War Walks on the Shropshire Home Front
The essence of War Walks on the Home Front is original research and its popular interpretation as a series of stories during a guided walk. To date we have organised 15 guided walks and published the same number of self-guided walks leaflets. The project brings to light unrecorded, overlooked and forgotten aspects of the First World War. Once identified, they are promoted in a popular format with the broadest appeal: through a series of guided walks and the publication of self-guided versions. Working with the churches, history groups and civic societies, the project has concentrated on researching fresh local stories. These walks are shared and promoted to the maximum extent through the local press and broadcast media, websites such as Shropshire’s Great Outdoors and Shropshire Remembers, as well as Facebook Walking in Shropshire and e-newsletters, visitor information centres and the walking groups.
From the outset, it was felt there would be ample opportunity elsewhere for telling the stories of the major battles. We felt people were most likely to learn about the First World War from stories about their own immediate locality. The people of Shropshire retain most by concentrating on stories which highlighted the part played by the county and its farmers in feeding the nation or the Voluntary Aid convalescent hospitals, the quarries, and the local individuals rather than the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives.
The walks are chosen to offer an enjoyable experience. Only when the ideal route is chosen are the opportunities selected to unfold the local relevance. The walks identify a ‘topical’ issue from the centenary story which can be given a local twist. Ideally, the subject of each walk contains ‘a pleasant surprise’ something the walkers will not have known beforehand. Our greatest praise came from one walker who said “You are bringing these people back to life.” Although the guided walks are only a one-off chance to hear the story, the published or downloadable self-guided walks provide an on-going legacy.
Priority has been given to the universality of the experience. The links between Shrewsbury, the family of Wilfred Owen, the railways (his father was Asst Supt in Shrewsbury), and Owen’s poem The Send-Off have been employed to highlight the departure of some 4 million volunteers and conscripts from their local railway station.
Topicality has been another on-going theme. One of our walks (in Church Stretton) told the story of the gates to the local park made by a refugee to arrive in the county. As a spin-off we were also able to post two more stories about the Belgian refugees in the county. In 2018 one of our walks is designed to coincide with the introduction of rationing in 1918. The walk is based on Acton Scott (the BBC’s Victorian Farm). In a similar way we plan an Aftermath of the War to include a walk in September 2019 to mark the creation of the Forestry Commission.
In 2018 we are assisting a group at The Bog Centre with their project to erect an aerial ropeway trestle. The original ropeway was erected by German PoWs. The trestle will be a memorial to the miners who worked at The Bog over the centuries as well as to the German PoWs.
The Home Front Legacy team would like to thank Keith Pybus for providing this Case Study.