Voices of the Great War – another successful Grünheide-York partnership project

What a weekend it has been! 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’. Thirty five students from Phillip-Melanchthon Gymnasium and The Mount and Millthorpe Schools 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. 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??

On Sunday morning, the rain cleared and we set off into the centre of the city already partly in costume.
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.

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.

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.

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.

You can read the leaflet we gave to passers-by here: Voices of the Great War leaflet (1)

It has been great to work with each other again and there was, of course, also some time for being hosted, hosting, shared meals and being in school and museums. But it never seems long enough and we are already looking forward to ‘Next time in Berlin!’

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