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In the Hands of Boys: Shropshire Schools visit historic WW1 sites

Eight Shropshire schools have recently visited five sites across Shropshire with links to World War One, as part of the ‘In the Hands of Boys’ project being coordinated by Shropshire Council.

In total, 89 boys visited sites across the county to learn about the role Shropshire played in supporting the First World War effort. The five sites visited as part of the project were Shropshire Regimental Museum, Stokesay Court Country House, Trenches Through the Ages, Park Hall (Oswestry), RAF Museum Cosford and Severn Valley Railway.

As we now know, many underage boys enlisted as soldiers to support the WWI effort. During the site visits, the boys and young men worked with heritage professionals to immerse themselves in WWI life. This allowed them to better understand and appreciate what these young men of a similar age experienced.

Following the site visits, the participating boys and young men have been taking part in a series of dance workshops with dance professionals to interpret what they have learned, though dance.

Lezley Picton, Shropshire Council Cabinet member for Culture & Leisure, said:

“Shropshire Council have worked with schools on projects like this for a number of years now, but ‘In the Hands of Boys’ is particularly poignant.

“It’s so important that the roles various sites across Shropshire like Stokesay Court and Park Hall played in supporting the First World War effort are recognised. So many brave young men, and indeed boys in some instances, lost their lives during the war. This project allows them to be remembered and the knowledge passed on to new generations. It’s fantastic that local schools are working with us and heritage professionals to ensure that Shropshire’s involvement in WWI is not forgotten.”

The dance workshops will culminate in a finale performance at Theatre Severn on Sunday 12 November.

Boys in year 5 & 6 from St Mary’s Primary School, Shawbury, visited Shropshire Regimental Museum, based at Shrewsbury Castle where they attended a workshop.

Delivered by a local heritage educator and WWI specialist, the workshop focused on the role the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) played in WWI.

During the workshop, the boys met and spoke with a re-enactor in full WWI uniform. They had the opportunity to handle and use collections to help them discover and understand the important role the KSLI played in WWI and heard about the individual stories of soldiers from Shropshire, who were part of the regiment and experienced active duty.

Did you know? The KSLI informed the emergence of 6th Battalion of Rifles, Shropshire’s modern day equivalent, based at Copthorne Barracks Shrewsbury.

Young men from William Brookes School, Much Wenlock, visited Stokesay Court to get a personal insight into the lives of wounded and sick soldiers and their experience of arriving on trains at Shrewsbury from Southampton, their time recuperating at the hospital and being back on the front line.

During their visit, the young men attended a guided tour of the building and grounds, a collection handling workshop with a heritage educator and visited a WWI exhibition.

Caroline Magnus of Stokesay Court, said:

“It was such a pleasure to host the ‘In the Hands of Boys’ project at Stokesay Court and to be able to pass on the part this Shropshire house and family played as a Convalescent Hospital in WWI to the next generation. How fascinating it was to see first hand the imaginative and fun way that the project involved the boys and helped them to think about and interpret this important part of our history.”

Did you know? Stokesay Court opened as a convalescent home for soldiers (ordinary ranks) in 1915, initially with beds for 10, increasing to 30 in 1916.

Young men and boys from Severndale Specialist Academy, Whixall; Tilstock and Prees primary schools visited ‘Trenches Through the Ages’ at Park Hall, Oswestry to experience trench warfare in a life-sized trench.

Alongside experiencing life in a WWI trench, the boys were able to explore a number of items from local collections, including; photographs, letters, postcards, diaries, equipment, uniform and detailed replica artefacts.

The hands-on nature of this experience was designed to help develop the boys’ empathy for soldiers serving on the front-line and an understanding about the conditions they lived in.

Did you know? Park Hall was the site of one of the largest training camps in the country, housing over 21,000 troops, including the famous war poet, Wilfred Owen.

Boys in years 4, 5 and 6 from Cheswardine Primary School visited RAF Museum Cosford to attend a workshop delivered by a heritage educator: ‘First World War – Life above the Trenches’.

Focusing on the life of a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilot, the workshop introduced participants to the history of the RFC using a range of interactive activities.

Participants were able to examine WWI artefacts including uniform, maps letters and aircraft in order to build a picture of the life of a pilot, focusing particularly on local pilot 2nd Lt. Kevin Furniss.

One of the boys said: “I’ve learnt how they communicated with the other planes. I honestly thought that they had cockpits and stuff but they didn’t at all they were like little flying machines so it was really really cool.”

Although Bridgnorth Steam Valley Railway was not used during WWI, railways across Shropshire played a vital part in the war effort, moving both soldiers and refugees around the county.

Boys from St George’s Primary School, Clun during their site visit to Bridgnorth Steam Valley Railway

Visiting the Bridgnorth Steam Valley Railway was intended to give the boys an insight into the scale of operations that were taking place.

Boys in years 4, 5 and 6 from St George’s Primary, Clun, visited Severn Valley Railway in Bridgnorth, where they attended a workshop delivered by a local heritage educator and specialist in WWI and even took a journey on the train.

Thomas from St George’s Primary said he learned that “they went on trains thousands at a time” while Albie discovered that “they used trains to travel to France” during WWI.

Did you know? The Belgians were welcomed with open arms in Shropshire during WWI and all their needs were provided by local businesses and individuals.

All site visits were attended by the dance artists, to enable the dance choreography to accurately reflect Shropshire’s involvement in the First World War.

To learn more about the ‘In the Hands of Boys’ project, follow this link.

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