Monday, 3 November 2014

Time and Tide

I'm involved in a WWI project, using archival coroner's reports to explore the effect of the war on the people of Morecambe Bay: Time and Tide. The reports I've read register the deaths of munition factory workers, drowned sailors, suicides and far more domestic accidents that could and do still happen now. 

I was invited on board after the project had secured funding, so had no part in its creation. When I first read the reports I felt very uncertain at the prospect of using these tragedies as inspiration for new writing. These were people's lives and deaths, not simply writing exercises or discussion points. It felt extremely important to hold these reports (that are public, available for anyone to read) with huge compassion and an attempt of understanding lives that are, in some ways so different from ours today and yet are wrapped up with the same concerns: love, pride, friendship, loyalty... 

They lived at the whim of their time: war thundering on hundreds of miles away and yet shaking their communities and daily lives. Without the immediate horror of the battlefields the impact felt in Morecambe Bay (and anywhere on the home front) would have been somehow more shocking - impinging on, what seemed, almost normality: at least the backdrop was familiar. It is this infringement upon people adapting to a necessarily new situation: new jobs, changes of roles, rations... adapting as well as humans do - that feels so shocking. Of course it reverberates now, as ever, as people the world over have to subsume the shock and outrage of war to be able to feed themselves, their families, to survive. 

Looking out my window onto the blue waters of the Bay, at the reflected sky in the muddy sands, it feels as though the landscape can't do anything but hold what has come before: the horror and the mundane, big and small, near and distant. Sometimes we see it, sometimes not. And that's what makes this project valuable: we're looking.


Lorna Smithers said...

I was involved in a similar project based at the Lancashire Archives, using material for the archives to 'inspire' new work and came up against similar issues. Whilst many people chose to write about people directly involved in the war I found this too hard, too unimaginable. Instead I took a document for police constables about what actions to take should an enemy land on the West Coast and wrote a poem from the perspective of a young girl who lived near Longton estuary imagining 'the enemy' had landed. It must have been such a difficult time for everybody who lived through the war, and their thoughts only *just* accessible or imaginable to us. And difficult yet somehow necessary to honour them.

Sarah Hymas said...

thanks Lorna, good to know I'm not alone :)