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Bookfest Remembers the First World War

In partnership with the Imperial War Museum and the Shropshire First World War Community Consortium Shrewsbury Bookfest is presenting a series of events each November from 2014 to 2018.

These events will be especially for children, young people and families to commemorate and remember all those who fought in the First World War. In keeping with Bookfest’s ethos of enthusing children and young people with a love of reading, all the events in the programme will have a strong literary connection.

Delivering a sensitively curated blend of literature and music, this year’s Bookfest Remembers programme celebrates those men whose wartime experiences helped shape their creativity.

Imparting such a subject with the ability to hold its audience is something that the team at Bookfest are committed to delivering, and its reputation overwhelmingly reflects this. Noted speaker and lecturer, Richard Field, pays tribute to ‘its army of volunteers which works tirelessly to help the young discover the joys of reading and the breadth of topics available,’ while former Shrewsbury School headmaster, Ted Maidment, is effusive in the praise he gives to Bookfest for their work when, ‘in this digital age, reading could so easily take a back seat.’

Beginning on November 3rd at 2pm, Ted Maidment, former headmaster of Shrewsbury School starts with a tribute to George Butterworth. A member of the ‘pastoral school’ who took their creative inspiration from England’s rich rural landscapes, Butterworth was one of the first to set A E Housman’s words to music and his much-loved song-cycle ‘A Shropshire Lad’ is testament to the potential that was so prematurely shot down when Butterworth died fighting in the Battle of the Somme, aged just 31

Friday 4th November sees Richard Field take to the stage to consider how the dark and angry mood of the First World War proved a provocative turning point for the use of poetry. No longer was it used by professionals to espouse the agendas of the day – this time, poetry became personal and forced those who wrote it to find a whole new language to describe the conflict. 

Ted Maidment takes to the stage on Thursday 10th November to talk passionately about Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of the country’s most cherished composers. Although he survived the war, the loss of his friends, including Butterworth, hit him hard and he chose never to talk about his experiences, instead channelling his pain into his glorious music.

On Sunday 13th November, the children’s story ‘Flo of the Somme,’ will lead the younger generation through a gentle introduction to the ‘Great War’ with its tale of Mercy Dog Flo, who represents the thousands of animals who perished in their war-time tasks. Written with great poignancy, its traditional rhyming verse makes it perfect for young children to understand and engage with. Beautifully illustrated by Martin Impey, this hugely successful book is authored by Hilary Robinson who acts as our guide for this animated journey.

Richard Field steps forward on Thursday 17th November to highlight the work of Rupert Brooke, who best embodied those soldiers who brought with them a literary turn of mind combined with a public school education. Inspired by classical heroes or gentlemen sportsmen, their nobility and grace has left us with a great body of work to cherish in their absence.

The idiosyncratic Ivor Gurney is brought into the spotlight on Thursday 24th November, as Ted Maidment guides us through the life and legacy of this troubled artist. Beset by bouts of mental illness before he went to war, Gurney cut a unique character on the battlefield, composing his songs and writing his poetry in the trenches. Arriving home, his challenges inevitably solidified into far deeper problems and he died aged of 47. leaving behind a significant body of largely unexplored work.

The job of compassionately concluding the event on Friday 25th November falls to Richard Field, who explores the themes of redemption, reality and loss underpinned by the warning of Wilfred Owen who was killed just a week before the First World War ended – ‘all a poet can do today is warn,’ words which still echo true today.

Venue information and how to buy tickets can be found on the Shrewsbury Bookfest website.