This is the second part of the Brixham Battery story.
Phil answers a couple of questions as he’s handing out teas and coffees. He then leaves the group to David and Rob and leads me outside to a workshop were we can sit with our brews and where I ask a few questions of my own.
“So Brixham Battery got involved in the Neighbourhood Challenge?”
“Yes, we had been doing lots of physical improvement to our site but we also wanted to extend our oral history collection and we saw the Challenge as a way we could do that.”
Their project was called the Cromwell Alert, named after the frightening occasion on Sunday, 8th September 1940 when church bells rang along the east and south coast of England warning of an imminent invasion by German forces.
“In Brixham they actually thought the Germans had landed further up the coast. There were reports of parachutists and of the fifth column being activated. People were suddenly wary of their neighbours, suspects were shot or arrested by the Home Guard and all movement of traffic was suspended for a couple of days. It was a very frightening time.”
The Battery’s project was about capturing personal recollections about the Cromwell Alert and about the war generally. But rather than the regular volunteers conducting the interviews, young people were recruited as sort of community journalists. Workshops were organised where the trainee reporters were instructed in interview techniques and shown how to use the digital recording equipment, paid for by the project.
“There are a large number of older residents who remember the military presence, they remember the air raids, seeing bombs drop. The young people spoke to two survivors of the Torquay and Paignton bombings who had lost brothers and sisters in those raids.
“Local Home Guardsmen, some in their 90s, spoke to us and remembered the Cromwell Alert as a fearful, claustrophobic time, waiting to see what happened next.”
“And what did you do with the material?”
“We made a CD and a one-off memories book,” says Phil, “and we finished off the project with a dance at The Edge and a wartime singalong. It’s allowed us to extend our reach and work intergenerationally which has been great.”
“And what more would you have done had you won one of the £3,500 prizes?”
“We could have extended the project, published a proper book which would have been an affirmation of the young people’s work.”
One of the Brixham Battery group has, apparently, written a play called The Cromwell Alert and the group were excited about developing the idea into a short film. “We’d done the research, got people interested, it would have been a short step to convert the play into a script. We really could have used that money constructively. It could have happened.”
“How do you feel about not getting the money?”
“A bit hurt. We worked hard and intensively for seven months. But we did get something out of it. We got the digital recorders and we made the CD and book. We could look for other funding to carry it further. It’s a case of keep calm and carry on!”