Restored trench organ is keeping history alive

Beverley with the trench organ.
Beverley with the trench organ.

This year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War.

So it is poignant that a historical re-enactor’s restored trench organ is proving something of an internet sensation.

Beverley and her group recreate Tim Godden's illustration.

Beverley and her group recreate Tim Godden's illustration.

Beverley Palin, from Amble, has worked on and off for more than a decade to bring the iconic instrument back to its former glory, having bought it in a second-hand shop in Lyme Regis for £45.

At the time, she was unaware of its true historical and sentimental value, but since then, she has learnt more about her amazing purchase. This type of trench organ was supplied to the Western Front to boost morale.

And she believes that it is one of just three left in the country.

Not only that, but hers is in full working order and she regularly performs on it.

The illustration by Tim Godden

The illustration by Tim Godden

Recently, Bev, who is a church organist, posted images of the eye-catching instrument online, sparking incredible feedback on social media.

She said: “I was overwhelmed and touched by the response to my old trench organ. Thank you to everybody who retweeted, liked and commented. The trench organ is beautiful and despite being more than 100 years old, she’s still gigged regularly.

“What’s really odd is that it has come full circle, into the hands of a church organist.”

She added: “I love my history, but the First World War was something that I didn’t know too much about. In fact, the only knowledge I had about the war was from Blackadder.

“I picked up the trench organ from a second-hand shop, but didn’t know too much about it, I just loved the fact that it was a working instrument.

“When I got it home, it was riddled with woodworm, so I began to restore it, and it was only later that I realised how historically significant it is.”

Beverley, who runs re-enactment group Historia Northumbria, has named the organ Reg, in honour of Reg Glenn who actually played one for real during the First World War.

When she gigs with the foot-powered organ, she wears First World War attire, including gaiters, spurs and cap badges, which are all more than a century old. And when she performs, she uses the name James Crowley, in memory of her father’s uncle who was killed on the first day of the Somme in 1916, at the age of 20.

Last week, Beverley and members of her re-enactment group dressed as Tommies to recreate an illustration by Tim Godden, showing three soldiers gathered round a trench organ.

Beverley said: “To me, it is priceless. People have said that I should put it in a museum, but to me, if I put it in a glass case in a museum, it dies, but if I take it out with me and play it, then it lives, as does the memory of all those lads whose last music they heard was on a trench organ.”