• Plymouth’s Great War announcement

    PRESS RELEASE 23rd May 2014

    The Military Covenant sponsors new project to explore Plymouth families’ archives of the outbreak of the Great War

    Today, The Word Machine Community Interest Company launches a new project in Plymouth, supported by the Plymouth Armed Forces Community Covenant grant scheme, to ask Plymouth families to explore their own family archives for memorabilia and memories about the outbreak of war in Plymouth in 1914.

    Following the launch of the Plymouth’s Great War exhibition at the Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery on 1st May, The Word Machine CIC and other partners will be asking Plymouth families to see if they have photographs, letters, family stories or physical items which can be photographed or scanned to form a new community archive of material relating to the outbreak of war.

    MD says: “We’d like to find anything we can: letters, photographs, medals, diaries, stories, official documents, personal possessions. We know these kinds of family items will be very precious, so we will be setting up facilities to enable families to photograph or scan items so that we can keep a record and the items can stay safe with families. We will be interested too to hear family stories of the time, which we will record and log as part of the project.”

    Families with currently-serving military members will also be asked to contribute contemporary items and thoughts reflecting their present-day experience of living in Plymouth while family members are away serving their country. It is hoped that this contemporary aspect will help give greater understanding of how Plymouth families felt 100 years ago.

    Plymouth Covenant officer, Heather Ogburn, said: “We are delighted that The Word Machine CIC are able to explore Plymouth’s unique experiences of WWI by looking at very personal stories from those who lived through it. The project will create a rich archive that will illustrate events which have shaped who we are – our cultural, heritage and identity.”

    A Facebook page has been set up to share information at https://www.facebook.com/PlymouthsGreatWar and a website will be produced where all the scanned images and stories will be presented.

    A grant award to local community projects in support of the Plymouth’s Great War initiative will be announced by The Word Machine CIC next week.


    Heather Ogburn, Plymouth Armed Foces Community Covenant
    Heather.ogburn@plymouth.gov.uk                Tel: 01752 307485


    The Military Covenant community logo can be downloaded here:

    A copy of the Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery Great War exhibition poster can be downloaded here:

    The Word Machine CIC logo can be downloaded here:


    1. The Word Machine Community Interest Company is a social enterprise based in Plymouth which works with local people to enable them to realise and release their stories.

    2. Further information about the Military Covenant can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/fulfilling-the-commitments-of-the-armed-forces-covenant/supporting-pages/armed-forces-covenant

    3. The project will work closely with Plymouth and West Devon Record Office and Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery.

    4. The project will work with Plymouth social enterprise FotoNow (www.fotonow.org) who will make their Camper Obscura available around the city over the summer for families to visit and scan items into the onboard scanner.


  • Remarkable diary find from World War Two in Plymouth

    Our interviewee Jack Berryman (born 1927) very kindly allowed us to look at his diary for 1941, and he has also permitted us to show it here. On the night of the first major blitz on 20th March 1941, Jack was a schoolboy living with his family at 2 Osborne Place, close to the Hoe. The day before, on Wednesday, he records a normal day, playing for the First XI against Plympton Grammar and losing 5-1. The next day, Thursday, he records that the King and Queen visited Plymouth. Then in a very poignant addition, in capital letters, he adds “OUR BIG BLITZ.” he goes on to mention “big craters and fires everywhere” and the following day, “No school”. Then he notes, the same day, “unexploded bomb found opposite the house.” The diary is a fascinating and remarkable insight into the mind of a young boy at such a terrible moment, and we thank Jack very much for allowing us to share it.2014-05-21 23.11.36

  • Devonport Column and a special Plymouth night

    Last night, it was a real privilege to witness the rebirth of Devonport Column. The place had been crowded all day apparently, with too many people queuing to be able to make their way up to the top of the newly refurbished tower. Never mind, there will be plenty of time for those who couldn’t get in to come back. We got there in the evening when the tower had been closed in order for the pyrotechnic team to stuff it full of fireworks. The place was going to go off with a bang.

    But before it did, around 9.30pm, there was a magnificent projection show. It is difficult to describe now quite how good it was. For about ten or fifteen minutes, the column itself was used as a screen to show the history of Plymouth and its place in the world from the time of its first opening in 1827. Using words and music and a beautifully crafted video show, we watched both a history show and a cheeky cultural overview, with witty cross-references: John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (surely a key Plymouth cultural reference if ever there was one) to Scott of the Antarctic, via World War One and even a touch of Kraftwerk (does anyone remember the brief 1977-ish phase of robot dancing in pyjamas in Union Street?).

    The Real Ideas Organisation have been working hard to develop this area, and last night was a celebration of their vision of a restored Devonport. There was a genuine sense last night that this could be the start of something very new and very exciting. Project leader Ed Whitelaw spoke about the mix of people who had attended the day: from the Mayor to local councillors and MPs and the top Navy brass to local people curious both to see the restored icon and also, clearly, to express a sense of ownership of this scheme. This didn’t have the feeling of a top-down, hegemonic arts installation; it felt like an area expressing its identity. If we are to be considered for City of Culture in 2017, then yesterday will hopefully be shown to the judges as an example of what we can do here.

    Obviously these are early days, and Devonport itself has a long way to go before it recovers some of the pride and swagger of the 19th century, pre-Plymouth years. But this, and the restored Guildhall, is a start, and last night’s show should be welcomed by everyone in this city. It was a triumph.

    Oh, and then the fireworks went off.Devonport Column

  • The War in Plymouth: Destruction and a New Beginning

    Today we are delighted to be able to announce the award of  Heritage Lottery Fund grant for our oral history of Plymouth during the war and the ten years of social housing which followed it.

    Plymouth was damaged very badly during the Blitz, with 4,000 homes being lost in the bombing. But during the ten years of reconstruction between 1945 and 1955, 17,000 new homes were built in the City, creating new neighbourhoods such as Efford and Southway. This oral history project, lasting 18 months, will gather as many interviews as possible with Plymouth residents who remember the period, and will culminate with a series of exhibitions, a permanent online archive of all of the interviews and a book summarising the findings.

    Simon Petherick, head of The Word Machine CIC, says: “We are thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. We are keen now to hear from families and individuals in Plymouth who would like to take part in the project. We want this to be a comprehensive account of Plymouth residents’ experience of war and its aftermath, and how that experience shaped our city.”

    The project will be guided by Plymouth University’s Professor of Contemporary History Kevin Jefferys and his second-year History students.

    Plymouth residents who recall the war years and the ten years of social rehousing are encouraged to contact The Word Machine CIC to have their name added to the list of interviewees. Any Plymouth residents who would like to be trained in order to carry out some of the interviews over the next 18 months should contact The Word Machine CIC too.

    If you would like to join the project either by being interviewed about your memories of Plymouth at the time, or by becoming one of our citizen interviewers, then please contact us on simon@thewordmachine.org. Or join our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheWarInPlymouth or find us on Twitter @wordmachinecic.


    1. The Word Machine Community Interest Company is a new social enterprise based in Plymouth which aims to work with local people to enable them to realise and release their stories.

    2. The project will work closely with Plymouth University, Plymouth and West Devon Record Office and Plymouth Museum.

    3. The project will work with Plymouth social enterprise FotoNow (www.fotonow.org) to create a simultaneous photographic record of the participants.

    4. About the Heritage Lottery Fund

    Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 35,000 projects with more than £5.3bn across the UK. www.hlf.org.uk.

    hlf logo