Returning, We Hear The Larks was a new site-specific performance-installation hosted by, and created with, Lancaster Priory and its congregation, to mark the centenary of the end of World War One.
This immersive performance-installation opened as part of Light Up Lancaster 2018 and continued throughout the following week to be a part of the Remembrance weekend and The Battle’s Over national commemoration of the Armistice which marked the end of hostilities on 11th November 1918.
Returning, We Hear The Larks incorporated a mound of prayer kneelers and prayer books interlaced with 2,000 hand-made paper roses in front of the altar. A garment, draped over an empty chair was overlaid with a film that layered archive film footage from the North West Film Archive of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment leaving Lancaster for the front with two photographs of the Lancaster Priory bell ringers. One photograph, taken in 1887, shows a band of all male bell ringers whilst the other, taken on Armistice Day 1918, shows four of these same men – now much older – but an absence of younger men. Instead, six young women have joined the band to fill the gaps left the male bell ringers who had not yet returned from action or were killed in the war. ‘Telling’ the story of war and its impact.
The sound of larks and distant church bells hanged in the air. A new choral version of the poem “Returning, We Hear The Larks” composed by Don Gillthorpe (the Priory Director of Music) was sung by the Priory choir. This poem was written in the trenches by Isaac Rosenberg – a soldier of the King’s Own who was killed in action on 1st April 1918. Women of the congregation played the part of women who in 1918 – and due to other conflicts since – have yearned for their lost sons, husbands, fathers and lovers. The still gestures women made were taken from a painting of the Last Supper dedicated to ‘the loving memory of William Haigh Abbott: killed in action at Meteren April 18th 1918 and erected by his father & mother’.
Over the duration of the performance-installation 6,500 red cards, each printed with the name a Kings Own Royal Lancashire Regiment solider who did not return were placed on all the pew shelves by visitors. Eventually, every corner of the church was filled with a red-sea of remembered names and men.
almost unbearably moving
so very beautiful and moving
outstanding, stunning and deeply moving.
Wonderful stuff. The suspension of normal life in the grievers; the precarity of grief reflected in the kneeling cushions - red angular dissolving into something more crumbled and organic, the red cards spilling out like rivers all around the priory. Walking through a tunnel of song. Renewal.
Thankyou so much for ‘Returning, We Hear the Larks’. The whole concept and its installation was overwhelming – the impact of all the red roses and the tumbling pile of red in the sanctuary, the movement, the poses, all the red envelopes [cards], symbolising a boy lost to his faily, was almost unbearably moving. And then the whole this blessed by the sound of larks and punctuated with music, while women fro mall around the Church moved slowly and purposefully to take their places by the altar! Using the imagery of the Last Supper a young man lost with his friends was another layer suffused with grief – And yet holding all the promise of resurrection.
Created, Designed and Directed by Louise Ann Wilson
Thankyou to all who gave buttons and to Jones & Co (Nottingham) Ltd. for their generous donation
Red Card Makers, showing the names of the 6,500 Kingos Own Lancaster Regiment soldiers who did not survive World War One: Diane Howe, Brian Kirtley, Alice Granger, Mark Edwards, Kaarina Leong-Smith, David Meikle, Jackie Garnett. Many Many thanks to Peter Donnelly at the Regimental Museum within Lancaster City Museum for the list of names.