Famous Fifty

In October 2017 I was asked to take part in TH!NK FC’s Famous Fifty project in Coalville, commemorating the UK’s first fifty civilian recruits to go to France in World War One.

Needing fit, strong men at the Front with the skills to build trenches, the war cabinet selected their first tranche of new soldiers from the mining communities of Coalville and Whitwick.  The story of those men – their lives before they enlisted and what happened to them during the war and beyond – is told in a book by Michael Kendrick.  TH!NK FC used this as a basis for a fantastically inclusive community project in the year-long run up to the hundredth anniversary of the armistice.

The project was well under way by the time I learned of it.  My involvement was to a day-long string of writing workshops across five local schools, each of which had already decorated an MDF cut-out of the ‘soldier’ they’d been allocated.  I was totally blown away by the engagement the young people showed with their individual, learning every detail in the fact file they had on him and, in some cases, walking the town with their families to find the house he had lived in and the local places he’d known.

At the end of a long day of dashing between schools, I had a car boot-full of footstep cut-outs, decorated with the thoughts and feelings of the young people of Coalville on the theme of ‘walking in your shoes.’  I selected elements of these and created one long group poem, which I was later filmed reading.  It was played against a screen at the final Famous Fifty exhibition in Coalville’s Indoor Market November the following year.