Great War Composers and Poets Day 5: Peace in Wartime

For our final full day of the tour we decided not to focus on a specific composer and poet, but instead look at events of the Great War that gave hope and peace - however briefly.

We were greeted by an unfamiliar site when leaving our hotel: clouds. After four days of constant blue skies, it was rather overcast. Of course this did not last; the sun burned them away by lunchtime, although it was slightly cooler today - the high temperature being a comparatively measly 31 Celsius! After a slightly later breakfast (it was Sunday, after all), we drove north back to Belgium.

Our first port of call was somewhere we had been earlier in the week, but had not stopped for long: the monument (donated by UEFA, the European football governing body) to the famous “Christmas Truce” football match in December 1914. I’m sure you’ll know the story: on Christmas Day, Allied and German soldiers put down their weapons for the day, and had a game of football in no-man’s land. The monument may not be in the precise place of the game, but it is certainly nearby. Adorned by football scarves of many colours, and quotes from football dignitaries such as Michel Platini, it occupies a significant position close to the various Ploegsteert battlefields, cemeteries and monuments.

Our decision to return here was prompted by the realisation that we hadn’t played right at the monument earlier in the week, and it would make sense to play something with a football connection. The hymn “Abide with me” is known as a particular football hymn - it is sung every year at the FA Cup final - and so we played this, as you can watch in the video.

We then went north west to the Flemish town of Poperinge, and specifically to Talbot House (which became known as “Toc H”. This was a place of convalescence for British soldiers set up in 1915 by the charismatic British Army chaplain Philip “Tubby” Clayton, and provided an opportunity for rest and respite while soldiers were recovering or on leave. In particular it played host to much music and entertainment - we watched a great short film that recreated some of the music hall numbers of the day - and gave an opportunity for peace and laughter amongst the maelstrom of the surrounding war.

The house also has a wonderful garden - it’s difficult to believe it’s in the centre of a sizeable town - and after we’d had some lunch at a nearby restaurant we came back to play a set of music in the garden, including Ivor Novello’s “Keep the home fires burning” - a very popular song of the First World War, and something that would definitely have been heard there on many occasions! We had a highly appreciative audience, and the wardens were very welcoming - for the first time this week we actually sat on chairs to play, which certainly made things easier!

All in all, this felt like a wonderful and uplifting way to finish the playing on this tour. It has been a real rollercoaster of emotions, but a highly worthwhile thing to do. We’ll post one final blog tomorrow, as we journey home; now we’re off to enjoy our final night in France (but not too much, as we’ve got a very early start tomorrow!).

Highlight of the day: Playing in the garden at Talbot House (and actually sitting on a chair to play the cello!)

Quote of the day: “Do you guys play the guitar as well?” A member of the public in Poperinge was obviously disappointed with our lack of musical flexibility! We think he was joking...