I have never been interested in war.
Some people are war buffs, fascinated by history and collecting bits of memorabilia. I can remember being vaguely interested when my Grandma showed me her ration book from the second world war and at school, I was particularly interested in the battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 and I thought Sitting Bull was a good man for trying to get his land back, but this rather simplified naive view was as far as my interest went in physical struggles over land or ideology.
Some people are extremely anti war, protesting and campaigning and, inspired by the lyrics of John Lennon i’ve probably leant more towards the idea of promoting peace and certainly if my facebook feed is anything to go by, I’ve got a lot of anti war protesting friends out there.
These are the two interactions i’ve had with the concept of war in my life up till recently.
As the centenary of the start of the First World war approached in 2014, I became involved in a project that would educate me in the politics, the timeline and the devastating effects of the war (to end all wars) that ravaged Europe and beyond from 1914-1918, in a manner that no school project could ever achieve.
With experience of producing short community films under my belt, I was asked to help with a project in the Bedfordshire village of Arlesey, not only the place I grew up, but the place I came back to 12 years after moving away to bring up my family. What better way to reintegrate, get to know the new people and re establish lost relationships than get in involved in a community project.
The film I produced was not a short community film, it ended up being 40 mins in length, was broadcast nationally on the Community Channel , enthused over 300 residents to get involved in the project and impressively filled the village hall twice over when it was screened during November 2014.
But now I am interested in war or at least the personal stories of war. Throughout filming I visited the graves of Arlesey men in France, Belgium and Turkey, I read and researched newspaper articles and I even toured the village looking at their addresses, many of which are still standing. I met the 96 year old daughter of one of those men, who remembers him clearly and then sadly him dying years later of his wounds.
One of the most surprising and humbling discoveries for me was the attitude of the Turks once the allies had been defeated in Gallipoli. They downed weapons, assisted the injured and dying, helped the fit return to their ships and gave dignified funerals and graves to those that had been killed even sending messages to their mothers expressing their sorrow.
And not only did the process of making the film connect me with the community, I feel like i’ve met the 87. The men from Arlesey and their families’ who gave up everything for what they hoped would either be a better life, or for a cause they believed in. Most of Arlesey’s 87 were volunteers.
The film as you might have guessed documents a selection of the community that were happy to be filmed as they completed the ambitious task of commemorating all of the fallen from the first World War listed on their War Memorial during the centenary year of the start of the war.
Incredibly and beyond the initial hopes of the project team, the community successfully visited the grave of every single soldier where ever he lay in the world, the British Embassy helping us out with the one in Iraq. They placed a bespoke poppy cross on each grave which had been prepared by the children of Gothic Mede Lower School. Listening to the chatter of the children as they painted their crosses and realising some of them were comparing stories of WW1 to their uncles’ or parent’s friends who have fought in Afghanistan was fascinating.
The project was conceived by then parish councillor Duncan Wang and a small committee of residents. The film was funded by a crowdfunding campaign which garnered donations from far and wide and the offer of equipment and practical help. The promotional film we made for the crowdfunder campaign I think caught the imagination of the community. It was made in an hour one fairly grey afternoon using a stills camera with no mic. But it was to be the catalyst for the success of the project.
The project itself attracted national attention securing coverage in national press and the project team were invited to the launch of the national commemoration activity RememberWW1.I was invited to speak at the event along side MPs, Lords, historians and authors. The pressure to produce a film that was of some substance was building. When the project first started I’d been working a TV contract, but since filming on this project had picked up, the demand for producing something of some professional quality had become apparent. I was now embarking on learning to use editing software and due to most of the funds going on travel expenses, I was literally doing every production job, camera, sound, edit, research, director… I didn’t work professionally for some months, to keep up with the amount of learning that I had to do.
Finally with the help of the Media Trust the film was broadcast throughout November and December 2014 nationally on the Community Channel.
The project was also recognised by the county council winning a volunteering award for simply mobilising hundreds of residents to volunteer in any capacity they could.
The project website is still being added to over the four years and research into each soldier’s personal biography continues, alongside simple displays in the village church and the release of bespoke art works by local artist David Borrington.
I’m making this film public in the lead up to Remembrance Sunday 2015 to mark a year on from this achievement and to remind the community what can be possible when we work together.
It also serves as a reminder that the wars happening now, today, in the middle east, and elsewhere are just the same. Families are displaced, some are fighting for what they believe, some are fighting because they have no other choice. Some have no interest in war. Even if you have no interest in war, take a moment to think about that,