Alnwick District WW1 Centenary Commemoration Group received funding to deliver a programme to mark the centenary of the first two years of the First World War. Now that the period is over, the Gazette is taking a look back at the group’s efforts and achievements.
Events and activities organised by the group have featured regularly in the pages of this newspaper.
The core of the group was drawn from members of the Northumberland branch of the Western Front Association(WFA), Alnmouth District branch of the Royal British Legion (RBL) and people from the education field.
Supported by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the WFA, together with contributions from the WFA and RBL branches, at the beginning of 2014 the group set about delivering an ambitious programme aimed at commemorating the first two centenary years of the First World War, but especially 1915. More than 2,500 local people and visitors to the area have taken part in one or more events or activities organised by the group. Derek Gladding, group chairman, described what motivated them: “Our rationale was simple; to safeguard local history and to demonstrate the impact of the First World War on individuals, families and communities in the wider Alnwick district.
“We also wanted to add to and make readily available historical records and a database for families of local men who paid the ultimate sacrifice. There were five main elements to our project, but more than 20 individual strands or end-products, all bar two of which have been successfully delivered – the two exceptions were minor parts of the schools and education programme for which there was no demand for the help and support available to schools.
“We’ve also contributed to the publication of three books, which has been an unexpected but rewarding addition to the project’s goals.”
The five pillars or elements to the project focused on schools and education; IT and a search database; various heritage initiatives; a number of events in 2015 focused on the Tyneside Scottish Brigade’s time in and around Alnwick 100 years ago; and producing a DVD relating the story of Alnwick Camp and how it impacted on the area.
David Thompson, group treasurer and IT/search database project manager, outlined the greatest successes of the project:
• Development of an online search database of almost 1,100 men born and/or resident from the local area, and/or those who enlisted in the area, who were killed in action or died of wounds or other causes while in the service of their country serving abroad or at home, particularly those who are commemorated on local war memorials in the wider Alnwick district. Check it out at www.bailiffgatemuseum.co.uk/ww1
• It’s tempting to say all 2014 elements of the schools and education element of the project, although the outreach performances by Northumbria University Performing Arts Department of The Great Game living history dramas performed at the Duchess’s Community High School, Alnwick, during Remembrance Week 2014, were an outstanding success.
• Development of the Alnwick District in the Great War teaching resources portal.
• Production and distribution of more than 5,000 copies of the heritage trail leaflet, Alnwick in the Great War, in conjunction with the schools and education element of the project.
• The Memories of the Great War Exhibition held at Bailiffgate Museum from March 31 to May 17 last year, an exhibition of memorabilia and personal and community stories from the First World War emanating from two families and two villages.
• The march and associated events over the weekend of January 31 and February 1, 2015, fulfilled all of our hopes and expectations. These events commemorated the centenary of the Northumberland Fusiliers’ Tyneside Scottish Brigade’s time at Alnwick and included a Remembrance Service and wreath-laying commemoration event at Barras Bridge, Newcastle, a temporary exhibition and evening of talks at Felton Village Hall and a commemorative march through Alnwick town centre to Alnwick Castle followed by a formal reception there hosted by the Duke of Northumberland.
• A living history event at Alnwick Castle, on July 26 last year, in collaboration with the Fusiliers Museum.
• On August 1, events to commemorate the departure from Alnwick of the Tyneside Scottish Brigade in collaboration with the Alnwick International Music Festival and Aln Valley Railway Society.
• Finally, Alnwick 1915 – An Armed Camp DVD relating the story of Alnwick Camp, built on the Pastures opposite Alnwick Castle, which initially was used as a training camp for the Tyneside Scottish Brigade, as told by Cliff Pettit, the well-known local military historian.
Schools and education
Over the 2014 spring and summer terms, lesson plans, activities and resources were designed to enable teachers to develop pupils’ historical knowledge and skills in an imaginative and creative way.
Development of the Alnwick District in the Great War teaching resources portal offers schools a teachers’ guide and resources, links and aids for planning seven lessons for, mainly, Key Stages 2 and 3 students – the portal is to be found via the right-hand box on the group’s ‘homepage’ at www.bailiffgatemuseum.co.uk/ww1
Northumbria University Performing Arts Department brought a stunning performance of The Great Game to the Duchess’s Community High School, Alnwick, on November 11 and 12, 2014.
Pupils from the Duchess’s, St Paul’s RC Middle School and the Duke’s Middle School were enthralled at witnessing the impact of the Great War on Alnwick town and surrounding districts through families and individuals who lived through those tumultuous days.
The theatre piece dealt with many contentious issues to stimulate the students. For example, attitudes to emigrant German families; conscientious objectors; shell-shock victims and the changing role of women, particularly in the munitions industry, were all explored.
Neil Tonge, the original project manager for this element of the project recorded one Duchess’s pupil saying: ‘I learned so much [more] about the First World War in that one hour than I could have done by reading countless books, and particularly how it affected the town I live in.’
Other comments from some of the children included:
‘I liked how the history was made alive...secondly, it had a lot of passion.’
‘Even though it was fun, we were still learning about history. It made me feel that I was actually there...the acting was outstanding.’
‘It made history fun and realistic...I will remember the historical facts [better] than reading a book.’
‘Words would never describe it. I can’t say how excited I am for you to do another one of these history events.’
Neil added: “For a project such as ours to have real value and lasting impact, it must generate, excite and hold the interest of pupils and provide a context in which a greater breadth of learning can take place.
“It is significant that many teachers said how interesting they find the topic as they carry out their research. One teacher commented that this is how learning should be – more relevant and contextual.”
The commemoration group worked closely with other largely local groups, organisations and individuals to provide heritage and cultural activities for local communities.
A central aim of the project was to encourage schools and other people and groups to take an active part in uncovering the history of their locality, using sources of the period.
Key partnership relationships were built with four families, who contributed to the memorabilia exhibitions, and to the likes of Bailiffgate Museum; Northumberland Estates, including Alnwick Castle and Garden; Northumberland Fusiliers’ Museum; Northumbria Army and Air Cadet Forces; several local schools, history groups and parish and town councils; the organisers of Alnwick International Music Festival; Aln Valley Railway Society; Tyneside Scottish Association (TSA); the North East War Memorials Project and many others.