before he left for the Front in 1916].