Voices of the Great War

Our Grünheide-York partnership has been established since 2009 and we have met every year in York or Berlin. This year’s theme has been ‘Voices of the Great War’. 35 students from Phillip-Melanchthon Gymnasium, The Mount and Millthorpe School have researched the stories and beliefs of European men and women who lived in the 1914-1918 period. They have then brought these people back to life through staged monologues and duologues, performed on location in the City of York on Sunday 23 November. After working all term in our schools, we finally got together for our project weekend. Saturday was a busy day of connecting as a group, discussing ideas, doing last bits of research, getting costumes sorted and rehearsing the productions. What should Kaiser Wilhelm wear? Why haven’t any York shops got spiky helmets?

The leaflet Voices of the Great War was handed out to the audience as the students performed.

Peaceful Voices

The Quakers at Friargate Meeting House were warm in their greeting as the peaceful voices began their work on their front doorstep. Bertha von Suttner explained to a child why war was wrong and a tired, but still faithful, York MP Arnold Rowntree restated his Quaker Peace Testimony in 1918. Siegfried Sassoon’s Declaration was read out in the context of his life and socialist Arthur Gardiner’s Huddersfield tribunal was recreated from the transcripts that survive.

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Arnold Rowntree restates the peace testimony of the Quakers

Silenced Voices

At the Railway Memorial Arthur Boldison, a Bishopthorpe Road man who died on the Somme, was brought to life briefly in the place where his name is carved in stone. He was joined by Edith Cavell, Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxembourg and Mary Carter, a York Munitions worker. As they fell silent, narrators stood forward to explain how their voices were silenced by war. The badly disfigured Norman Eric Wallace also spoke for those who survived with terrible wounds.

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Arthur Boldison, a York railway worker is one of the “Silenced Voices” at The Railway Men’s Memorial

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The “Silenced Voices” of Edith Cavell and York munitions worker Mary Carter

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The “Silenced Voices” of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg

Fighting Voices

With the dramatic backdrop of York Castle, Bismarck warned Kaiser Wilhelm II of the dangers of his foreign policy, while Rudyard Kipling sent his son off to war to the poem ‘If’. Flora Sandes and Princess Eugenie told their tales of fighting as women, with the Princess speaking in her native Russian through a translator.

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Princess Eugenie: one of the “Fighting Voices”

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Rudyard Kipling reads the Poem If to his son Jack as one of the “Fighting Voices”

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Bismark and Kaiser Wilhelm II argue over what it means to have a “fighting Voice”

Reflective Voices

Finally, outside York Minster, Vera Brittain, Erich Maria Remarque, Klara Zeltin and Wilfred Owen reflected on how the war changed their lives and changed their world forever. It was a powerful end and many tourists stopped to take photographs.

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Klara Zeltin reflects on how the war should change the role of women

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The poet Wilfred Owen is a “Reflective Voice”

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Erich Maria Remarque explains why he has written the novel “All Quiet on the Western Front”