WW1 concerts delight at village made for veterans

Founders of Westfield memorial village Herbert L Storey on the left and Thomas H Mawson on the right

Founders of Westfield memorial village Herbert L Storey on the left and Thomas H Mawson on the right

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A Lancashire village specially built in 1919 for disabled veterans and their families is one of the remarkable venues for a series of concerts this month marking the centenary of the First World War.

The concer will take place at Westfield War Memorial Village in Lancaster which is now occupied by veterans of the Second World War, Korea, The Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

A picture taken in the 1920s of Westfield memorial village

A picture taken in the 1920s of Westfield memorial village

Acclaimed Lancashire-based folk trio Harp and a Monkey has teamed up with Arts Council England and the Western Front Association for this major musical project.

The Westfield concert on Saturday August 22 is for veterans living there today.

The Great War: New Songs and Stories in the Landscape is made up of original songs and re-workings of traditional ones as well as field recordings of people who lived through it.

It also includes anecdotes from the band’s frontman Martin Purdy, a Great War historian and author who has worked for the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? Programme. He has also carried out extensive work uncovering the history of Westfield village.

Earl Haig, the Commander in Chief of the British forces in the First World War, at the official unveiling of the Westfield War Memorial Village in 1924.

Earl Haig, the Commander in Chief of the British forces in the First World War, at the official unveiling of the Westfield War Memorial Village in 1924.

Martin said: “It is going to be fantastic to play to the veterans of Westfield village. It has an atmosphere and back story that is very much its own, and it is a place that I know the wider community is rightly proud of.

“This show reminds us of the cost of war, and the often forgotten role that charity and philanthropy has always played in supporting the casualties of conflict.”

He added: “The aim of the concerts is to challenge many of the stereotypes of the Great War and we will be focusing heavily on the forgotten heroes and the extraordinary achievements of ordinary people.

“To quote one veteran: ‘There was a lot more to the First World War than mud, blood and trenches you know!’”

Westfield War Memorial Village'The war memorial which will be refurbished this year.

Westfield War Memorial Village'The war memorial which will be refurbished this year.

The Westfield War Memorial Village was the idea of internationally acclaimed Lancaster architect Thomas H Mawson, whose son died on the Western Front in April 1915.

He was inspired to act on his child’s final letter home in which he had urged his parents to do all they could for the war wounded.

So he decided to establish a nationwide network of settlements for disabled veterans and their families, of which Westfield is the sole survivor.

The land for the settlement was given by the Storey family, who were well known local industrialists and philanthropists. The Storeys were to play a key role in establishing the community and members of the family still serve on the Westfield charity today.

Westfield itself has continued to expand and cater for successive generations of disabled ex-servicemen and women. It is now home to veterans of such conflicts as the Second World War, The Korean War, The Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many of the properties on Westfield are memorials in their own right to specific individuals.

But the village’s principal memorial stands at the heart of the community and shows an able soldier providing a comrade in difficulty with a drink - capturing the settlement’s ethos of the able helping the less able.

Westfield, which is now run in partnership with a housing association, highlights the role that philanthropy has always played in supporting the wounded of war.

The creation of the Westfield War memorial Village was mooted at a public meeting in Lancaster on November 27, 1918.

The foundation stone for the first properties on Westfield was unveiled less than 12 months later in November 1919.

Herbert Lushington Storey, whose son had survived the conflict, was sympathetic to Mawson’s vision and offered to donate his late father Thomas’s 16-acre residence at Westfield, off West Road on the outskirts of Lancaster city centre, as the site of the settlement.

It was hoped that the community would become the forerunner of a new national movement to help support the worst affected of the 1.75 million British soldiers who had returned from the war with a disability.

Both Mawson and Storey were to be involved in an organisation called Industrial Settlements Limited that would strive, with limited success, to spread the concept across the country.

Personal donations paid a big part in the village’s development. Some of Westfield’s benefactors gave around £500 for a property to be built on the village in loving memory of an individual who had died, or been spared, while others clubbed together in group remembrance.

A huge sum of £20,000 from a nationwide ‘Golden Ballot’ funded more than half of the original homes built.

The homes were a mix of bungalows and cottages suitable for families and men with various disabilities, with the Storey’s former family converted into a hostel for single men.

The new properties were given names to explain the inspiration behind the donation or the name of the donor, with many named after First World War battlefields of significance to the local regiment the King’s Own.

Weekly rents were to be set at a peppercorn rate. ‘Homes fit for heroes’ remained in short supply and ensured that the waiting list for properties on Westfield was high from the outset.

Westfield has continued to expand and cater for successive generations of disabled and necessitous ex-servicemen and women.

The charity still has a full-time secretary based on the village in Westfield House, the former Storey family home.

It provides advice, financial support and social activities for the residents – who continue to be mostly ex-servicemen and women –and also provides support for other charities working with disabled ex-servicemen and women.

This month’s series of concerts will also include a performance in a bomb crater on a remote Lancashire hillside.

The crater on Holcombe Moor, near Ramsbottom, was created by a terrifying Zeppelin attack in September 1916 and is near the Peel Tower.

Harp and a Monkey plan to expand the musical project in 2016 and already have a number of unusual sites with Great War links earmarked for future shows around the UK. They will also be making a documentary of the project for broadcast later in the year.