Children honour English Test cricketers killed in WW1

Wed, 08/11/2017

An English Test cricketer killed during the Battle of Passchendaele has been remembered on the centenary of his death in a poignant performance by children at Lord’s.

Pupils from All Souls C of E Primary School, in Fitzrovia, visited the Home of Cricket on Wednesday to tell the story of bowler Colin Blythe who was killed on the last day of the Battle of Passchendaele, November 8, 1917. 

The afternoon featured a musical performance by children aged 10 to 11, in collaboration with Westminster Archives and Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).

Councillor Rachael Robathan speaking to the children 

The play, called The Final Test, told the story of MCC players Colin Blythe and Major Booth.

Colin Blythe was 38 years old when he was working on a railway line near Passchendaele and was struck by the shrapnel of a burst shell.

Meanwhile, Major Booth died in the arms of a fellow soldier after going over the top on the first day of the Somme offensive on July 1, 1916.

In preparation for the performance the children visited the MCC Museum at Lord’s and worked with the Ministry of Drama theatre group.

The names of MCC Members who died in the World Wars are engraved on a roll of honour at the top of the southern staircase. However, Major Booth and Colin Blythe were only added in February this year following a campaign by former England captain Michael Atherton. This is because rules once dictated that only amateurs could be Members of MCC and not professional cricketers, so even though both men represented the club their names had been omitted.

Westminster City Council’s Armed Forces Champion, Councillor Rachael Robathan, attended along with Councillor Jan Prendergast as Lord Mayor Locum Tenens.

Cllr Robathan said: “This was a poignant performance that demonstrated why we must remember the sacrifices made during the First World War.

“Seeing the stories of Colin Blythe and Major Booth performed on stage really brought to life the human cost of war.

“Hosting the event at the Home of Cricket was a fitting way to honour these two men. I would like to thank all those involved, particularly the children, for their hard work and sensitive approach.”  

During the event Westminster Archives premiered a film, They Called it Passchendaele, made by the children in May and film makers digital:works. The film features Cllr Robathan and Belgian Ambassador Guy Trouveroy.

It also covers the Coming World Remember Me programme in which 200 pupils took part in a global art project, spreading the memory of the First World War. The students created clay sculptures that will form part of a public art installation in ‘no man’s land’ in Ypres. The installation, featuring 600,000 sculptures, will open next year.

The film also features interviews with military historian Clive Harris and Nurses of Passchendaele author Christine Hallett. The film is also available to view online.

The youngsters read out Passchendaele-themed creative writing produced through the Royal College of Nursing’s Heritage Lottery Funded First World War project.

The event was held in the Thomas Lord Suite with Years 3, 4, 5 and 6 from All Souls primary school in attendance.

Martin Bradford, Major Booth's great nephew, watched the performance and brought along some cricketing artefacts relating to Major Booth to show the children.

The programme was funded by the Community Covenant, a Ministry of Defence initiative to make communities aware of the contribution our armed forces, both in the past and in the present.

Molly Case, writer in residence at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It was a privilege to work with the pupils of All Souls School and their poetry commemorating the Battle of Passchendaele was inspiring.  

“By telling stories of life in the trenches, from the viewpoint of rats, horses, mustard gas and the soldiers who fought at the Battle, they have found new ways to connect, empathise and view the experiences of the First World War.

“It is important we remember all those affected by the First Word War and poetry provides a way of distilling the stories of so many men and women for future generations.”

Professor Christine Hallett, Chair of the UK Association for the History of Nursing, added: “Participating in the Westminster Archives and Digital Works project, They Called it Passchendaele was a brilliant experience. 

“Watching the children build sculptures as part of the Belgian Coming World Remember Me project was very special, and being interviewed and filmed by them made me think more deeply about how important it is for successive generations to really understand the sacrifices of the First World War generation.”

The event was closed with the Last Post played by musician Hugh Burns.

Last updated: 20 November 2017
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