Sara Fairfax & Jo Dove

Children of the Great War Centenary Memorial


From September 2014 to September 2016 the children of Wiveliscombe in Somerset worked with local artists and writers on the Children of the Great War project, funded by a grant from Heritage Lottery Fund.

Jo and I were asked to work with the children of Wivelsicombe to produce a permanent artwork as part of a range of responses in the community to the commemorate the centenary of the First World War. We worked with three year groups from Wiveliscombe Primary over a two year period to produce the free standing mosaic you can see to the left of this page which is now permantely sited in Jubilee Gardens in Wiveliscombe.

School workshops began in June 2015, although prior to this Jo, who was at that time working partime as a teacher at Wiveliscombe Primary, along with teachers, had led curriculum based lessons exploring and researching the kinds of activities and involvement that children had in their daily lives around the time of the Great War. Seperately Jo and I did additional research and when the first workshop took place we each had a considerable amount of research material from which to work from.

Research came from the website Somerset Remembers, visits to Somerset Heritage Centre, Museum of Somerset, Taunton; the Britsih Pathe Film Archive and the BBC Schools website, as well as children talking to family members and relatives who remember the war or stories passed down by those who were around at the time of the Great War.

Out of the research came one potent and little known story of the Great War in which Wivelicombe played a vital role, which is the story of the mule transportation and the contribution that the mules played in the Great War. Wiveliscombe with its extensive farming community took on the role of caring for mules that had been brought from foreign lands, who often arrived in poor health and were looked after and cared for by local farms until they were well enough to be sent for training before being sent off to serve in the war. Childrens lives were woven around this and so it was decided that the story of the mule transportation in the Great War would act as a backdrop to all the other daily activities that children were expected to undertake as part of the whole communities commitment to supporting the war effort.

The Memorial Mosaic have the main three aspects:

  • 8 panels consisting or 12 tiles which tell the story of the mules from their outward journey from where they came from, Portrugal, South America, America and Ireland to coming to England and being sent to farms, their recovery, their training, their time at the front and their return home. These were designed initially by pupils and developed by Jo and I into fully workable designs. They were made by a process known as SGRAFFITTO, where a layer of black slip is laid over a clay tile and then the designs were transferred onto the tile at leather hard stage and the areas that needed to be lightest were cut away (like you would in a lino print) to reveal a strong graphic image. In this way we were able to tell a complex story through image. The children had a fairly challenging time getting to grips with this technique but with the spirit of the mule, 'stamina and perseverance' they did a really good job in the time they had. Jo and I worked on them after to aid consistency in design and flow of story.
  • 22 activity tiles: each of these tiles reflects all the other activities that children would have engaged in to help their families and the community during the war period. The designs for these come from local photographs and British Pathe Films and have many local reference points, such as the some of the buildings in Wivelisombe that are still here, like the Old Town Hall, the old library which now is the Courthouse Interiors and to the buildings that have now gone, such as Wiveliscombe Railway Station that closed in 1966.
  • 30 individual haikus written by children from Wivelsicombe Primary, 8 of which form the central panels to the mule tiles and 22 more haikus which accompany the 22 activity tiles which feature in a booklet that was produced alongide the mosaic. This booklet shows the depth and breath of this two year project and can be purchased at the local Post Office or Wivelsicombe Community Office, alongside a pack of postcard featuring 5 of the activity tiles.

In addition, pupils made all the textured spacer tiles, each which have been carefully made by the pressing in of relevant objects specific to the subject of its surrounding tiles.This attention to detail is something to be enjoyed and appreciated when very close to the mosaic. We were especially honoured to be able to include the impressions of objects collected from a WW1 site in Belguim which a student from Kingsmead School had been able to bring back with them from a history trip they had made during the time of this project. Working with these objects with the children was an incredible moment when the past came right into the present moment and was a very moving and emotional part of the work. The haikus were written on the same day as we made these these textured tiles, bringing a degree of poignancy to the project as it moved towards its preparation completion.

Following on from this Jo and I then spent an intense 6 months bringing the work together for the opening on September 24th 2016. In this time there were plenty of fabulous problems for us to wrestle with and resolve, which also included designing additional panels, three poppy screen panels (2 small, one large), resigning aspects of the Hertiage Lottery Logo to fit in with the piece and producing the text panel with its poppy borders.

  8 mule panels   8 haiku tiles   22 activity tiles
Additional photographs of opening: Wiveliscombe Children of the Great War Project

Special thanks go to:
Heritage Lottery Fund
The children of Wiveliscombe Primary School, Somerset
Suzie Grogan: Project Co-ordinator & writer
Pauline Homeshaw: Project Manager
Aga Karmolinska: Booklet design
Rupert Mardon: Photography
Jo Dove Ceramics
Sara Fairfax