Thursday 15 December 2022

First World War Concert Party Recreated by A-level Students in Belgium

On 10 December students from St Joseph’s College Ipswich performed a play written by members of the school’s History Department and recreated a First World War Concert Party on the stage at Talbot House, Poperinge. 

Talbot House Museum is the surviving British Army chaplaincy house from the time of the Great War. Run throughout the war by the charismatic and legendary Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton (later to become chaplain to our late Queen’s mother), the house provided a place of sanity and warmth for the tens of thousands of soldiers who passed through its doors. 

There, men could write a letter home, read in the beautiful garden, play billiards, or have a cup of tea and chat with Tubby. Some would climb the stairs to the chapel to receive their first and sadly for some their final Holy Communion. It was literally, for many soldiers, the last stop before the hell of the trenches. And a particular highlight for soldiers visiting the house was its programme of concert parties, like the one the St Joseph’s students recreated.

The show was performed to a packed audience of locals and fellow St Jo’s students on a whirlwind trip to the area, which is studied by A-level historians.

Among precious artefacts at Talbot House is a series of Great War love letters between Lt Geoffrey Boothby and Miss Edith Ainscow. Dr Briege Rice, history teacher at St Joseph’s, was prompted to write a play, adapting the letters and celebrating the story of Geoffrey and Edith. It was performed concert-party-fashion, complete with period songs and readings.

The independent school had intended to stage the show before the lockdowns struck and so was delighted that it should finally have its opening night in Belgium. ‘Somewhere a voice is calling’ will be performed again in February at St Joseph’s College. 

Mr Sacha Cinnamond, Deputy Principal and History teacher at the College, commented: ‘Each year students from St Joseph’s College visit Railway Wood Memorial and Cemetery near Ypres. Here they learn the story of Geoffrey and Edith and pay their respects to the brave tunnellers who lost their lives there- including Geoffrey, himself.

‘Creating the show was a natural next step, made all the more satisfying by combining it with Talbot House, an incredibly special place, where the sense of History is palpable. For our superbly talented students to be given the opportunity of performing our play at the House, treading the boards where so many soldiers had done so before, was a huge honour’.   

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