Axe Valley Remembers

A scene from Axe Valley Remembers. Picture: ROYSTON JONES

A scene from Axe Valley Remembers. Picture: ROYSTON JONES - Credit: Archant

Colyford Memorial Hall is packed for an evening of music, poetry and drama to honour the fallen

A scene from Axe Valley Remembers. Picture: ROYSTON JONES

A scene from Axe Valley Remembers. Picture: ROYSTON JONES - Credit: Archant

Communities across Britain found different ways to mark the centenary of the Armistice.

In some villages whole streets were decked out in poppies, and locally, Lyme Regis hosted one of the thirteen representations of ‘Soldiers in the Sand’. But few localities can have been as ambitious as the East Devon community of the Axe Valley which staged on Saturday night ‘Axe Valley Remembers’ at Colyford Memorial Hall.

The event, which has been in preparation for eight months, brought together the villages of the valley in an elaborate show that skilfully blended drama, poetry and music which was both funny and poignant. The clever writing took us in an instant from the hilarious satire of the ‘Wipers Times’ to the Ypres of ‘Flanders’ Poppies’ and back again, challenging our emotions and probing remembrance.

A temporary group was formed for the event from members of drama clubs in Combpyne-Rousdon, Colyton, Dalwood and Ottery. Forty members of the Axe Valley Community Choir (AVCC), under the inspirational leadership of Edward Jacobs, volunteered to take part in an integrated performance, which included the choir acting as cheerleaders of Winston Churchill. With a talented back stage team, the whole company was more than seventy strong.

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In the presence of Neil Parish MP and his wife, the event opened with AVCC singing ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’ which preceded a strong introduction to the show by local primary school children Charlotte and Matthew Kinsella, explaining why they, and we, should remember. They were followed by a scene illustrating the recruitment of local lads, based on reports in the then popular ‘Pulman’s News’. Bob Whitell was only too keen to join up because, after all, ‘anything is better than pulling turnips in Colyford!’ The sketch included a lusty performance by Hilary Horley of ‘I’ll Make A Man Of Every One Of You’ during which Neil Parish was amusingly targeted as a potential recruit.

A series of scenes followed in which we heard of Grenville Peek from Rousdon leading one of the last cavalry charges and being captured within two days; the fraternisation of troops at Christmas 1914, and women taking over roles on the home front. In the second act there was a well-crafted adaptation of Blackadder in which the wily time traveller tries one last cunning plan…to no avail. This satirical scene of the Somme was immediately followed by a moving reading of Hodgson’s poem ‘Into Action’, written just a few days before his death at the Somme, and then the resonant bass voice of Toni Williams-Pugh, accompanied by Helen Maynard on violin, comparing a Devon gamekeeper’s experience of killing pheasants to going over the top.

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Later, Lady Gwendoline Peek from Rousdon met Vera Brittain in a Voluntary Aid Detachment at an Exeter hospital, during which Elaine Stratford gave a poignant rendition of ‘The Rose of No-man’s Land’. The final sketch featured a spirited 1918 version of Corporal ‘They don’t like it up ‘em’ Jones in ‘The Walmington-on-Sea Pals’, with an excellent support cast including Jill Hitchcock as Mavis, lost behind the front line.

Among many others, the Axe Valley Community Choir sang some wonderful medleys of World War One songs and a very haunting version of ‘Silent Night’ in German to start the Christmas truce scene. Following a series of quotations from men and women who witnessed the end of the war, expressing both delight at the end of the fighting as well as real apprehension about the future, the evening ended with an act of remembrance including a period of silence.

The cast was supported by excellent backstage teams with a stunning set, complete with poppy background, powerful sound effects, authentic and beautifully made costumes, and highly effective lighting, led by John Steel, Emily Thomas, Francine Coultas and John Newton. It was an ambitious evening and Roy and Jan Jones, the director and producer, are to be congratulated for pulling off such a splendid event, a truly fitting and local tribute to those who had served, died and survived the Great War one hundred years ago.


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