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How Blackberry-picking Helped Win the War

Youth Theatre at the Carnegie

Even young children played their part in helping to win the first World War, and talented performers at Kirkgate Youth Theatre have devised two short plays to show us how they did it, Their work is based on the collections of the Cockermouth Heritage group – which is still on the hunt for more information about life in the local area 100 years ago. The plays will be performed at the Kirkgate Centre, Cockermouth on Friday 7 December at 6pm.

The young performers, who range in age from 9 – 17, have been working on the two  inter-linked scripts, called ‘The Blackberry Pickers’ and ‘Dead Man’s Penny’, since September. The first piece looks at the experiences of children in the war, who picked blackberries to help with jam production and collected eggs for soldiers. The second piece is set at Cockermouth Castle when it was a military hospital. The actors play men who have been injured at the front and the young Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses who tended them.

Convalescent soldiers and VAD nurses WWI (Heritage Group collection)

Letitia Thornton, who runs the drama group said: “The young people have had a wonderful time creating their characters and stories around the photos, news cuttings and objects of Cockermouth Heritage Group’s WW1 archive. They’ve been really enthused and one of the young actors, Arthur Hill, exclaimed at rehearsal the other night: ‘I love my character!’

“In the first World War, children had a part to play, and now 100 years on, the youth theatre are playing their part (literally) in bringing those children’s experiences to life.”

Brief extracts from the plays were performed at the opening of the Allerdale 100 installation ‘Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire’ at the Carnegie Theatre in Workington.

The youth theatre drama is part of the Kirkgate’s project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which explores the effects of WW1 on the people of Cockermouth and particularly on women and children.

Other activities include an exhibition which attracted over 250 visitors to the Kirkgate Centre over the Armistice weekend. And the Heritage Group’s work continues with oral history gathering which will to add to the local history archive.

Gloria Edwards for the Heritage Group said: “An important part of the project is to seek out and record anyone with information or memories of WWI passed on by ancestors. The Heritage Lottery Fund grant allows us to buy recording equipment and to train volunteers in how to collect oral history. If anyone would like to help in any way, whether as part of the recording team or as someone offering information, however small, we’d love to hear from them.”