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World War One home front through the eyes of five women

Posted in News

Image credit: Alastair Nisbet, ScreenPLAY
Image credit: Alastair Nisbet, ScreenPLAY

A film and performance about life in Dorset in 1916 is coming to Wimborne’s Royal British Legion on Friday 17 March at 7.30pm. Tommy’s Sisters tells the moving story of life on the home front through the eyes of four women and a girl.

What was it like to be one of thousands of munitions workers at Dorset’s huge cordite factory, a nurse looking after grievously injured soldiers at Colehill’s Red Cross Hospital, or a young girl wondering if she will ever see her friend again? Tommy’s Sisters is a drama based on their own words from diaries and archives.

The evening begins and ends with a live performance from the film’s five actors: Michele O’Brien, Chloe Hatherley, Jemima Vivian, Barbara Hart and Tracie Billington-Beardsley, who stay in role after the screening to answer questions from the audience about the characters and their lives during the conflict.

Tommy’s Sisters was written and directed by Gill Horitz and Tony Horitz from State of Play Arts in collaboration with Director of Photography Alastair Nisbet from arts organisation ScreenPLAY. The film was produced as part of the Priest’s House Museum’s First World War project, which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

James Webb from the Priest’s House Museum said the project had given the museum a great opportunity to work with arts professionals to tell the stories of people in East Dorset 100 years ago. “Working with such talented scriptwriters, directors, filmmakers and actors has brought these stories to life for everybody and gives us a real feel of what life was like for these courageous women. Across the country there would have been thousands of others like them but their story is largely untold.”

Sources used in developing the screenplay include an autograph album from one of the women, Gertrude Coggin, with entries by the soldiers she talks about, and the diaries of another, Olive Harcourt. Additional material came from public events held at the Priest’s House Museum to which people brought family objects and stories associated with the First World War.

Tommy’s Sisters are:

·         Lady Cordelia Hanham, owner of Dean’s Court (played by Barbara Hart)

·         Gertrude Coggin, piano teacher and nurse (played by Tracie Billington-Beardsley)

·         Hilda Coles, age 8 years, daughter of ironmonger Thomas Coles and his wife Blanche, and founder of the Priest’s House Museum (played by Jemima Vivian)

·         Emily Cuff, cordite factory worker, stationmaster’s daughter and widow (played by Chloe Hatherley)

·         Olive Harcourt, international singer, musician and volunteer nursing auxiliary (played by Michele O’Brien)

Writer Gill Horitz said she wanted to create a feel of what life in the shadow of war was like for these women. “We wanted to portray these lives through their words, using their objects, photographs and other documents as inspiration. We wanted to give voice to them going about their everyday lives in the streets of Wimborne and beyond, always in the shadow of war and its continuous impact.”

Tommy’s Sisters is at the Royal British Legion, West Borough, Wimborne on Friday 17 March at 7.30pm. Tickets priced at £5 are available from Wimborne Tourist Information Centre or on 01202 886116 or from Wimborne Royal British Legion. Booking is recommended as places are limited.