|One Century On|
The Great War is remembered
Branscombe Village Hall
7.30pm Wednesday 16 April 2014
Barbara Farquharson has organised an exhibition in the hall inspired by the effect of the war on rural communities. As a grand finale Barbara and five other poets gave a recital of poetry and writings from the time, while surrounded by exhibits.
There was music too. For John Torrence's recital of "War Cemetery at Ligny St Flochel", the sound of Claude Debussy's "Syrinx" came eerily from another part of the building - played by Chris Gradwell on alto saxophone.
David Birch began the evening with "Channel Firing" by Thomas Hardy. Hardy's poem describes a precursor to war, the practice firing of ships' batteries at sea. Sitting in Branscombe Hall looking out to sea, where the MSC Napoli (formerly CGM Normandie) was stranded seven years ago, it was easy to concur with Hardy's premonitions of impending disaster.
David completed the preamble to war with Wilfred Owen's "The Send-Off". Anonymous couples rudely separated in preparation for conflict.
Madeleine Birch recreated the idyllic unreality of newly waged war in the balmy August of 1914 in Philip Larkin's "MXMXIV" and Vera Brittain's recollection of the pointless excitement of a tennis game inDerbishire which is put in perspective by the appearance of her uniformed brother in "Testament of Youth".
Robert Crick changed the mood completely with formal army records and journal entries from 1914 made by Robert's grandfather Captain A. G. Lind, who was invalided out in 1915 and survived to reach the rank of Colonel, and to live out his life in Budleigh Salterton.
The personal connection, in conjunction with Robert's ponderous and ominous tone, brought the details terrifyingly to life, and drew the soldiers' experiences close through his attention to detail.
Her second song was by a contemporary of Thomas Hardy who lived in Bournemouth. Meta Orred's "In the Gloaming", set to music by Annie Fortesque Harrison, was an uplifting love song with gentle overtones of exquisite tragedy. What a beautiful end to the first half of the concert.
(Frances' one really duff note - purely the fault of the piano - came right at the end, an incongruous but fitting coda.)
& John Torrance
|David Birch &|
David Birch joined John for "Billet" by Ivor Gurney, who was directly involved in the war on the Western Front and suffered severe mental health problems as a result.
David provided the voices of Ivor's fellow Gloucestershireman, a private soldier who wished fervently that he was still working at the Brewery in Stroud. Ivor agreed.
Finally Barbara Farquharson herself stood forward to speak. She recalled the wartime friendship between the poet Charlotte Mew and Edith Chick in Branscombe. Edith continued to receive Charlotte's drafts for many years after the war. "May 1915" was a recollection of the stubborn hope that survived in the depths of apparently endless war.
|Rowland Molony &|
Barbara ended the evening's readings with a surprise contribution, which had been received during the week of the exhibition. Barbara reminded us that she and John have written a book called "The Shooting at Branscombe Pits" about the trial of William Dean Dowell for murder in the late nineteenth century. (Dowell was acquitted.) Subsequently, Dowell married and had a son. His son did not survive the war. Dowell wrote to the Second-Lieutenant of his son's regiment ten year's later, imploring him to give a full account of his son's fate. A copy of the letter was provided for the exhibition and poetry evening. The writing betrays Dowell's poor education and simple faith in the goodness of a British officer.
Val Howels & Frances Waters
Finally, to the accompaniment of a piano which sounded as if it had only just survived the war (but ably coaxed into life by Frances), Val drew a final tear from the already deeply moved audience with an old soldiers' favourite composed just before the war began.
"Tis ye must go, and I must bide - O Danny Boy, I love you so!"
|Appeals to the Living|
|Roll of the Dead|