A recent project has uncovered hidden stories of life and death in Lancaster and Morecambe during the First World War.
Time and Tide used coroners’ inquests from 1914 to 1918, held at Lancashire Archives, to reveal the connections between our lives now and those 100 years ago. Lancashire County Council senior archivist, Vicci McCann, reports.
At 3.30am on the morning of the June 6 1918 fisherman Robert Townson arrives at his nets, about a mile out in the bay opposite the tower landing stage, only to find the body of a young woman.
The body is recovered and taken to Morecambe police station where it is examined by PC Edward Edwards. Among her possessions is a Sheffield savings book with the name Eva A Wilcox, and under her blouse, next to her skin, is a postcard photograph of a soldier and on it the words “George Wallis the only boy I ever loved”.
As the sad story of the events leading up to her death are revealed, we discover that she was ‘in trouble’ to a soldier serving in France and had arrived in Morecambe on June 3 to visit an old flame, George Wallis.
What finally unravels is the story of a young woman aged 22 who, desperate and possibly heart-broken, steps into the sea to end her life.
The story of Eva Wilcox is just one of many to be found in the coroner’s inquests, which are in some way linked to the First World War. While undeniably tragic, they shed a new light on life and death on the home front. These inquests capture the immediacy of the tragedy and with witness statements help us to build a picture of surrounding events.
Other stories include that of John Carr whose body was found on the beach. In his pocket he had a Catholic prayer book, rosary beads, half a steamship ticket and a recruitment pass. It is later discovered that John was on his way from Ireland to join his regiment in the Irish Guards when he must have ended up overboard. What happened we will never know, but the gaps in our knowledge provide fertile ground for the creatively minded.
Inquests survive for the White Lund explosion and the death of sailors from HMS Champagne- torpedoed off the coast of the Isle of Man in October 1917-, a soldier from the Manchester Regiment who died in a friendly boxing match, women dying of TNT poisoning, and a young man- rejected by the army- taking his own life.
What unites these people in their untimely deaths is, for the most part, their age. Almost all of them were young. This was the starting point of an idea.
Wouldn’t it be good to work with young people on a creative writing project to encourage them to think about the First World War from an entirely new perspective and in doing so relate to young people’s lives a hundred years ago?
The project, Time and Tide: Writing to connect with WWI, was launched in October 2014 and included workshops with a diversity of young people from Morecambe Young Peoples Service, More Music, and Lancaster Royal Grammar School among others. There were also open sessions throughout the project for the more seasoned creative writer.
The results were inspirational and often very moving and can be read online at www.time&tide.xyz; or seen as part of an art piece created by Blackpool artist Lisa Wigham of 2am Press, currently on display at Lancashire Archives, Bow Lane, Preston, PR1 2RE.
You will also be able to hear readings on Saturday November 28 from 1.30pm to 3.30pm as part of a celebration event at the Archives, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01772 533039 to book a place.
Poet, Sarah Hymas, who led the workshops and wrote two commissioned pieces of her own called Time and Tide, will be there to talk about the project.
Time and Tide was a Friends of Lancashire Archives project funded by Arts Council England and supported by Lancashire County Council. The writing produced is dedicated to all the people of Lancaster and Morecambe who lost their lives during World War One. As the last verse in Sarah’s poem Tide reads: ‘In these hours of deepening black, light glimmers beyond the sun’s reach and none of you are dead’.