Play vs Film vs Novel

A new film version of R C Sherriff’s Journey’s End was released a couple of months ago and I was very keen to see it.

I saw the revival of the play in London’s West End back in 2011 and it remains one of the most profound experiences I have had in the theatre and so while I was very keen to see the new big screen version I was also a little nervous.

For once I needn’t have worried, in director Saul Dibb’s hand the claustrophobia, tension and fear came through wonderfully. While the action did leave the dugout, which it didn’t in the stage version I saw, this didn’t alter the feel of the film. You went on that journey with Stanhope, Osborne, Raleigh absolutely, from behind the lines to going over the top you were with the men completely. The claustrophobia, fear and futility all came through thanks to the incredible cinematography and music score.

Despite a pretty starry cast the actors very quickly became their characters and I didn’t notice any anachronisms at all. Some reviews have been sniffy about the comedy brought to the film with the character of Mason – the long-suffering cook/batman/soldier.  He has been called a pale imitation of Blackadder’s Baldrick which is absurd – the original material for Journey’s End was written in 1928 and so rather than Mason  it is of course Baldrick who is the copy.

The film added some background detail to Stanhope and Raleigh’s relationship which was new to me, both from seeing the play and then later reading the script. I did bristle slightly at this because it didn’t seem authentic – however the joke was completely on me…

I wasn’t aware that the 1928 play had been rewritten into a novel by Sherriff and Vernon Bartlett and this is where the details of Stanhope and Raleigh’s pre-war friendship, and the romance between Stanhope and Raleigh’s sister, are fleshed out. To be honest I am not sure that the film needed to make these things explicit – they were perfectly clear in the stage play but I’ll allow them some dramatic license!

All in all I found this to be a thoroughly overwhelming (in a good way) film. The immediacy and emotion of the play will always be my favourite way to experience Journey’s End but this is a film adaptation that hasn’t spoiled the original for me.

If you’d like to know more about RC Sherriff and Journey’s End then I recommend browsing through Roland Wales’ RC Sherriff…and more website. I am now saving up to see if I can make a trip to Belgium this autumn to see the MESH Theatre Company perform Journey’s End actually in Ypres.

In the meantime do try to catch this film on the big screen if you can, the DVD is due out in June.


WW1 on Stage – The Wipers Times

A review of the New Wolsey Theatre matinee performance, 9th November 2016

Official poster for the play

Official poster for the play

The Wipers Times is a new play (based the TV drama of the same name) created by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman and apart from calling it a wonderful watch putting into words what I saw on the stage is proving very difficult.

The original Wipers Time newspaper was the brainchild of two officers serving on the front-line who realised that perhaps the best way to survive the horrors of the war was to do so by making them comical.  Their newspaper was written and printed by men actually serving in the trenches rather than those sitting behind desks behind the lines or back in Blighty. It was a firm favourite with the men and and a thorn in the side of those officers bravely fighting the war from their desks a long way from any bombs…

The comic scenes of the men writing the articles (these would start by simply being read and turn into action scenes upstage or shown as full vaudeville acts) were interspersed with scenes from behind the lines in staff HQ, the men on leave in France and the bittersweet moments of home leave or letters.  Then there were also the scenes of the men in the trenches waiting for the big pushes – the Somme and 3rd Battle of Ypres for example.

I found the play managed to show the absurdities and horrors of war very effectively without ever feeling as if it was playing with my emotions, it was sad at times but overall very uplifting.

I’ve seen the play described as a cross between Blackadder Goes Forth and Oh! What a Lovely War but I did also see a hint of Journey’s End in there – it wasn’t all comedy.

Some of the lines, puns and jokes were terrible and were signposted a mile off but these weren’t necessarily the lines from Hislop and Newman and neither were the lines about press accuracy interestingly enough.

What I found the most interesting about this play however was how much the later World War One satires such as Blackadder owed to the Wipers Times even if this was unintentional and they knew nothing about the paper.

All of the original editions of the Wipers Times newspaper were reprinted in a facsimile edition and you can borrow this from Norfolk’s Libraries but I really do hope that this play will return to the stage soon – it has an important story to tell.

Book review

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of David Snell’s new book Sing To Silent Stones: Violet’s War recently after responding to a request for readers on Twitter. It sounded just up my street being sold as “a stunning historical debut from David Snell, based on his own family’s journey through the wars.


It arrived with quite a thump as the book is over 500 pages long but once I’d started it I found it almost impossible to put down – even the recent successes of TeamGB competitors couldn’t drag my nose from the pages.

The story starts just after the First World War with a little boy playing in the snow, his world is about to be turned upside down as he discovers that the people he’s called mum and dad are just foster parents and that the newly appeared Violet is in fact his mother.

The main book then takes up back in time to just before the war and a sheltered young lady, and only daughter of a wealthy, snobbish business man falls in love with an unsuitable, lower class man.  Their actions on the day before Frank leaves for war reverberate through the rest of the book as Violet falls pregnant…

Whilst a fiction novel the story draws heavily on the family stories from both David and his wife; and I’m glad to know both of these things. The story is so details and well written that it felt real, I was almost convinced I was reading a biography at times but yet, just sometimes the plot becomes just a little too coincidental and I was worried that family stories had been embellished, and taken for real whereas  it was just narrative licence.

If I’m honest I did prefer the part of the book set during the First World War and just after, it felt more real than the bits from the 1930s but once I got to the end I realised that this build up was necessary to create atmosphere for the sequel – Frank’s Story which is published in 2017 and that I can’t wait to read!


Many thanks to the publisher for offering the chance to discover a great novel, the book is now published and copies can be reserved from Norfolk’s Libraries.

T E Lawrence and his legacy on stage pt. 1

Lawrence After Arabia, a new play by Howard Brenton


T E Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, has been mythologized greatly since the end of WW1 and with the 100th anniversary of the Arab Revolt being marked 2016 seems to be ‘his’ year.

I was lucky enough to attend the second preview of this new play about Lawrence and I really enjoyed it.

While the play is actually set in the early 1920s a lot of the story is told in flash back and centres on Lawrence’s involvement with the aforementioned Arab Revolt.

The play itself was a simple story and although it imparted a lot of information about Arabia in WW1 I didn’t feel like I was attending a lecture and I thought that the foreshadowing of how events in 1916 still influence life in 2016 were very well handled.

Sadly the play has finished its run in London now, but I hope that it transfers or tours soon as I’d certainly like to see it again. The play script is available to buy and make a great read and of course there are plenty of books on Lawrence of Arabia published – many of which can be borrowed from Norfolk’s libraries.

Jack Laskey (T E Lawrence) and Khalid Laith (Prince Feisal) in Lawrence After Arabia by Howard Brenton @ Hampstead Theatre. Directed by John Dove.
©Tristram Kenton 05/16

Shakespeare at War

2016 is being celebrated as #Shakespeare400 around the world as this year marks the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.  On first glance it didn’t seem like there would be many links between this anniversary and the First World War but we were quickly surprised…

Hiding in our reserve collections was this gem of a book:

Shakespearean War Calendar by Rev. Fredk. Askew

Shakespearean War Calendar by Rev. Fredk. Askew


Compiled by the Rev. Frederick Askew the foreword is incredibly jingoistic:


foreword Sh ww1 2


The contents are equally fascinating, as each day lists which Saint is celebrated on the day, what happened in the war during 1916 and then has the quote. They months have also been split into topics, for example the beginning of April takes Peace Mongers as a theme:april theme

The exact entry for April 4th (1917) reads:

april 4

I’m not 100% certain that this quote (or indeed many that the Rev. Askew uses) fill me with patriotic fervour but this book must have found an audience for at the back a second publication called Two Years of War: A Nation’s Psychology in Shakespeare’s Words is listed as being available to order.

Sadly we don’t have a copy of this in our collection (in fact if any one does have a copy then please do contact us as we would love to see it!) but this second publication has been quoted in books looking at the role Shakespeare has played in shaping Britain’s culture and national identity.

More research into these publications, and Shakespeare in general, during the First World War has also lead to the discovery that copies of the Complete Works of Shakespeare were presented to soldier’s disabled in the war “as a token of gratitude for their service and in the hope of providing comfort.”  These were financed by donations to the Kitchener Souvenir Committee which had been set up after Lord Kitchener’s death in 1916.

Again if anyone has a copy of this book in their family collection we would love to see a physical copy.


Throughout April all of Norfolk’s Libraries are promoting the Shakespeare to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of his death – pop in and find books about the Bard, his plays and more modern novels based which are based on the play as well as Shakespeare themed activities.

Diaries at war

Recent posts detailing the movements of the Norfolk Regiment in Mesopotamia have drawn heavily on diaries kept by officers from the Battalion, and we’ll be featuring more about these men here very soon.

Diaries make fascinating reading and we’ve just discovered a wonderful new website one which the diaries of Lieutenant James Brierley are being published exactly 100 years on from when it was originally written.

You can read the diary here, and it is a wonderful mix of military observation and personal comment.

If you want to read more diaries from World War One then there Norfolk’s libraries have lots to look through and borrow – here are just a sample!

The War Diaries of a Norfolk Man – William C. Bennett

war diary






Harry’s War – ed. Jon Cooksey & David Griffiths

Harry's war






Edward Hicks: A Pacifist Bishop at War – ed. G. R. Evans







The Diary of A Nursing Sister

nursing sister






A Doctor on the Western Front – ed. John Hutton

Dr West






Drawing Fire – the diary of a Great War soldier and artist – Len Smith

drawing fire

Book highlights

Were you hoping for some World War One themed books (or book tokens) for Christmas and are disappointed that Santa didn’t bring them?

Never fear we’ve been adding lots to Norfolk Libraries over the past few months and here are just a selection of the new items you can borrow:


After the Final Whistle by Stephen Cooper

As Britain’s Empire went to war in August 1914, rugby players were the first to volunteer. They led from the front and paid a disproportionate price. In 1919, a grateful Mother Country hosted a rugby tournament: sevens teams at eight venues, playing 17 matches to declare a first ‘world champion’. There had never been an international team tournament like it. For the first time teams from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Britain and France were assembled in one place. Rugby held the first ever ‘World Cup’. It was a moment of triumph, a celebration of military victory, of Commonwealth and Allied unity, and of rugby values, moral and physical. In 2015 the tournament returns to England as the world remembers the Centenary of the Great War. This is the story of rugby’s journey through the First World War to its first World Cup, and how those values endure


A Broken World by Sebastian Faulks

A Broken World’ presents a cacophony of voices from and about the Great War in a way never before collected together, allowing memories of its landscape and moments in specific places to come to the fore. Sebastian Faulks and Hope Wolf have explored archives and autobiographical records to select true-life stories and experiences from diaries, letters, postcards, memoirs and other remembrances of this terrible conflict and its aftermath.broken

Prisoners of the British by Michael Foley

Much of what has been written about the treatment of prisoners of war held by the British suggest that they have often been treated in a more caring and compassionate way than the prisoners of other countries. During the First World War, Germans held in Britain were treated leniently while there were claims of British prisoners being mistreated in Germany. Was the British sense of fair play present in the prison camps and did this sense of respect include the press and public who often called for harsher treatment of Germans in captivity? Were those seen as enemy aliens living in Britain given similar fair treatment? Were they sent to internment camps because they were a threat to the country or for their own protection to save them from the British public intent on inflicting violence on them? Prisoners of the British: Internees and Prisoners of War during the First World War examines the truth of these views while also looking at the number of camps set up in the country and the public and press perception of the men held here.



When the Office Went to War: war letters from men of the Great Western Railway by Clare Horrie & Kathryn Petersen

During the course of the First World War, staff of the Great Western Railway’s Audit Office sent letters and photographs back to their employer in Paddington, which were in turn collated into monthly ‘newsletters’ by those who stayed at home to keep Britain moving. Today these newsletters give a unique insight into the Great War – these soldiers were writing to inform and entertain their colleagues rather than to comfort a worrying parent or to confess their love to a distant partner – and bring a distinct band of individuals to


Shepard’s War by James Campbell

Ernest Howard Shepard was born in London in 1879 into an artistic and literary family. He studied art from an early age and was successful in making a career out of it, particularly as a political cartoonist for Punch and a prolific book illustrator. Shepard is most widely known for his illustrations of the Winnie-the-Pooh series by A.A. Milne and The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, and these drawings have become classics in their own right, iconic in the minds of children and adults everywhere. ‘Shepard’s War’ is an intimate, illustrated narrative of the First World War seen through the mainly unpublished work of E.H. Shepard, who served as a frontline officer from 1915 to the end of the war.Shepard’s War: E H Shepard, the man who drew Winnie-the-Pooh – compiled by James


1916: A Global History by Keith Jeffrey

The mud-filled, blood-soaked trenches of the Low Countries and North-Eastern Europe were essential battlegrounds during the First World War, but the war reached many other corners of the globe, and events elsewhere significantly affected its course. Covering the twelve months of 1916, eminent historian Keith Jeffery uses twelve moments from a range of locations and shows how they reverberated around the world. As well as discussing better-known battles such as Gallipoli, Verdun and the Somme, Jeffery examines Dublin, for the Easter Rising, East Africa, the Italian front, Central Asia and Russia, where the killing of Rasputin exposed the internal political weakness of the country’s empire. And, in charting a wide range of wartime experience, he studies the ‘intelligence war’, naval engagements at Jutland and elsewhere, as well as the political consequences that ensued from the momentous US presidential election.1916


The First Blitz: bombing London in the First World War by Ian Castle

This comprehensive volume tells the story of the first aerial campaign in history, as the famed Zeppelins, and then the Gotha and the massive Staaken bombers waged war against the civilian population of London in the first ever ‘Blitz’.1st


Fritz and Tommy – across the barbed wire by Peter Doyle and Robin Shaffer

It was a war that shaped the modern world, fought on five continents, claiming the lives of ten million people. Two great nations met each other on the field of battle for the first time. But were they so very different? For the first time, and drawing widely on archive material in the form of original letters and diaries, Peter Doyle and Robin Schäfer bring together the two sides, ‘Fritz’ and ‘Tommy’, to examine cultural and military nuances that have until now been left untouched: their approaches to war, their lives at the front, their greatest fears and their hopes for the future. The soldiers on both sides went to war with high ideals; they experienced horror and misery, but also comradeship/Kameradschaft. And with increasing alienation from the people at home, they drew closer together, ‘the Hun’ transformed into ‘good old Jerry’ by the war’s end. This unique collaboration is a refreshing yet touching examination of how little truly divided the men on either side of no-man’s land during the First World War.fritz


From Gaza to Jerusalem by Stuart Hadaway

The 1917 Palestine campaign saw Britain’s Army rise from defeat to achieve stunning victory. After two failed attacks on Gaza using tactics employed on the Western Front, a new commander was appointed. General Allenby reinvigorated the Army and led it to stunning success in the Third Battle of Gaza. This offensive would see an innovative use of cavalry and all-arms co-operation push the Ottoman defenders all the way back to Jerusalem. This work brings the campaign to life in a broader and deeper sense, analysing the ‘war fighting’ and logistical aspects while also telling the stories of the men who lived and fought in the harsh desert conditions.gaza


The Great War: ten contested questions by Hazel Flynn

As we mark the centenary of the Great War, critical questions remain in contention; how the conflict really began, what roles the generals played in the carnage, what happened the conscientious objectors and how the medical profession rose to the challenge of so many wounded. This book, based on Radio National’s weekend long broadcast, draws on the work of the world’s leading thinkers and historians to challenge and extend our understanding of the war that profoundly changed the world.ten


Women’s Century: an illustrated history of the Women’s Institute by Val Horsler

In a century that has seen the role of women in both domestic and public life change irrevocably, the role of the Women’s Institute in effecting change has often gone unappreciated. This title celebrates the WI’s centenary in 2015, calling attention to the indispensable role it has played in the development of women’s rights.women

Edith Cavell: Nurse, Martyr, Heroine by Diana Souhami

Edith Cavell was born on 4th December 1865, daughter of the vicar of Swardeston in Norfolk, and shot in Brussels on 12th October 1915 by the Germans for sheltering British and French soldiers and helping them escape over the Belgian border.

Following a traditional village childhood in 19th-century England, Edith worked as a governess in the UK and abroad, before training as a nurse in London in 1895. To Edith, nursing was a duty, a vocation, but above all a service. By 1907, she had travelled most of Europe and become matron of her own hospital in Belgium, where, under her leadership, a ramshackle hospital with few staff and little organization became a model nursing school.

When war broke out, Edith helped soldiers to escape the war by giving them jobs in her hospital, finding clothing and organizing safe passage into Holland. In all, she assisted over two hundred men. When her secret work was discovered, Edith was put on trial and sentenced to death by firing squad. She uttered only 130 words in her defence. A devout Christian, the evening before her death, she asked to be remembered as a nurse, not a hero or a martyr, and prayed to be fit for heaven.

When news of Edith’s death reached Britain, army recruitment doubled. After the war, Edith’s body was returned to the UK by train and every station through which the coffin passed was crowded with mourners.

Diana Souhami brings one of the Great War’s finest heroes to life in this biography of a hardworking, courageous and independent woman.cavell


Voices from the front: an oral history of the Great War by Peter Hart

Every man who served in the Great War is now deceased, but they have left behind them an enormous collection of oral history, which captures the authentic voices of the front line soldiers. In this book, oral historian Peter Hart brings together accounts from across the conflict, from soldiers, sailors, and airmen, from officers and privates alike.