Well, that was the end of our series of shows "When This Lousy War Is Over" commisioned by Birmingham Town Hall/Symphony Hall way back in 2014 - and where we finished up playing it last night. Notwithstanding the fact that its been hard work to get a whole two hour show, rehearsed and up and running, with only a couple of rehearsals (we last played it in 2016) - the gigs have gone down well and audiences have been enthusiastic and quietly appreciative. It's also been refreshing to do a WW1 show which steers clear of jingoism, xenophobia etc and concentrates on music from all the peoples who were involved in the conflict. Most of all - the stoicism, comradeship and humour of all the soldiers who fought at that dark time has been remembered.
It seems unlikely that we'll play it again, as this year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the war and everybody involved is now dead.
History, however has a sweet habit of coming back and biting you on the arse (if you forget about it) so here's a little story that has paralleled this show over the last couple of years and came to a conclusion (or a new beginning) last Sunday, and reminded me that the internet is not always full of bots, trolls and people screaming at each other and these days; no one ever really disappears.
So back in 2016, on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme (57,470 British casualties) we played the same show at Lichfield Cathedral and I wrote a blog about my grandfathers WW1 uniform which had been in our family for decades. We had recently donated it to the Birmingham Museum group - and after the show, driving back home, I had stopped off to see it on display.
1916 ciggies - shredded by a piece of shrapnel
All my family were familiar with the uniform and the cigarette case, which had been pierced by shrapnel (not uncommon) and the story of how our grandfather, seriously wounded in the leg, had, until he died, sent the man who saved his life by dragging him back to safety, a hamper from Fortnum and Mason every year as a token of thanks. My brother wrote me an email after he had delivered the uniform to the museum in 2016.
"I went up to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery on Friday to deliver the uniform. I arrived and the museum was teeming with little children, all in yellow tabards, learning about their city and its past. Outside the city centre was full of regeneration so I can't tell you how appropriate it felt to take the uniform back, and how glad I am that we decided to give it them* the only sorrow is that Dad didn't do it in his lifetime because he would have enjoyed the process so much."
"There was more of a ceremony than I expected, still informal, with me having to go to the conservation room to unpack the uniform, and surprisingly as I handed it over it changed there and then from what it had been as an anecdote of family history to a protected museum object, to be handled with gloves and so forth. They were going to send it off to be frozen straightaway (to kill any surviving moths etc) before putting it on display. They are clearly very excited by it. As we now know these uniforms are very rare, let alone ones with such a great story to tell about the cigarette case as this. Jo-Anne, the curator described it as 'such a powerful object' and was also excited to get the day book and the pocket book too. She said that she had seen such things before, but invariably blank, so it was very unusual to get one with the orders still recorded in it. She told me that on the morning of the battle of the Somme, 500 men of the Warwicks had been killed who were from within a mile of Aston Parish church; thinking of the letters with the news arriving simply beggars belief."
So fast forward a year, and my sister, who lives in Switzerland, receives an email -
From: Stuart Green
Subject: Capt Arthur Brooke Turner
Date: 13 October 2017 at 00:21:17 GMT+2
Out of the blue and apparently random enquiry.
I am doing some family research about my great grandfather Pvt Thomas Green 1/6 Royal Warwickshire Regiment during 1st World War before I travel to the battlefields with my daughters school.
He was a Territorial (ie army reserve) before the war and deployed to France with the battalion in March 1915.
On the first day of the Somme (01/07/16) he was with C Company 1/6 RWR , commanded by Capt AB Turner.
Family legend is that he was involved in helping Arthur Brooke Turner after he was seriously injured. Certainly after the war Capt Turner presented him with an inscribed silver pocket watch (now in Regimental museum) which reads "From Capt AB Turner whose life he gallantly saved 1st July 1916".
It's a long shot but I saw you linked to a Tweet re Capt Turner's battle dress being on display at Blakesley Hall last year and wondered (assumed) some family connection.
If you are part of the same family, do you know if there is anything documented re my Gt grandfather that could provenance the family story that has only been passed down by word of mouth?
Good Grief! So I emailed him back.....
What a thrill that you’ve got in touch, we always knew quite a bit about what happened on that first day of the Somme from our father, especially the uniform and cigarette case, but sadly none of us got to meet our Grandfather as he died in 1953. I’m glad that you found the article that I wrote on my blog - I cribbed a lot of it from a piece my brother wrote for the family, before the uniform went on display.
On the blog I scanned a clipping which mentioned your grandfather Thomas (misspelled Sheen) - I think it must have been a local Bournemouth paper (Arthur retired there) - but there’s no information about it, other than family legend. The only other information we have was that there was a Canadian/or someone who emigrated to Canada afterwards, who also helped drag him to safety.
When is the trip to the battlefield? I say this as I live near to Dover/Folkestone, and it would be such a pleasure to meet you and your daughter and take some photos for posterity? Alternately, I travel throughout the UK on a fairly regular basis and could come and see you?
We all certainly owe your Grandfather Thomas an enormous debt and it would have brought such pleasure to our Dad to know that you had got in touch all these years later.
All the best
Peter Brooke Turner
So after a few emails back and forth it sadly turned out that we couldn't meet up at Dover as there just wasn't enough time, but Stuart did promise to send me a picture of Grandad Green which came through shortly after - it was taken during WW2 when he was in the home guard.
I emailed back
God bless Grandad Green! - I’ll look forward to seeing what he looked like as a young man during the Great War when you’ve seen your Dad. I’ve got an album of photos taken by Arthur's brother George of the Warwickshire regiment undergoing basic training, which I plan to scan at some point in the future (there are a lot of photos though). I’d love to see the regimental orders too if you can scan them and send them through.
It would also be good to meet, if only briefly, just to say hello and take a photo and show you some more regimental photos. As I might have said, I am a musician (Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain) who travels around the UK a great deal and I’d be delighted to get you complimentary tickets if you, or anyone in the family ever wanted to come and see the show? I’m up in Birmingham in a couple of weeks and I plan on popping by the house in Perry Barr where Arthur lived, just so I can see it.
Thank you again for the photo and I’m glad the trip was a success.
A short while later Stuart sent me through some more pics of what Granded Green looked like in 1915
So anyway, another year went by and I didn't chase it up - after all, everyone has a right to their privacy on the internet and Stuart had approached us first, not the other way around.
I must confess that I'd also had a sneeky peek at the Fortnum and Masons website and found out that a top of the range hamper cost £6000! - if Grandad BT died in 1953 - hmmm, 65 years of unsent hampers = £390,000 (!)
Maybe keeping schtum was a good idea......
But - as the UOGB got ready to play out this run of shows, curiosity got the better of me and I sent him another email:
I hope you and the family are well. I’m just emailing you as, with the anniversary of the Armistice coming up and the end of WW1, plus the fact that our band is doing a show around the UK (all about WW1 music - Lousy War): I’ve been thinking about the story of our two grandfathers.
Since I’ll be doing a fair bit of travelling around the Midlands and the North playing the show - we’ve got shows in Bradford on Avon, Ilkley, Doncaster, Durham, Milton Keynes and Birmingham, I wondered if I might get a chance to visit Grandad Greens grave? - do you know if he was cremated or buried, and if so where?
If you or any members of your family are near any of those towns and would like to come along and see us play, you would be very welcome!
Anyway, the long and short of it is that last Sunday, at the Town Hall; Stuart came along with his Dad (my contemporary - ie grandchild of our two WW1 forebears) as well as his daughter. So after 102 years had passed - me and my daughter, Poppy (Arthurs great granddaughter) finally got meet the descendants of the soldier who saved my grandfathers life.
And if he hadn't done that, neither me nor Poppy would be here.........God Bless Grandad Green!
And here is a picture of us all.
* and not to the regimental museum.