In the Shadow of the Great War Surrey 1914-1922 – the launch

I started shaving years ago. Okay I’m not very consistent but I do know what I’m doing. Or so I thought.

I’m currently engaged in actively shaving every couple of days, a mania that occasionally afflicts me but never lasts, and so, last night I dutifully dragged the blade over my face.

This morning, looking bleary-eyed into the mirror I thought it strange that my upper lip appeared more bristly than one would normally encounter after one sleep. Then I realised I’d actually missed that bit.

I only hope this is a momentary error rather than the gradual decline into shaving omissions. I’m really not prepared to leave the house with half a hairy chin.

Not that I really want to discuss the onset of shaving Alzheimer’s. Instead…

Today I went up to Woking (I’m not sure if it’s ‘up’ because it’s a bigger place than Farnham or ‘up’ because it’s north-ish) and the Surrey History Centre in order to witness the culmination of four years of work by many, many people. It was the launch of the book that, over the last four years has been made as a companion to the Surrey in the Great War: A County Remembers project which has gathered together stories about the people and place of wartime Surrey. It’s the project for which I have been researching the names of the fallen from memorials throughout the county.

While Woking looked a bit grey and dull, it was lovely returning after a while especially seeing the roadworks outside the station entrance seem to be complete.

Though, typically when it comes to man v machine, I see the machines have won again. You used to be able to walk down the side of the station where the bed has now been placed. I had thought it was going to be a bit of a ‘shared space’ but I guess not.

Anyway, as the rain started spitting, I took my leave of the station and continued down to the centre where warmth and dry beckoned.

The programme organised by Kirsty and staff – I would mention all the staff by name but, it’s a sad fact that I was very remiss in collecting their names – was delightful. (Mind you, I did get to finally meet Phil who I have been emailing for yonks regarding monument records…always great to put a face to a name.)

Anyway, we were treated to a recital, a talk on a diary and, of course, the launch of the book. Oh, and lots of food and drink, always a stalwart of these things.

We started (eventually) with a recital by Valerie Fry and Chris Hooker called Keep the Home Fires Burning. It combined music and poetry of the Great War which meant an incredibly emotive 50 minutes. Chris played his clarinet and Valerie recited poetry in a wonderful glimpse of the trenches, the soldiers, love and loss.

Taken from the back of the room

I hadn’t realised just how haunting the clarinet can be as Chris played such songs as Keep the Home Fires Burning, Pack up your Troubles and I Wonder Who’s Kissing her Now? The programme also included a bit of pre-recorded piano for some of the numbers, which was great but, truly, I loved the ones that just used the clarinet.

The music was one thing but the poems that Valerie read had my eyes starting to moisten with their poignancy. The works included the well known In Flander’s Field, the not so well known (by me) The Rainbow and one by Valerie herself, For the Record. They were all very emotional and, in my mind anyway, painted a vivid picture of why we must never go through this sort of global conflict again. I’m not a big one for poetry but the poems Valerie read painted pictures large and small of the hell that was the Great War.

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/)

There then followed a short break in order for us to all recover, sup and refresh…

…ahead of the rather incredible tale of Frederick Arthur Robinson and his diary of the war years.

Fred was a successful Cobham businessman who started his dairy on the first day of the war and, having written every day, stopped when the Armistice was signed. 3,400 typed pages was his legacy. Sometimes dull, sometimes amusing, always interesting as an occasional look at the way the war affected the people at home. (Mind you, I feel I should add that while Fred’s effort was definitely epic and an amazing resource, it was only for four years whereas MY diary has, so far, been going for over ten with equal measures of dullness, amusement and interest.)

And then came the moment we’d all been waiting for. Without a flourish of trumpets, flapping of flags or 21 gun salute, Kirsty declared the book launched. She also quoted lots of stats that I really should have written down or at least photographed…but I didn’t.

I was mentioned a couple of times (in despatches?) firstly because I managed to beaver away, researching, while I was in Queensland back in May and also because I wasn’t currently at home working on more biographical details to add to the more than 27,000 biographies presently on the website.

It was a great afternoon and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was also great seeing Kirsty given it’s been ages; getting soaked walking back to the station was well worth it.

Possibly the best news was that the project will be extending to April for some of us. I was worried that I’d have to stop today, leaving Walton-on-Thames only two thirds complete.

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