“Father used to tell me that when he was a littlun he used to get hisself into all sorts of trouble. He always said that the worst scrape he got hisself into, was the First World War, and the worst battle he was ever in was at Passchendaele. And he was there, all because of a horse.”
An exclusive new short story by the best-selling author of War Horse will be performed in Belgium to mark the centenary of Passchendaele, Third Battle of Ypres, Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has announced.
The work by Michael Morpurgo has been especially written for the national commemorations on July 30.
His live reading of the story will be accompanied by an appearance by the much-loved horse puppet, Joey, from the acclaimed National Theatre stage adaptation of War Horse, which starts a UK tour this September and will spend Christmas at the New Theatre, Oxford.
The commemorations will also feature extracts from The Wipers Times, the play by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman based on the satirical trench newspaper published by British soldiers fighting on the Ypres Salient.
Images from the War will be projected onto the town’s Cloth Hall, which was famously destroyed and later rebuilt. Recordings of interviews with First World War veterans and first-hand accounts from soldiers, nurses and loved ones will also be read out and projected onto the Cloth Hall.
Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “A century on from the horror of Passchendaele, the nation will come together to remember the sacrifice of those who were there.
“This battle has become synonymous with the horrific conditions of the trenches, and the futility of the war.
“It is important for us to commemorate and remember not only those who never returned home from the Western Front, but the families and the communities they left behind.”
Author Michael Morpurgo said: “All our yesterdays help us to comprehend our present. It is ever more important in this complex world for young people to know the roots of their history.
“We are inclined to take for granted our freedoms and our rights. It is easy to forget that so many of those who came before us, fought and died to defend the liberties we enjoy today.
“We are now a hundred years on from the battle of Passchendaele, one of the most appalling battles of the First World War, in which thousands upon hundreds of soldiers suffered and died.
“It is a moment to reflect on their lives, and on the terrible nature of that war and of all wars, and on the importance of maintaining peace. They fought for our peace. That is what we must not forget, which is why we must continue to tell the story, to pass it on.”
Broadcaster Ian Hislop, who co-wrote The Wipers Times with Nick Newman, said: “It is a great honour for the Wipers Times play to be included in the commemoration of Passchendaele.
“This satirical trench newspaper was born in the ruins of Ypres and named Wipers by the Tommies who could not pronounce it.
“It captured the defiant black humour of the British Forces in the face of overwhelming adversity. This story has gone from the Western Front to the West End, and now it is returning to where it all began.”
Lisa Burger, Executive Director of The National Theatre of Great Britain said: “We are absolutely delighted to be bringing War Horse to Ypres for this historic event.
“We hope that with Michael Morpurgo’s specially written short story alongside Joey’s appearance at the commemoration of Passchendaele, we can remind people of the cavalry action and the bravery of both men and animals during the First World War.”
Passchendaele began at 3.50am on 31 July 1917 when Gough’s Fifth Army launched their attack over a 15 mile front.
Despite initial successes, the attack soon became bogged down and hampered by rain which turned the battlefield into liquid mud.
By the end of the offensive, the Allied forces had sustained over 320,000 casualties. German losses are estimated to be between 260,000 and 400,000.
The first ever UK tour of War Horse stars Thomas Dennis, in the central role of Albert Narracott with Jo Castleton and celebrated folk musician, Bob Fox, as Song Man.
They are joined by: Marcus Adolphy, Adam Barlow, Peter Becker, Joelle Brabban, Lucas Button, Jasper William Cartwright, Chris Charles, Jonathan Charles, Sebastian Charles, Anna Chessher, Nicky Cross, Max Gallagher, Chris Garner, Andrew Hodges, Lewis Howard, William Ilkley, Ben Ingles, Billy Irving, Elan James, Kiran Landa, Gwilym Lloyd, Jack Lord, Stephen Love, Toyin Omari-Kinch, Samuel Parker, Tom Quinn, Domonic Ramsden, Arinder Sadhra, Tom Stacy, Elizabeth Stretton and Simon Victor.
War Horse UK Tour
2017 15 September – 14 October, Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury 18 October – 11 November, Bristol Hippodrome 15 November – 2 December, Empire Theatre, Liverpool 13 December – 6 January, New Theatre, Oxford
2018 25 January – 10 February, Brighton Centre 14 February – 10 March, Bradford Alhambra Theatre 14 March – 7 April, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall 18 April – 12 May, Edinburgh Festival Theatre 16 May – 9 June, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 13 – 30 June, The Lowry, Salford 4 – 28 July, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff 1 – 18 August, New Victoria Theatre, Woking 29 August – 15 September, Plymouth Theatre Royal 19 September – 6 October, Milton Keynes Theatre