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Village at War
November 24th, 2018 @ 7:30 pm - 10:00 pm£5.00
St. Peter’s Church, Newdigate was filled to capacity as the audience witnessed the play reading entitled A Village at War. Written by John Callcut the reading told the story of the war from 1914-1918 from four different aspects. Martin Gilpin played the part of the Reverend Bird, the kindly priest, who shared the pain of the villagers and lost his son in 1915. Lyz Wiles was the Home Correspondent and relayed what was happening in Newdigate. The early enthusiasm, the first losses, sandbag making, women earning stripes for working on the farms and the need for more men. Anne Mitchell the Commentator concentrated upon news from throughout the country as a whole. Again, the early enthusiasm, women working in factories and farms, conscription, the need for more and more shells, war weariness and food shortages caused by the U-boat campaign. The fourth reader was Andy Thompson who described the emerging pattern of the war on all fronts from the opening shots at Mons, to Lt. Broadwoods narrow escapes, to Gallipoli where two pictures were shown taken by Lt. Gerard Bray on the day he landed at Suvla Bay- the very day that he was killed. We learnt that Pte. Ernest Weller was killed on the same day and at the same place as the poet Wilfred Owen a week before the armistice… and then finally the armistice.
To add to the ambience all the readers were in costume.
Much of the material was extracted from the parish magazine, the local paper and importantly from memories of elderly villagers originally recorded in the 1980s. Thus the audience could hear the actual words spoken and written by the rector and villagers 100 years ago. It added to the poignancy to look around the church and realise that the thirty two Newdigate people who died would have been familiar with the ‘dear’ church and would have prayed in the very pews the audience were sitting in. The church is blessed with much admired wood carvings done by the local wood carving class – a number of the young carvers didn’t return to the village from the war but their work can still be seen.
Members of the choir, conducted by Janet Brearley, sang contemporary songs at the start of each year and Anne Mitchell recreated the old music hall ‘recruiting’ song ‘ We don’t want to lose you but we think you ought to go’. Throughout the evening over seventy pictures were screened above the readers expertly choreographed by George Brind.
The evening closed with the names of the thirty two men from Newdigate who died being scrolled down the screen to the sound of Elgar’s Nimrod.
As the audience arrived in the church they were met by the World War One historian, David Whithorn, who was dressed in soldiers uniform. Pictures of twenty two of the Newdigate’s dead were displayed in the belfry along with many artifacts.
This was the first time that the reading had been performed in Newdigate for over twenty years, although since then it has been presented by the Dorking Dramatic and Operatic Society and a full recording over seven days was broadcast by Susy Radio.
Now this is the final performance and it will now be put away for …. perhaps another 100 years!
But – We will Remember Them