This article highlights one of the stories in Soldiers’ Journey, a multi-venue exhibition exploring Hampshire’s unique contribution to the First World War, and offers ideas how to celebrate these in your school.
Soldiers’ Journey at the Red House Museum, Christchurch, tells the First World War stories specifically linked to the New Forest and its coastline. Schools visiting Soldiers’ Journey have enjoyed the opportunity to get hands on with real and replica artefacts and documents related to the First World War, and a range of explorative activities in this interactive and family friendly exhibition. The museum was also fortunate to receive Heritage Lottery Funding earlier in the year to work with performance arts students at Highcliffe Secondary School. The project involved a group of 10 students creating their own costumed concert performance inspired by an original troupe based at Barton-on-Sea Convalescent Hospital during the war. This troupe was known as the Whiz Bangs, but who were they?
The Whiz Bangs
The Whiz-Bangs were a group of soldiers, recuperating at Barton-on-Sea Convalescent Home, who formed a costumed concert party. They entertained the troops and locals and raised money for good causes. They gave over 100 performances during the war and were clearly much loved.
Named after a kind of explosive, they sang, danced, played music, read poetry and performed comedy acts. They specialised in music hall songs, musical comedy, patriotic songs and American rag-time. Some of the group’s founders were music hall artistes, but the group members changed as soldiers recovered and were discharged back into the Army.
They performed in local venues including the YMCA huts in Barton and Christchurch, the Milton Hall, Christchurch Town Hall and other YMCAs around the New Forest. They were also part of civilian life, supporting New Milton church choir and appearing at village fetes, local schools and with the scouts.
A Surviving Whiz Bang Programme
Costumed concerts were an affordable and enjoyable form of entertainment during the First World War. In the hospitals, servicemen who could demonstrate any kind of talent was invited to take part in the programme, from poetry recitals to musical performances, comic clowning and skits, to humorous songs. The aim of these shows were to aid convalescence and boost moral. Laughter was regarded as a very necessary medicine.
On November 11th, Breamore Primary School visited the museum and had the rare opportunity to work alongside a professional clown and street performer to develop their own physical comedy. The end results were very funny and sat comfortably alongside our remembrance activities on the day, as we remembered the servicemen who kept local people and each other smiling during a time of fear and loss.
Why not have a go at creating your own show?
Children could perform something individually, in pairs or in groups. Their performance could be anything, and not necessarily of the period. Think ‘Britain has Talent’ without the judges!
Some more ideas:
- Dress the hall or classroom in bunting and create a curtained stage for the performance
- Choose a raconteur to warm up the audience and introduce each act
- Dress performers up in simple Pierotte costumes using black pom poms stuck onto white protective suits from DIY shops or simply white t-shirts
- Create a programme to hand out in the style of the original programmes (see above)
- If performing for families, why not ask everyone to dress up in clothes of the period (waistcoats for the men and long skirts and blouses for women)
For more information about visiting the exhibition or to request a free copy of the Whiz Bang 2014 DVD