August 4th 2014. A hundred years since the declaration of war which signalled the start of four years of senseless destruction of young lives.
As regular readers know,
I have been a volunteer on the West Sussex Great War Project which has kept me busy indexing newspapers to record names and events and researching and writing four case studies. You will know them as Arthur the Artist, Ernest the Farm Boy, Albert the Gardener
and Arthur the Hero. You can read my case studies - and over 90 other contributions by my fellow volunteers - by visiting the website www.westsussexpast.org.uk and following the link to the Great War. Today Mr B and I were at an event to launch the book compiled
as part of the project and to thank the 150 volunteers for our participation. Yes, there was cake, too.
I can't expect my Little Welsh Boys, at five and seven years old, to read my case studies. But thanks
to an ingenious initiative by an organisation called Creative Waves, I was able to take them on a World War One trail around Worthing as we followed the story of a 12 year old called Jack, writing to his father away fighting heaven knows where, and telling
him - in words and pictures - what is happening in the town.
There were fifteen separate venues to be visited, and at each one of Jack's letters was posted, including a code word which had to be deciphered
and the answer entered on a crossword grid. The letters were brilliant so well done to Hazel Imbert for her creativity.
We managed to start the trail at the end rather than the beginning so we followed Jack's
story of his war years in reverse. It probably didn't matter too much but was rather indicative of our general approach to order. It meant that instead of starting off at Beach House Park, where a faithful reconstruction of a wartime allotment of the period
had been carefully recreated, it was our final port of call. In his letter to his Dad, Jack explains how he has been helping with the digging and delving at the allotment and promising that, whatever other shortages there are veggies a-plenty.
At every venue, Jack's letters reveal fascinating and relevant insights. The letter in the window of The Wool Bar (one of my favourite shops) has Jack referring to the fact that the soldiers have to darn their own socks and
his mother's jokey comment that this will surely cripple the British Army. Not so, says Jack, he and his fellow Scouts are learning to darn, sew and knit as part of the war effort - as well as patrolling the pier on the lookout for U boats.
In Montague Street we struggle to find Jack's letter as it is in a cafe window partially obscured by stacking chairs. Once we locate it we find it well worth the reading, recalling, as it does, the day when horses belonging
to local residents were rounded up and seized for transport to the fields of war. People were crying to see their horses taken away, Jack tells his father. Thanks to Michael Morpurgo and his now famous story War Horse, we know only too well the fate which
will have befallen many of them.
It takes us a long time to complete the trail, though we do have lots of stops along the way - a break for lunch in the M&S cafe, a visit to the Pick and Mix in Candy Love,
and an extended play at Splash Point where Sam and James draw a crowd of other small boys together to play a game which involves a great deal of crashing about and alarming leaps from great heights. I sit in the sunshine and try not to panic.
I have absolutely no idea if following this World War One trail will strike a lasting chord with my Little Welsh Boys. Will they remember anything about Jack's War, longing to see his dear Dad but so keen to make his absent
father proud of him? Or has it all gone straight over their heads? In St Paul's Community Centre, the display includes a twiggy tree. Children are invited to write messages for those who died and tie them to the tree.
Young James is a lad who, like Jack the letter writer, knows exactly the right words for the occasion. Pencil clutched between his fingers, he painstakingly spells out one word: "Diolch!" Which, you will remember, is Welsh for "Thank You."
I doubt even Jack could have put it better.