The story of First World War hero Albert French, a Wolverton lad of 16 who ran away and lied about his age to enlist, will be the focus of a week-long Social Media project capped with a live event at the MK Rose.
One Boy’s War will highlight the eight months from his enlistment to his death by machine gun fire in Belgium.
Based largely on Albert’s own words from his letters home, Milton Keynes Poet Laureate, Mark Niel has read and edited them into stanzas of up to 140 characters that can be followed by the public through Facebook or Twitter starting on Sunday.
They will finish on Sunday, June 15, the anniversary of Albert’s death, which coincides with a major live event at the MK Rose.
The live event, a joint venture between MK Council, the Living Archive, The Parks Trust, the Cenotaph Trust and the Milton Keynes Poet Laureate, will see local students read extracts from the letters, songs from the Living
Archive band and a poem from Mark Niel.
Mr Niel said: “It has been a privilege but also emotionally draining to read the letters home of a boy in a man’s world. To enlist and defend his country was something he felt he had to do.
“It has been inspiring and at times hopelessly heart-breaking, especially as you knew the end.
“Only eight months separate his enlisting and his death and that makes the letters home all the more poignant. I hope you will follow his story over the week.
“It won’t always be an easy read, but I hope reading about Albert and his tragic loss of life at an early age, helps you value your own. Albert’s is a local story with national significance.”
The project came about by a chance remark at a planning meeting of volunteers at the Cenotaph Trust when discussing how to reach more people with Albert’s story and encourage them to come to the live event on June 15.
Chair Debbie Brock said: “It came out of the blue. We talked about letters as a dying art, and then Mark came up with the idea of turning the letters into short text blocks suitable for Twitter and Facebook.
“If Albert were a soldier today, he probably wouldn’t write letters but emails with quick updates through social media.
“It brings a slice of personal history into the modern world in a very accessible way”.
Albert’s story continues to attract attention after being the subject of a Radio 4 documentary and the inspiration for stage plays as well as songs by the Living Archive Band.
Albert was killed by machine gun fire whilst carrying out trench repairs, one week before his 17th birthday and is buried in the Hyde Park Corner Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery in the Belgian town of Comines.
As a result of Albert’s letters he is now remembered annually at Le Jumelage, or Twinning Ceremony, between Wolverton and Greenleys Town Council and the Belgian town of Comines. This event takes place in Belgium and Milton Keynes in alternate years. Albert’s niece regularly attends these events.
This year’s event is in Belgium and will take place simultaneously with the event at the MK Rose, which is free and open to all, starts at 10.15am and will feature music, readings and poems, as well as the laying of wreaths and a minute’s silence.
• Twitter: @alberts_story
• Facebook: One Boy’s War”