Last week MCS held a two-day commemoration to mark the centenary of the end of WWI. The whole school was off timetable for those days, with a programme including lectures, subject seminars and a postcard project which involved every member of the school producing a personal act of remembrance. Film-maker Ben Johnston created a beautiful documentary about the whole project which you can watch here.
It culminated in the term’s major production, ‘Reflections’, the fruit of a collaboration with the ‘Soldiers of Oxfordshire’ museum in Woodstock. Their chairman, Ian Inshaw, had approached me in 2017 asking whether we might be interested in working together to produce something special for the centenary. With the go-ahead from school, I worked with a dozen 6th form historians to research a number of figures from the war years with Oxford links. They ranged from Ivor Novello (ex MCS chorister) and Vera Brittain (Somerville student/nurse) to an Australian airman, ‘Aussie’ Stone, who trained near Oxford and crashed his plane into a field of sprouts: he ended up marrying the farmer’s daughter. The museum also had complete diaries for Harry Stroud, a butcher’s apprentice who signed up in 1914, and Guy Blewitt, a career soldier who took the war in his capable stride. We followed their very different paths through the war, inter-twining their stories and imagining chance meetings. The show, which was part-scripted by U6th students, included four of my songs, orchestrated by Sam Pegg, and it was hugely exciting to see them brought to life by such a talented cast of 35.
Andrew Bell, from Oxford Daily Info, wrote a very complimentary review here. The performances felt genuinely special: many were moved to tears, which is credit to the stories we were telling as much as the writing, but the show did manage to capture the different vivid experiences of the war in a short 90 minutes. Descendants of Aussie Stone came to the last night and showed the actors a ring handed down by that same farmer’s daughter. It was a fitting end to the evening, a physical reminder that life carries on despite everything that gets thrown at it.
Watch the film of Reflections here.