Speke and the Sea (2018)

During WWII, Western Approaches was the strategic headquarters of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Marines, with respect to the Battle of the Atlantic. Lasting from 1939 – 1945, this was the longest battle of the war, and, according to Churchill, was the single biggest threat to Britain’s war effort. Western Approaches, some claim, is the room in which the War was won.

Largely staffed by the young women of the Women’s Royal Naval Service and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, Western Approaches HQ made decisions that were a matter of life or death for thousands of sailors and civilians the world over.

It was, of course, top secret. Even the workmen who built it were led to believe that it was a canteen – albeit a canteen with reinforced concrete walls, seven foot thick. All of this happened beneath the feet of ordinary, unsuspecting Liverpudlians, whose lives carried on as best they could, through the Liverpool Blitz and beyond.

Over the course of seven days of workshops at Western Approaches and Liverpool Record Office, children from three schools in Liverpool explored how history is re-told, and how we preserve information for the future.

Their performance, created together with Ex-Easter Island Head, featured glimpses of the work done at Western Approaches, by young women who spent weeks at a time underground, cracking codes and making important decisions. There were flashes of Morse code and Enigma messages appearing through the darkness, and excerpts from the life of young Pauline Richards, whose diary – written in 1940, aged nine – tells us how a child navigated life during the Liverpool Blitz. There were air raid sirens, Liverpool’s docks ablaze, and the sounds of war; there were messages from our young performers, and their hopes for the future.

The children’s research notebooks will be kept at Liverpool Record Office, for future generations to learn about life in Liverpool, and there will be an exhibition of the children’s work at Western Approaches museum. Every child received a free family pass to the museum, so they can return with their family and show off the work they created.

With thanks to St. Cecilia’s Catholic Junior School, St. Christopher’s Catholic Primary School, Middlefield Community Primary School, Emma Stringfellow, Rebecca Mason, Kate and the team at Western Approaches; Jan Grace and the team at Liverpool Record Office; Ben Duvall and Ben Fair of Ex-Easter Island Head; Joe Snape; Barbara Schurer.

Made possible by support from Arts Council England, The Hemby Trust, The Eleanor Rathbone Charitable Trust.