[A] small Cumbrian parish church is one of the poignant and remarkable venues for a series of concerts marking the on-going centenary of the First World War.
With the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme being remembered this summer, acclaimed folk trio Harp and a Monkey has teamed up with Arts Council England and the Western Front Association for this major musical project.
The trio’s latest series of free concerts at unusual sites with Great War links will get underway on Sunday August 21 in St John’s Church in the village of Hutton Roof.
It is the former parish church of Rev Theodore Bayley Hardy; a military chaplain in his fifties who won the Victoria Cross, DSO and MC on the Western Front, despite having been told that he was too old to serve and too poor sighted.
The free concerts follow the successful first phase of the project, which saw the band perform to the inmates of a prison that housed conscientious objectors, to disabled veterans on a community built for the maimed, and at the scene of a Zeppelin attack in the middle of the West Pennine Moors.
The performances will include field recordings and interviews with veterans, new songs and re-workings of traditional and contemporaneous songs and will be filmed for a documentary.
Harp and a Monkey front-man Martin Purdy, who is a First World War historian, author and broadcaster, said: “It will be a real honour to perform in a church that was so dear to Theodore Bayley Hardy.
“The role of religion and chaplains during the war is hugely under-estimated. We live in an increasingly secular age; where cynicism about religion is common, but that was not the case at the time of the First World War.
“Religion was very important to the men and, as a result, very important to the military as well.
“People like Theodore Bayley Hardy remind us that bravery can be shown in many different ways, and in his case it was about a selfless commitment to helping others regardless of the danger to their own safety.
“We will be making a short documentary around the performance and intend to make sure people like Theodore Bayley Hardy are not forgotten.”
Theodore Bailey Hardy took up his appointment at the small country parish of Hutton Roof, Cumbria, in 1913.
When war broke out he was a 51-year-old widower and immediately volunteered as a Military Chaplain, but was turned down on the basis that he was too old and his eyesight far too poor.
However, after continual pestering he was finally accepted for the role in August 1916 and subsequently posted as the CoE chaplain to a battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment.
He would become one of the most decorated non-combatants in British history. His medals were all for helping the wounded out in no man’s land in the worst of conditions, and often despite injury to himself and the fact that he could barely see a few yards in front of himself.
It was said that wounded men would know that they were going to be okay when they heard the words “it’s only me” uttered by a figure crawling through the darkness towards them – as that was the chaplain’s usual low-key introduction.
He was presented with his VC by the King. Wounded while helping others again on the battlefield – less than a month before the Armistice – Hardy died a week later on October 18, 1918, in Rouen, France.
He would have celebrated his 55th birthday just two days later. There is a memorial to him in the church at Hutton Roof where the show will take place.
Another concert is planned at the pit head of a former Durham colliery, to mark the sacrifice of local miners who died on the Western Front tunnelling under the enemy trenches. The mine itself was crucial to the war effort.
Other venues include a railway station platform in front of the railway wagon that bought home the body of Edith Cavell, the English nurse shot for spying, and later the body of the Unknown Warrior buried in Westminster Abbey.
Martin said: “These new shows give us the chance to talk about the roles of religion, technology, flight, espionage, the unidentified dead, industry and workers – topics not often discussed in relation to the war.”
The other members of the northern-based folk trio, which is making a big name for itself on the festival circuit, are Andy Smith, from Blackley in north Manchester and Simon Jones from Burnage, who is also an award winning photographer.
All the shows are tied to the band’s critically acclaimed third album ‘War Stories’, released in July 2016 and described by the likes of The Observer as “bold and brilliant”.
Harp and a Monkey have also recently been in session, and live discussion, on such high profile BBC Radio 2 shows as Good Morning Sunday with Clare Balding and The Mark Radcliffe Folk Show.
The Hutton Roof concert will get underway in the church at 3pm and is a free to members of the public.