Bringing it all together

The circle talk about their work
We have been working with the group for 10 weeks and it is time to bring together the words, stories, actions, images, objects and records that the young people have witnessed. We are confirming the dates of their sharing at the end of the project, where they will present moments through an art form of their choice, be that drama, creative writing, artwork, music, photographs or film. We began the session by asking the young volunteers to share their experience of their Easter holiday trip to the archives of Wolverhampton. 

Grace, John, Elizabeth and Soairse spoke of the letters they had read, the pictures they had seen and their first efforts at genealogy via tracing their family history. We were delighted to hear that Elizabeth had been inspired to such an extent that she had begun a script! In her own words:

“The story is about a 13 year old girl called Keira. Her parents own a B & B called 'The Royal House'...she has a little sister called Chloe, Their home is close to Wolverhampton City Centre on Peel Street. Their house is a really old family house which was renovated when her parents decided to open the B & B. When one day she goes into the attic, she finds a box containing photographs, letters and documents that belonged to a man: Jesse Hill. From that day, Keira realises she needs to find out who Jesse Hill really was...."

John had been especially affected by the soldier's 'small book' that he had read at the archives. He had researched the training given to British recruits that often left them totally unprepared for the reality of trench warfare, artillery and mines. He called the book an 'instruction manual for war' and found its existence frightening and tragic. John was then thoughtful as he told his group about the hole that ran through the small book belonging to Jesse Hill. We wondered if the hole was from the bullet or shrapnel that might have ended Jesse's life, did he store it in a breast pocket, how might he have died? Katie read again the letter from Jesse's wife that asked Sergeant Noble if he had lived long enough to remember or mention his family.

We also discussed how the post in 1916 might result in the joy of a letter from the front, or the despair of reading a letter or telegram informing you of the death of your beloved relative. I asked the group about how they think of letters in a digital age. Refreshingly, they all agreed that the act of writing to someone was far more personal, intimate and meaningful than texts or emails. Grace remembered the shaky handwriting of Jesse in one of his letters at the archives, we wondered if he was crying or injured, or whether everything was shaking as a result of incoming artillery.

Richard then asked the groups to produce 'maps' of the the words, facts, stories, actions, images, objects and records that have most resonance with them as young people of today. The groups worked collaboratively and individually with great energy, checking details with each other and debating what might prove useful for the sharing at the end of the project.

We then drew then together into a circle and considered the mass of words and images they had produced. It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences, the small details which had stayed with the young people and their often impassioned reaction to the conditions suffered by soldiers during the war. One of the students had written that we should offer an audience a promenade performance where locations in and outside St.Edmunds could be transformed to create some drama. Others listed words such as 'flashbacks', 'death and violence', 'the meaning behind the tears', 'homelessness', 'a shot in the dark' and 'unaware'.

The session's words, ideas, images, facts and pictures by the young people, who have wonderfully enquiring minds.

Matt Hinks