Wiltshire at War: Community Stories
The Wiltshire at War: Community Stories project is a five-year HLF-funded project, aiming to bring people together from across Wiltshire to discover, explore and share stories about Wiltshire's response to the First World War.
I was part of a team working to gather people's stories to help create five touring exhibitions telling different aspects of Wiltshire at War. In addition to interviewing and recording people with memories to share, I also work with groups of older people at clubs and day centres to get their responses to photos from WWI. I took those comments and turned them into on-the-spot community poems.
In the photo you can see me working with members of the Silver Threads group in Purton, near Swindon, on a poem about the use of horses in WWI.
Some of these collaborative poems appear in the project's second (of five) exhibitions, Wiltshire Does Its Bit, which was launched in the Museum in Mere on September 25th 2015. That exhibition also includes my poem Lily, based on Frome munitionette Lily Withers.
The idea of producing a community poem about WWI was taken up by BBC Wiltshire, and I worked with listeners in February 2015 to create a poem prompted by a photo of a Red Cross sale in Market Lavington, which was posted on the station's Facebook page. I read the resulting poem on air, and the radio took things a step further, getting people at Swindon library to each record one line each, the resulting 'double community' poem also being broadcast.
My work for the Wiltshire at War project has also involved doing live, on-stage interviews with celebrated authors - such as Stewart Binns, documentary maker and author of The Shadow of War, at the Springfield Centre in Corsham in March 2015, and again at Mere Literary Festival in October 2015.
Here's an example of one of the group poems written as part of this project, in this case with members of the Tisbury Memory Group on Wednesday 7th January 2015.
The Photo Shoot
(After a photo of wounded World War I soldiers at the Red Cross Hospital in Mere)
I look out past the camera
towards the men marching
and I'd like to run
except Fred is holding me down
with his hands,
and the Commandant
just by being there
is fixing me to the spot.
'Stand by your beds!' she shouts,
'And if you can't, try!'
We'd all like to clear off,
follow the smell of bacon.
But we were trained to stand tall,
face the enemy.
So here we are, motionless,
the photographer ready
to take his shot.