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Mules at Minehead station The World War One at Home project includes stories on 250,000 mules filing through Minehead station

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As Europe prepares to mark a centenary since World War One, the BBC will soon broadcast an ambitious scale of 1400 stories illustrating the conflict's domestic impact.

The turmoil spread well beyond the battlefield, touching and destroying several families and their communities.

So the BBC's World War One at Home project, with its 50 producers across the UK, is currently working on stories spanning subjects as diverse as women's reaction to the combat - from sceptical to supportive - and the significance of mules, as opposed to the more distinguished war horses.

Each nation and English region will broadcast 100 reports in the next year, focusing on how places contributed towards the war, explains Craig Henderson, head of programming at English Regions.

"When we did some research, it was quite clear the audience would engage on different levels because there are people going past things every day and they won't have realised that, blimey, that airfield or rundown hospital was really crucial in the First World War, so I think, at a basic level, it's that kind of revelation that will appeal to people."

War mule

BBC West hosted a pilot to see whether it was realistic for every region to get 100 new stories on the much-covered war and, according to Henderson, the answer was a resounding yes.

Start Quote

Everywhere in the UK has a story to tell around their connection to World War One”

End Quote Tim Plyming BBC Knowledge and Learning

Some have come from the public, others through a partnership with the Imperial War Museum.

Henderson adds that an academic from the Arts & Humanities Research Council is acting as a "buddy" for BBC producers, "keeping us clean if you like, in terms of the historical fact and context".

It was through the BBC West trial that the tale of the aforementioned war mules cropped up. Their battlefield presence has been taken for granted, but their arrival on the Western Front was the end of a transatlantic journey that saw 250,000 mules file through a small railway station in Somerset.

"It's about how mules were brought in from South America to a place called Minehead during the course of the war," says Henderson.

"There are photographs of them piling up through this little station to be fed, watered and sent off to the front. It's the kind of story that not many people will have known about in that area and it's just quite fascinating that it became the source of all these mules."


Alongside Michael Morpurgo's much-loved book War Horse, which has been adapted for stage and screen, the tale of the mules may well inspire people to explore the impact of animals during the conflict.

Tim Plyming, executive producer at BBC Knowledge & Learning, says there will be online material to expand on the broadcast packages.

"The war mules are a great story but it raises a whole load of questions around why so many were needed, how many were lost during the war and why they were used rather than trucks, so we will have some content to answer that. We'll be working pretty closely with Craig's team to make sure all those jumping-off points are linked together.

"The idea is that, all the way through, as your interest gets alerted to particular parts of World War One; there's a constant journey you can go through."

The stories will be broadcast regionally and published online throughout the year, starting later this winter, with network showcasing some of the best.

"Everywhere in the UK has a story to tell around their connection to World War One," says Plyming.

"We know that's one thing people really want to search for - their location and the town they were born - and to be able to pull up a load of stories related to that."

  • The BBC's World War One website can be seen here.
  • You can watch a video of the BBC's WW1 coverage plans here.

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