The Hope and Glory Project
In 2020 we created a new community theatre and history project aimed at using performance techniques to learn about what life was like living in Redbridge during the Second World War. The six-month project was supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Redbridge Museum and Learning Centre. Throughout our project we formed two community groups to work alongside one another in our exploration. The first group consisted upon a group of local people interested in working with the Redbridge Museum staff and using their resources to research about what life was like in Redbridge during the Second World War. The second group was made up of local people interested in using performance techniques and creative writing to bring to life and to share with others what we had learnt.
Despite the Covid:19 and the lockdown, the project has continued via the wonders of Zoom and with the overwhelming enthusiasm of our members and volunteers. We have explored several key topics, giving an insight into what life was like locally in Redbridge including how children were evacuated, the Blitz, the roles of different people within the community, rationing, social life, German spies and home-life. We then created a small play called “The Spitfire Club” inspired by what we have learn as well as a set of education materials which are free to use.
Engaging with the local community
We have been fortunate to have gained the support from local newspapers in Ilford, South Woodford and Wanstead whom have all run features on our project. Both the Redbridge Drama Centre and Redbridge Museum have also been a great support in promoting the project and engaging with the community. Check out some of our photographs taken from some of the articles and meet and greet sessions.
Our workshops at the Redbridge Museum
We carried out workshops and a guided tour around the Redbridge Museum and Learning Centre. Our workshops focused upon exploring the key issues affecting life in Redbridge during the Second World War and how as a community, Redbridge coped with life in wartime Britain.
Check out our Members Blog Entry here:
Recording people’s memories and recounts:
During our research we learnt how to develop effective interview strategies for when we were talking to people about their memories and recounts. Techniques included:
-Having a set of questions prepared
-Having effective recording equipment
-Researching around the topics beforehand
-Putting the subject at ease
-Considering where the recording will take place
We were really fortunate to speak to Lesley Hilton about her and her late husband, Norman’s memories of growing up in Redbridge during the Second World War. Many of the stories which she told us were used as starting points in our research using the National Archives, local newspaper archives and our museum visits. They also went on to feature in our devised play. In fact, our main character was inspired by Lesley’s late husband.
You can listen to our interview with Lesley here:
Britain declares War on Germany
PM Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany on 3 September 1939.
Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister in May 1937. He fought long and hard to avoid a large-scale warfare in Europe by seeking a diplomatic solution with Germany.
He met with Adolf Hitler three times in 1938, famously returning with a signed undertaking from the Nazi leader which Chamberlain said he thought would offer 'peace in our time'.
However, Hitler would go back on his word within six months and when Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 it was Chamberlain's solemn duty to announce to the nation that it was 'at war with Germany'.
Declaration of War speech
Britain at War! (Scene from our play)
Imagine that you are a reporter for a top leading London newspaper. Your job is to write a newspaper article for the front page about the Prime Minister’s declaration of war speech.
Being an evacuee child during the Second World War
Operation “Pied piper”
With the outbreak of the Second World War, the government were afraid the cities and larger towns would be targets for bombing raids by aircraft. 827,000 children and their teachers, 524,000 mothers with children under five years-old, 12,000 pregnant women and disabled people were evacuated. This massive operation was called “Pied piper.”
At 11.07am on Thursday 31st August 1939 the order was given to evacuate forthwith. 1.5 million children, pregnant women, vulnerable people such as the disabled were evacuated. However, there was no big bombing raids on Britain in the first few months of the war and many children even returned home in early 1940. This part was called the “Phoney war”.
Let’s try again…
Children were then evacuated when the heavy bombing raids started in the autumn of 1940. This was called The Blitz and then again in 1944 when Germany attacked Britain with V1 Flying bombs and V2 rockets.
What did children take with them?
The government recommended that in addition to their gas mask and identity card the evacuees had the following items:
2 pairs of pants
Pair of trousers
2 pairs of socks
Pullover or jersey
Pair of knickers
2 pairs of stockings
Slip (like a very long vest with shoulder straps)
What other things could you find in their suitcase?
- Overcoat or mackintosh - Comb - 1 pair of -Wellington boots - Towel - Soap -Facecloth - Toothbrush - Boots or shoes - Plimsolls - Sandwiches - Packet of nuts and raisins - Dry biscuits - Barley sugar - Apple
Here are some images from the Evacuation operation both from Redbridge and London.
Whilst preparing for our workshops, we found it useful to listen to the news report about the Evacuation from the BBC Primary School website. You might find it useful too!
During our project, we created a short monologue about being evacuated from one of the children’s perspective. We used lots of different stories from our research using the National Archives and Redbridge Museum to write this. You can watch the brilliant George Davis perform it here
A Local story
The whole of the Beal High School in Ilford moved away as part of the evacuation during the Second World War (1940)
On 19th February 1940, 182 boys and 12 masters arrived at Kennylands Camp. They were part of a national scheme to set up camps in several places away from the danger of living in large cities which were the target of Nazi bombers.
Read more about what happened to the school and about local school boy Leonard Perry's adventure.
The children were evacuated by train and road to smaller towns and villages in the countryside. Some children were sent to stay with relatives in safer areas in the country. Others were sent to live with complete strangers. Billeting Officers were responsible for helping to find homes for the evacuees. Householders in the country who billeted (housed) city children were given money by the government.
What was it like for the children?
Being an evacuee was probably very scary, but exciting at the same time. The children had to leave their families and often go to a strange place to live with strangers.
At the station, children would wear labels attached to them just like if they were a parcel! They stood at the railway stations not knowing where they would be going nor if they were going to be split from their brothers and sisters. The journeys were often long and tiring and the carriages were cramped with so many children travelling at the same time.
When they arrived in the countryside (often tired and very hungry) they would be taken to a village hall and that’s where the Billeting Officer would be in charge of placing the children with a host. A ‘pick your own evacuee’ session often took place where the host families could even be seen haggling over the most presentable children whilst the sicklier and grubby-looking children were left until last.
Extra reading –
We used the first chapters from Michael Morpurgo's book “Friend or Foe” as a starting point. It gives a wonderful insight into what the journey was like. We highly recommend it!
Try to keep your noses clean
Wash yer ‘ands when you ‘ave been
Always try to sit by a chum
Keep ya pecker up old man.
Don’t forget to write to Gran
Have you got another kiss for Mum?
Don’t forget your handkerchief
Don’t forget to brush your teeth
Keep your label on son
Don’t leave your flies undone
When you go to bed tonight
With no one near to hold you tight
Remember how we love you so
This is why we have to let you go.
Billeting officers were responsible for helping to find homes for evacuee with households in the countryside. These householders were given money by the government. Billeting officers had to be well-organised ladies whom were good at communicating with others. Many were seen to be strict and upright, respectable members of the community who needed to use their influence to sometimes persuade members of their community to home the children. They were often problem-solvers and had a clear eye for detail.
In our play we researched using the National Archives and internet about what life was like as a Billeting officer. In our play, we created the characters, Miss Evers based upon our research. Listen to the amazing Elizabeth McNally who created an audio recording based on this character.
Evacuation – Info sheet
Beal School – Info sheet
An evacuee’s story
Playscript: A scene from our play
Imagine you are a child being evacuated and have a go at writing either a diary entry or a letter home on your first day staying with your host family.
-How was your journey?
-What do you think the advantages / disadvantages are of being in the country?
-Are you feeling scared or homesick?
-How is it different being in the countryside? (fresh air, animals)
WATCH OUR FILM:
We filmed one of our workshops whilst we were devising the scene to share what we had learnt about the evacuation process in Redbridge during the Second World War.
The heavy and frequent bombing attacks of London, other cities and surrounding areas were known as The Blitz. Blitz is a shorten form of the German word 'Blitzkrieg.' (lightning war) Night after night German bombers attacking dropping some 5300 tonnes of bombs onto London. One third of London was destroyed.
The Super Cinema, The Clock Tower and Hippodrome were just a few examples of the casualties suffered by the bombings on Redbridge. Our local communities suffered considerable damage and hundreds of residents were killed and wounded during the bombing campaigns, both V1s, known as "doodlebugs" and the deadlier V2s - which were more silent and often not visible were used.
The Blitz Information sheet
The Blitz in pictures
Gas masks information sheet
The Air Raid: A scene from the play
Check out our short film about the Blitz below
The Air Raid Siren:
During our research we used the following film recovered by the brilliant BFI called "The Warning". (1939)
London’s burning, London’s burning.
Fetch the engines, fetch the engines.
Fire fire, Fire Fire!
Pour on water, pour on water.
London’s burning, London’s burning.
A local Story
“The hanging ear”
In an interview with Lesley Hilton, she told us the story of how a German pilot had bit hit during one of the nights of heavy bombing near Ilford. Despite the plane being badly hit; the pilot had refused to eject at first. It looked as if he was trying to steer the plane away from the nearby houses. Finally, when he decided to eject, his cord had tangled, and he could not pull away from the plane in time. The plane exploded and he was sadly killed.
In the debris, all that was left of the pilot was a single ear that was found hanging from a lamppost which the local children would flock to see.
The story brought about a lot of discussion within our project, questioning whether all German soldiers were ‘baddies’ and served as an inspiration to the main plot of our play.
1. Create your own artist impression of the Blitz. You can use chalks or pastels on black sugar paper or use tissue paper to create your own impression of what the Blitz was like.
Have a look at some of the examples below. It creates a really eye-catchy display in schools
2. Imagine that you are stuck inside a shelter one night during one of the bombings. Write a diary entry or letter to a friend. Think about what the hear outside, are you frightened? What can you see and smell around you? How do you pass the time? Is it easy to get to sleep?
Air Raid Shelters
The Anderson shelter was an air raid shelter designed to accommodate up to six people. It was designed in 1938 by William Paterson and Oscar Carl (Karl) Kerrison in response to a request from the Home Office.
The Anderson shelter was named after Sir John Anderson, who was Lord Privy Seal with the responsibility of preparing air-raid precautions immediately prior to the outbreak of World War II.
We created a short film about the Air Raid Shelters.
Inside an Anderson Shelter
Below is a diagram of the inside of an Anderson Shelter model
The Air Raid Warden
Air Raid Precautions (ARP) were organised by the national government and delivered by the local authorities. The aim was to protect civilians from the danger of air-raids.
Their main purpose of ARP Wardens was to patrol the streets during blackout and to ensure that no light was visible. If a light was spotted, the warden would alert the person/people responsible by shouting something like "Put that light out!" or "Cover that window!".
The ARP Wardens also reported the extent of bomb damage and assess the local need for help from the emergency and rescue services.
They were responsible for the handing out of gas masks and prefabricated air-raid shelters (such as Anderson shelters, as well as Morrison shelters), and organised and staffed public air raid shelters. They used their knowledge of their local areas to help find and reunite family members who had been separated in the rush to find shelter from the bombs. There were 1.4 million ARP wardens in Britain, most of who were part time volunteers who had full time day jobs.
Meet the Air Raid Warden. Watch the following short film about Mr Porter, the ARP in our play
Inside the Air Raid Shelter:
As part of our project we used performance techniques to explore what life was like in an Air Raid Shelter.
Rationing in WW2
Rationing was officially started on 8th January 1940. It was meant to ensure a fair distribution of food, in short supply due to enemy ships attacking merchant ships, preventing them from bringing supplies (such as sugar, cereals, fruit and meat) to the UK.
Ration books were issued to every person (to be stamped by a local shopkeeper when the goods were collected), and a typical weekly ration (for one person) included: one fresh egg, 2 oz butter, 2 oz tea, 1 oz cheese, 8 oz sugar, 4 rashers of bacon, 4 oz margarine. Cheaper cuts of meat became popular, and people could save their rationing points to purchase other items such as cereals, tinned food, biscuits and dried fruit. Vegetables were not rationed, and the people of Britain were encouraged to grow their own fruit and vegetables.
Read more about Rationing in our information sheet
We used our research findings to explore how rationing was imposed through performance techniques using improvisations, poetry and photographs. Below is a short clip we recorded explaining how Rationing worked. We also wrote a performance poem.
After our visits to the Redbridge Museum we then created our own short film about Rationing.
We also made an information sheet to go with our film to also share what we have learnt. You can download this as a PDF file here:
A copy of our performance poem can be downloaded here:
1. Have a go at preparing a set of family meals for a week using only the food rations.
2. Design and make your own "Dig for Victory" poster.
Stamp! Stamp! Stamp!
Three pints of milk, they say
It should last, I pray
Three and half pounds of meat
So, be mindful what you eat
Stamp! Stamp! Stamp!
One egg, that'll last, I'm sure
Or a packet dried eggs may last more
Three ounces of cheese
Now, surely that aims to please
Stamp! Stamp! Stamp!
Ham, bacon, but only four ounces
Watch the scales do their balances
Re-use the cooking fat, that'll work
Don't forget the sugar and tea cos’ they'll be the perk!
Stamp! Stamp! Stamp!
So, don’t forget your ration book, my dear
We must all do our bit, it’s clear
You’ll survive you’ll see
And then we’ll win the War with glee
Stamp! Stamp! Stamp!
THE SPITFIRE CLUB
Welcome to “The Spitfire Club,” a new play written by Alfie James as part of The Hope and Glory Community theatre and heritage project. The project’s main aim was to explore and to bring to life what it was like in Redbridge during the Second World War. It was supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund and Redbridge Museum and Heritage Centre.
Norman and his friends are a group of children left behind living in Redbridge whilst the other children are evacuated to safety. Together they form the Spitfire Club to collect souvenirs from the air raids and play war games. That is until one day they stumble across a rather different kind of souvenir. Join them and a host of other characters including Grandma Rose, Mr Porter, the Air Raid Warden and Mr Green, the shopkeeper and Home Guard as they give a glimpse of what life was like in Redbridge in the Second World War.
Cast: Jon Undersander as Norman
Atarah as Bobby
George Davis as Sid
Ryan Graham as Samuel
Evelina Plonyte as Catherine & Billy
Colin Chapman as Harry, Mr Porter, The Station Master and Mr Highmore
Elizabeth McNally as Grandma Rose & Miss Evers
Philip Anthony as Mr Green
Kitty Whitley as Eileen
And Klodian Rexha as The German Pilot
Written and Directed by Alfie James
"The Spitfire play is such a gem! Beautifully written and played out by
all" (Joyce Meadows)
"A wonderful way to inspire both the young and old into learning about the
past. Well-done to everyone involved." (John Ambrose)
"I thoroughly enjoyed bringing another piece of history alive in such a
great way" (Colin Chapman)
"Thank you, Alfie, you are amazing! A great story. Loved my duel role of prim
billeting officer and mischievous Grandma Rose" (Elizabeth McNally)
"Taking part has been so much fun! It's stopped me going insane in
Lockdown" (George Davis)
"Another 5-star production from Alfie James! Informative, fun and a good
old fashioned family story" (Emily Whitehall)
"My two sons absolutely loved it! They were glued to their seats!" (Mike
"A truly beautiful story. Thank you for bringing some of Norman's memories
alive. You have created a wonderful tribute to everyone who lived through the War." (Lesley Hilton)
"I couldn't stop laughing at Grandma Rose! This should be used in every
school" (Jayne Kimble)
“A cracking piece of storytelling. You've really captured what Redbridge was
like in the War" (Geoffrey Goddard)
WOULD YOU LIKE TO PERFORM
THE SPITFIRE CLUB PLAY?
Mixed large cast (14 + Extras)
Running time: Approx. 1 hr 10 mins
The Spitfire Club play script is available to hire for both schools, amateur or professional companies to perform at a small cost. All proceeds gained are used to support our community theatre projects.
To enquire about staging our play please email:
Visit the Redbridge Museum and Learning Centre
Want to know more about Redbridge during the Second World War? Or are you interested in learning more about the local history in Redbridge? Then if so, we recommend that you go along to visit the museum. They've got a rich source of information and friendly staff to who are always willing to help. You can also visit their website by clicking the button below:
Kindly supported by: