A heartfelt musical tribute to East Sussex’s own unsung war heroes

WW1 musical tribute from Harp And A Monkey
WW1 musical tribute from Harp And A Monkey

A platform on a small railway station in our local countryside is one of the poignant venues for a series of concerts marking the centenary of the First World War.

With the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme being remembered this summer, acclaimed folk trio Harp and a Monkey has teamed up with Arts Council England and the Western Front Association for this major musical project.

The trio’s latest series of free concerts at unusual sites across Britain with Great War links includes a show on Sunday September 4 at Bodiam Station, which is on the Kent and East Sussex Railway.

This performance is aimed at documenting the role that the rail network played in the war effort. It will take place in front of the railway wagon that bought home the body of Edith Cavell, the English nurse shot for spying, and later carried the body of the Unknown Warrior buried in Westminster Abbey.

The free concert follows the successful first phase of the project, which saw the band perform to the inmates of a prison that housed conscientious objectors, to disabled veterans on a community built for the maimed, and at the scene of a Zeppelin attack in the middle of the West Pennine Moors.

The performances will include field recordings and interviews with veterans, new songs and re-workings of traditional and contemporaneous songs and will be filmed for a documentary.

Harp and a Monkey front-man Martin Purdy, who is a First World War historian, author and broadcaster, said: “It is very exciting for us to perform this show at Bodiam as this railway is steeped in history and played its part in the war effort.

“The fact that we are being given the chance to have such a poignant and emotive backdrop as the Cavell Van is wonderful.

“We will be making a short documentary around the performance and intend to make sure that the role of the railways, including their attachment to some of the most interesting stories of the war, including those of Edith Cavell and the Unknown Warrior, are not forgotten.”

The railways were crucial for the movement of troops and equipment not only around Britain but also on foreign shores.

By the time Britain was just one month in to the war, trains travelling to just one of the key overseas departure points, at Southampton, had already transported 118,454 servicemen, 37,649 horses, 314 guns, 5,221 vehicles, 1,807 bicycles and 4,557 tons of baggage.

The other members of folk group Harp And A Monkey, which is making a big name for itself on the festival circuit, are Andy Smith, from Blackley in north Manchester and Simon Jones from Burnage, who is also an award winning photographer. All the shows are tied to the band’s critically acclaimed third album War Stories, released in July 2016.

The Bodiam concert will get underway in the station at 3pm on Sunday September 4 and is free to the public.

By Ged Henderson.