Sidmouth at War - Community play to tell the untold stories of families in wartime

PUBLISHED: 17:00 06 November 2018

Ernest and his wife Ethel.

Ernest and his wife Ethel.


Real Sidmouth families to feature in World War One drama.

William, Richard and Ernest ChanningWilliam, Richard and Ernest Channing

As the hundredth anniversary since the end of World War One approaches, a new production will delve into the wartime experiences of two Sidmouth families and how their lives were changed forever.

A Painful Duty, written by Ruth Lewis and Christine Hardy, focuses on the lives of the Channing and Clode families and piecing together their stories through extensive research and speaking to relatives.

Ruth began working on the play following Sid Vale Community Productions successful 2011 production of Johnny Jack’s War, written by Pete Wilson, and was inspired to base the production on local families.

Among the relatives she spoke to was Adrian Clode, whose grandfather Ralph was killed in the battle of Passchendaele.

Jack ChanningJack Channing

Ralph, who was born Edward Ralph, was one of seven children born to Edwin and Anna Clode, who ran Clode’s Bakery in the High Street, now Vinnicombes.

The youngest of the brothers, he was the only Clode brother to go to war due to his age.

His oldest brothers Ernest and Arthur died from bakers lung and siblings Percival and Edwin were already too old. His sisters Edith and Esther also remained at home to help run the bakery.

Adrian is starring in the production in several small roles and says it has been mixed emotion watching his family’s story coming to life.

Richard ChanningRichard Channing

He said: “It’s really nice and the fact the story is coming out its opening up a few wounds that we never realised. I have been quite emotional at rehearsals. It’s surprising.

“When you read the script at home, it was very emotional at the first read through, I nearly had to go out of the room.”

For the Channing family, parents Richard and Mary Jane saw five of their sons head to war, and received news that two would never return.

In a sad turn of events, their son Ernest returned from war only to die from injuries sustained in a collision, after his bike collided with a car on his way home to Sidford.

Ernest ChanningErnest Channing

His wife Ethel gave birth three weeks later to his daughter Ernestine ‘Tiny’ Channing.

Adrian added: “You look at the number of chaps that did get married and they didn’t come back, they did not have children. You see a lot of names and they have some sort of connection but a lot of them did not have children, they missed out.”

As part of the play, the writers have weaved in scenes of the family members left behind using newspaper clippings of the time – uncovering some surprising events.

Christine, who had been researching articles for the Sid Vale Association, used old editions of the Sidmouth Herald and Sidmouth Observer for her work.

George ChanningGeorge Channing

Ruth said: “Everybody knows about the world war, everyone knows what happens. We tried to look at how they had to cope with their losses. Anna Clode still had to run the bakery and the Channings still had to go about their daily business, knowing that all five sons were in the war, how did they cope?”

Under the direction of Marc Colson, the play will use narration, drama, photographs, film and music to bring to life Sidmouth during the years of 1914 to 1919 in a moving and often light-hearted evening of local remembrance.

Christine said: “Someone from Sidmouth College said this was an opportunity to bring real life in Sidmouth and real people in Sidmouth to life for young people or anybody really. Ordinary people.

“The play has a host of familiar local actors, singers and members of Sidmouth Town Band will perform this unique piece of Sidmouth history.

Ernest and Ethel's wedding day picture. Picture: Di TapleyErnest and Ethel's wedding day picture. Picture: Di Tapley

“Everyone from Sidmouth who made the ultimate sacrifice will be remembered as the years turn.”

The production will take place in Sidmouth Parish Church from November 7 to 9, at 7.30pm.

Tickets cost £10 for adults, £5 for under 16s and are available from Paragon Books.

Proceeds will be donated to the Sidmouth Town Band and Royal British Legion.

Ernest Channing (standing on the right) with his navy friends. Picture: Di TapleyErnest Channing (standing on the right) with his navy friends. Picture: Di Tapley

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