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16 October 2014

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By Andrew Vollans
January 2003, Port Talbot
A digital story from Capture Wales

In Flanders Fields

Andrew tells us how his grandfather and his Great War generation inspire him.

"As a child I can remember my mother reciting 'In Flanders Fields' and I think that probably had something to do with my interest in the Great War.

History 'O' level nearly killed it off... by a strange quirk of fate recovering from an accident gave me the time to follow it up.

In my hospital bed, feeling sorry for myself, I read a letter from the trenches detailing the horific injuries of a man who crawled through no-man's land to safety, despite one arm consumed by maggots... My problems... what problems?

With all the free time I had to do something... hit the bottle or take up an interest... I couldn't afford the booze.

A few veterans left welcome contacts and were a living archive... Bill Mathews, twice wounded and much decorated before he was even old enough to vote said that his most memorable moment involved a full latrine and a stray shell... They could all laugh in the face of adversity.

I found a postcard of a young man with new legs and on the back he'd written..."Ma, I'm in the pink".

Photographs of my grandfather showing leaving as a young man... coming home ill with malaria and back to fit again after he was de-mobbed but never having lost his sense of humour. In one photograph he was lucky... he was the only survivor.

My research lets families know the truth for the first time in almost 90 years. Many service records were destroyed in the blitz in 1941 so I'm left with a historical jigsaw puzzle but without the box... that's what makes it so worthwhile.

With all the experience, I've gained a sixth sense for it all along with an affinity for that Great War generation... I've walked in their footsteps and I've sensed them over my shoulder and they've reached out and touched my life."

Andrew Vollans

Please tell us about yourself
I'm a Yorkshireman by birth and I have lived in Wales for 23 years. I was a sales manager for a charity until a car accident in 1984. I had to take up an interest or vegetate. That interest was the study of the Great War (1914-1918).

Why tell a story about World War I?
It's a tribute to the generation that inspires me. They had a raw deal, as all soldiers during a conflict do. But censorship meant that people in civilian life knew little of what was really going on until the news came home that a family member was lost or one returned to relate the horrors.

I chose to tell this story to show that we are never as badly off as we think we are - you can always find someone worse off than yourself. I never miss the opportunity to promote my pet subject. From a selfish point of view it was good to see my story completed. It's a piece of propaganda for my favourite subject.

How did you find the workshop?
My fellow storytellers were just great and it was a pleasure to work with them. Everything and everyone just seemed to gel. The production team were great and it just seemed that we had known each other for years. It was quite sad when we had to say goodbye.

Your comments

"Touching but also heart-warming. Any person that takes time-out without profit to help others, are heroes themselves. A refreshing story in times where prime airtime is saturated with condescending soap TV." Gareth Harding, Tonypandy, Wales.

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