Many of the 1,400 Home Front stories about to be broadcast are untold or forgotten, according to the team behind the BBC project
Manchester’s Palace Theatre seems an oddly glamorous place for Percy Morter, who posed with the music hall star Vesta Tilley as part of a recruiting campaign, to have enlisted for the battlefields of World War I.
A year later, Morter had died on the Somme, his body never found nor returned to his pregnant wife, Kitty, who later reflected that her sense of hopelessness caused her to forget the birth of her baby.
Morter is remembered on a memorial in east Manchester, but his story will be brought up to date on BBC Radio Manchester next week.
“It’s a project that’s looking at what happened on the Home Front rather than on the Western Front, let’s say,” says Mark Hurrell, who has managed World War I at Home, a huge BBC project which launches with a website and a week of broadcasts on local television and radio – the first of three batches to be released this year.
“So it’s all about life here in the United Kingdom during those years of 1914 to 1918.
“One of the things I think that everybody working on this project has felt is that all these stories have been untold, have been forgotten, and here is a chance for us, in the early part of the 21st century, to say, ‘here is something that happened 100 years ago – we’re very proud of some of the achievements and what happened to people, how they came through this conflict with great honour and dignity.’ We want to spread that message.”
In London, a particular focus falls on thousands of Belgian refugees housed in a makeshift refugee centre in Earls Court, acting as a huge encampment for those arriving through Folkestone, Tilbury and other British ports following the German invasion of their country in August 1914.
Although the programmes will predominantly be heard and seen on weekday mornings and evenings, their precise timings depend on where you live. Their specificity stands out in every region: audiences in Northern Ireland will hear about the Tipperary training college where some of the earliest German Prisoners of War arrived, exchanging gifts with locals through barbed wire fences in a truce vocalised by the soldiers singing carols in German.
Cardiff County Council still owns Green Farm, the setting for A Land Girl in the City, on BBC Radio Wales, which will play archive recordings from Agnes Greatorex, a former member of the long-suffering, painfully hard-working women’s land army.
An army of housewives joined enraged engineers and laborueres in the Glasgow Rent Strikes, which forced the government to protect tenants from rent increases while their loved ones were fighting abroad. On BBC Radio Scotland, their story is also uncovered with the help of the Imperial War Museum in London and Manchester.
“They’ve basically given us access to their archives which has been unprecedented,” says Hurrell.
“We’re getting an opportunity to look at the files which have been lying there for nearly 100 years, in some cases.
“What I’d like people to do with these stories is, frankly, share them. They are there for anyone to look at, to use in research, for instance, or to pass on to members of their families or their friends.
“We want people to pass these around through whatever digital way they want.”
BBC Learning, who will partner the project, will create eight large-scale Great War events across the UK, aiming to inspire visitors and reflect the dramatic local effect of the war. A four-year season of commemorative programmes began last month with the Jeremy Paxman-fronted Britain’s Great War.
- Visit bbc.co.uk/ww1 for full programme listings and more details. Follow the project on Twitter @bbcww1.
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