Autumn will see ROSL honour those who fought and lost their lives during the First World War as commemorations reach a climax, marking the centenary of Armistice on 11 November 1918. 

Starting our series of events on Thursday 1 November we feature French and British music written during the war, as composers on both sides of the English Channel struggled to react to the situation surrounding them. Suffering with cancer, Claude Debussy was nearing the end of his life when he took refuge on the French coastline, hearing the sound of shelling in the distance as he attempted to complete a set of sonatas. Completed in 1915, the Cello Sonata was one of his final works, and was inspired by the war. Gustav Holst was 40 when war broke out and was deemed, to his frustration, unfit for service. He eventually served as a volunteer towards the end of the war, and Mars, the Bringer of War from the Planets, composed in 1914 seems to predict the horrors to come.

Maurice Ravel at 39 was also deemed too old to serve (in his case as an aviator) and he also volunteered. He dedicated each movement of Le Tombeau de Couperin to a friend who died in the war.

Ivor Gurney’s studies at the Royal College of Music were interrupted following his enlistment to fight in 1915. Gurney composed poetry and songs in the trenches and suffered both a wound to his shoulder and gassing. Gurney suffered with poor mental health and shell shock for the rest of his life.

The Blitz, Land Girls, and espionage: The Home Front is a staple of any history lesson on WWII today. However, the effort by those who stayed at home during WWI is often overlooked despite the large role ordinary citizens played in ensuring an Allied victory. At the Royal Over-Seas League for example, our founder Evelyn Wrench embarked on a series of fundraising schemes to support the needs of Allied troops and raised over £1,000,000 (£50,000,000 today). This money went towards providing comfort packs for the Troops, funding the Red Cross and purchasing 250 aeroplanes and seaplanes. 

Join us on Saturday 3 November at our Lunch & Learn, with our expert WWI Home Front historian Dr Peter Grant, as we uncover the incredible efforts citizens across the British Empire went to raise money for the soldiers, animals and volunteers who were serving overseas.

Using our accommodation offer, you can make a weekend of it by taking part on our fascinating walking tour on Sunday 4 November. Late on the night of the 31 May 1915, the citizens of London were suddenly thrown into the turbulent action of the First World War when German Army Airship LZ13, commanded by Kptlt Heinrich Mathy, began releasing incendiary bombs onto the slumbering city. Our walk, run by a registered Blue Badge Guide, will trace the destruction of the first aerial attack on civilians, starting in Stoke Newington where the bombs claimed the life of their first victim: three-year-old Elsie Leggatt. Along the walk, discover what life was like in London during the nine bombing raids that took place between May 1915 and October 1917, how the authorities came up with a defence against an entirely new form of war, and how the city still carries the scars today.

On Monday 5 November we present Never Such Innocence with pianist and ROSL prizewinner Gamal Khamis and actor Christopher Kent. They will present an evening of writings, both poetry and contemporary accounts from letters and diaries, alongside solo piano works of the period, as they trace the journey from the innocence of pre-war life to the deep sadness and loss which engulfed Europe.

To pay our respects to the members, staff and friends who have fought in past conflict, we will be hosting a memorial service on Thursday 8 November, where we will be reading excerpts from the Overseas Journal as part of the traditional service, followed by a rendition of The Last Post by our Trumpeter. Afterwards, we present the London Military Band in concert. Dressed in reproduction uniforms, the band will present a concert of music from the period, including Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs, Vaughan Williams Folk Song Suite, Irish Tune from County Derry, and many more.

Alongside our concert series, ROSL ARTS presents an exhibition in partnership with the artist run non-profit organisation, The Printmakers Council, on the theme of Memory. This group show, presenting a variety of work, in print will be accompanied by the work of a young ceramicist, Connor Coulston. Coulston has created an entire body of work exploring his Nan’s fireplace and his work has a sense of humour, while intending to excite and ignite nostalgic childhood memories from the viewer. His work is a demonstration of how the theme of memory may be interpreted in any way and we look forward to seeing the body of the exhibition when it is chosen from members of the Printmakers Council especially to be hung at Over-Seas House.


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