When the slaughter stopped
Radio 4 will be silent for two minutes next Wednesday (November 11) at 11am but far from quiet on the subject of remembrance for the rest of the week.
Eighty years after the Armistice was signed, the War to end Wars still has an extraordinary power to move. Even a simple documentary about one of the few good things to come out of the struggle, the Rev Tubby Clayton's Toc H temperance movement, can bring tears to the eyes. A Small Flame in Flanders (November 7, 2.30-3. 00pm) charts the story of Clayton's club, from its inception in 1915 as a sanctuary in Flanders for battle-weary soldiers of all ranks.
A local girl, Jeanne Battheu, recalls the 5ft chaplain as "a golden man".Other memories were less golden: such as the soldiers stripping off their clothes as they died of gas poisoning; or worst of all, how her father passed the town hall one night to hear a desperate young man crying for his mother, followed by a volley of shots. A young soldier of 17 had been executed.
This documentary is atmos-pheric and very moving - making good use of Simon Russell Beale to read Clayton's letters, and features the late Frank Gillard who, it turns out, was a Toc H worker in the 1930s.
The programme ends with a heart-warming story: when the Germans invaded Belgium in 1940, the locals of Poperinghe quickly hid all the contents of Clayton's house. Within a quarter of an hour of their departure in 1944, every single object had been put back in its place.
In Parenthesis (Saturday, 8.02-9. 00pm) is an epic poem by David Jones who fought as a foot-soldier in the Welsh Fusiliers. It was turned into a radio play in 1948 by one of the great radio producers, Douglas Cleverdon, and starred Richard Burton, Dylan Thomas and Carleton Hobbs. Cleverdon's widow adds some hilarious and poignant memories of the making of the play and of the poet.
Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (Monday, 9.45-10.00am) is arguably Siegfried Sassoon's best work. Certainly on the evidence of this new reading by James Wilby - who played Sassoon in the film of Pat Barker's Regeneration - this devastating indictment of the conduct of the war has lost none of its freshness over the years. It seems all the more acute because it has a deceptively light, ironic touch.
There is enough material in the whole of this week's broadcasting to make the basis of a Remembrance project - or simply to provide background material for existing A-level study. For example French students will want to hear Le Grand Meaulnes, (Monday, 10.45-11.00pm) Alain-Fournier's haunting novel, read by Philip Franks in the Book at Bedtime slot. And Wilfred Owen enthusiasts will benefit from a lyrical but complex play - with wonderful music by Norbert Zehim - about Owen and the writing of his poem "Strange Meeting" (Wednesday 2.15-3.00pm).
There are two more plays - both giving historical perspective not only to the war but its aftermath. Unknown Soldiers (Monday, 2.15-3.00pm) explores the feelings evoked by the burial of the Unknown Soldier in November 1920, when a seven-mile queue of mourners waited to file past the tomb.
Last, The Girls They Left Behind (Tuesday 2.15-3.00pm) is an intriguing afternoon play - which sounds more like a documentary. It covers a history tour made by a class of Edinburgh teenagers as they journey through Passchendaele, the Somme, the Menin Gate and Vimy Ridge, with particular emphasis on the reactions of the young women students in the group to the subjects of the play's title.