Life of ‘conchie’ communities

Ian Sharp and his partner Liz on an original tandem used in the communities, with fellow cast members Ian Rushby, left, and Chris Walshaw. The final cast member is Charlotte Broughton (not pictured) EMN-171127-143548001
  • New play tells the stories of the area’s conscientious objectors - through their own words

A new play is set to tell the story of the area’s Conscientious Objector communities of World War Two - through their own words.

Legsby resident Ian Sharp has spent the past four years researching the pacifist communities at Holton Cum Beckering and Bleasby.

Now their stories have been turned into a play called ‘Remembrance’ which will be performed at the Broadbent Theatre in Wickenby next month.

“It is a remarkable story,” said Ian, a former drama teacher and playwright.

“Young men and a few young women, from different parts of the country and from different backgrounds - artists, accountants, clerks, journalists, book-binders, out of work painters and decorators, and even a bespoke shirt cutter - left their city lives to farm rather than fight.

“Many of them stayed on in the area and continued to farm after the war, and indeed some of their children are here still.”

Ian was keen to involve those children, and one of them, retired farmer Chris Walshaw, whose parents were both COs in the community, will be performing in the play.

He said: “It is a fantastic opportunity - playing so many parts in one play, and with such a personal connection.”

The original community was set up at Holton cum Beckering through public subscription, by some well-known pacifists.

However, as in all communities, some had different ideas, and so a number of the group moved to Collow Abbey farm at Bleasby.

Ian was lucky enough to speak to some of the surviving members of the community.

One, was Jim Harper, who although very ill, was pleased to recall his memories.

It had been a timely interview, as two days after speaking to Ian, Mr Harper died.

Ian has also had access to a number of other interviews, which have all been painstakingly transcribed by volunteers. Some of the interviews will feature as voiceovers in the play itself.

“This (play) is very much being produced by the community,” said Ian, who will be performing in the play, and is also its director.

“Initially, it was something we wanted to do for the families of the conscientious objectors, but it is such a important story we decided to open it out to the public.”

The play will be performed at The Broadbent Theatre in Wickenby, which also has links to the communities.

A co-founder of the theatre was Roy Broadbent, father of Oscar-winning actor Jim, and after whom the theatre was named.

There have also been other well known individuals with links to the communities, among them singer Damon Albarn, author Michael Morpurgo and part of the original community Francis Cammaerts.

After the death of his brother in the RAF, Cammaerts decided there was something to fight for after all, and spent the rest of the war in Southern France as a British agent organising 10,000 Resistance fighters.

‘Remembrance’ will be performed at the Broadbent Theatre next week.

One performance is by invitation only, when 60 people with family connections to the community will be in the audience, alongside Donald Sutherland, aged 97, one of the community members.

“I hope they will all enjoy it and approve of the play,” added Ian.

Anyone with connections who has not been contacted can email Ian on iesharp@hotmail.co.uk .

Tickets for December 6 at 7.30pm and December 10 at 4.30pm are available from 0300 400 0101 or www.broadbenttheatre.org.

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