Letters and maps

Working with the young volunteers at St.Edmunds continued on Wednesday 9th March, with Richard, Danny and Isabelle entwining the imagination with historical facts as they present a mahogany box. They explain that this was found hidden in an attic of the Noble family of Wolverhampton, and that the great grandfather died without speaking about the war.  In the box the young people find a letter, incomplete and ripped. The letter was written by Sergeant Percy Noble who was wounded at the same time as Jesse Hill was killed. Noble was sent to a hospital on the South East coast of England.  Richard explains that he ended up in a military prison soon after, and that for some reason his family shunned him and his memory. 

Danny is a blur of energy as he works with the young people
One of the fragments of the letters says 'we are sleepwalkers walking towards death' and 'ask youth what living means'.  Jessica suggested that "youth isn't to do with age it's what happens to you". The young volunteers discuss this and other fragments, discussing the difference between living and existing, what youth meant to them, and why the letter was ripped into pieces, as well as why it was kept. The young people were asked why some family might keep secrets from children or why a family member might be shunned by their own. 
Wartime map of The Battle of the Somme.
Image credit: ibiblio.org

 The young people then set up three drama stations in and around the drama studio. The first is Wolverhampton, home as much for the young people now as it was for Jesse and Percy one hundred years ago.  They pore over the maps to find Peel Street, now dominated by a car park, and also suggest where the alleyway might be. The second station represents France and especially the Battle of the Somme, and we asked the young people to look at some extraordinary images from the infamous battle. The third station represents the military hospital and the students were asked to consider photographs of Noble before and after his time convalescing.

During the session Matt interviews 16 young people who complete a questionnaire which baselines their attitudes. knowledge and experience towards history, heritage and drama. Two thirds of the students did not know what archives were or weren't sure, and there were a variety of responses in their attitudes to history and their own heritage, with some very interested and others not really interested in their own identities and the history of their city. All were interested or very interested in drama. They were also asked to describe the War in three words or phrases. One of the young people, Saoirse, succinctly suggested 'Death, darkness and sadness' and others suggested 'cruel', 'brutal', 'life changing', 'traumatising' and 'terrible'. 

Finally they were asked whether learning about history and the First World War makes them think about the world they live in today. Three did not make any connections to life today, eleven sometimes compared the different eras, and two said they were thinking a lot about life today as a result of their learning with Big Brum.  John from Year 10 said "It makes me question the similarities and the differences".  The same students will be asked the same questions after their final group session with Big Brum, in order to record any differences in attitudes, thoughts and feelings as a result of the heritage/history/drama interventions.

Troops of the West Indies Regiment on the Albert - Amiens road, September 1916. Credit: © IWM (Q 1201)

Matt Hinks