Saturday, March 16, 2013

Oh What a Lovely War: the First World War and a New Cross Church

This weekend a cast  and crew of around two hundred are taking part in the Telegraph Hill Festival Community Production of Oh What a Lovely War. The musical about the First World War was developed by Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop and first premiered almost exactly fifty years ago on 19 March  1963.

This might be an all ages amateur community show put together in a short period, but it remains very poignant and moving. There was actually a 99 year old woman in the audience of the show today who lived through the war, but essentially this is a war that is now passing out of living memory as we near the centenary of its outbreak. Something of the spirit of the times is conveyed though in the songs from that period that are the backbone of this musical - songs of love, homesickness, and defiant humour amidst terror and tragedy.

The show is taking place in St Catherine's Church (Kitto Road SE14), a building that bears witness to the terrible loss of human life in the 'Great War'.  A memorial in the chapel lists the names of 'the men of this parish who laid down their lives in the Great War'. Some surnames repeat two or three times (e.g. Bentley, Brown, Davidson, Davies, Jackson, Jennings, Sullivan, Wescombe), suggesting that some families suffered double or treble bereavements. 

Another plaque commemorates the presentation of a candlestick 'by members and friends of St Catherine's Girls Guild in Pious Memory of the Officers and Men of this Church and Congregation who gave their lives'. Underneath it says 'These died at war that we at peace might live' - a forlorn hope.

A lectern in the Church bears a plaque 'in loving and sacred memory of Ralph Dudley Lockwood who was killed in action at Leuze Wood September 1916, age 19 years'. Leuze Wood  (known to soliders as 'Lousy Wood') was captured by the British during the Battle of the Somme in early September 1916 at the cost of many lives.

Finally there is a reminder that after a short period of peace, much of the world was plunged into war once again. A plaque records 'the re-building of this church after heavy damage by enemy action on 7th September 1940'. 

There are two more shows of Oh What a  Lovely War on Sunday - there are a few tickets still available from the box office.

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