Talbot Heath School were delighted to welcome back Dr Kate Williams for a lunchtime lecture this week, as part of the Learning for Life summer programme. The TV broadcaster, historian, author and royal expert spoke animatedly to junior and senior pupils, parents and staff about her historical fiction and biographies as well as her varied work in the media. She explained her childhood fascination with time travel and how her love of history sprang from there. Dr Williams also discussed her books which include the novel ‘The Storms of War’ set during World War I, and the biographies ‘England’s Mistress’ (Emma Hamilton), ‘Becoming Queen’ (Queen Victoria) and ‘Young Elizabeth’ (Elizabeth II). Her big TV break came when she was invited to speak on the Richard and Judy book club slot about her international bestseller on Emma Hamilton and since then she has made regular appearances on BBC, ITV and Channel Four including news programmes, Timewatch, The Quizeum and Restoration Home. When asked where she would like to time travel to Dr Williams suggested the Victorian period as it was an exciting time for females to have a voice thanks largely to the expanding educational opportunities for women. She stated, ‘Talbot Heath School, founded in 1886, was one such great example of Victorian education for women.’
Prizes for the Upper 4 history competition were also awarded. Dr Kate Williams judged the shortlisted writers of a letter from the trenches and announced the runners-up who were Emma Gallen and Sophie Russell, and the overall winner was Tate Turner. Congratulations to all of the girls who took part in the competition and a special thanks to Dr Williams for giving up her time so generously.
Tate's winning letter is published below:
October 18th 1916
I wanted you to know that I am safe and sorry if I have brought you worry. I know that I should have told you of my intentions, but I knew that if I had, you would have stopped me.
You know how much I wanted to fight for my country and follow in my older brother’s foot steps. I know how proud you were of brother Tommy and I wanted you to be proud of me too.
Seeing all the posters saying it was my duty to fight for my country and how exciting it looked, made me feel guilty for not being there with all the others doing their bit for King and Country. When we went to the pictures to see that film which showed all the men fighting in the Battle of the Somme, with the soldiers in the trenches and guns firing, I had to do something to help.
The army recruitment office did not suspect a thing, they were just glad to have someone else enlist. I said that I was born in an orphanage and so had no family. That seemed to help, as they didn’t ask me any questions about family. I said that I had never been given a birth certificate , so they accepted my age. I also don’t think it even came to their minds that a thirteen year old boy would be wanting to enlist.
So I’m sorry Mother for causing you such worry and I’m sorry that I thought fighting in such a war would be exciting. It isn’t. I have never seen such things before. The film did not show how it truly is. I am not allowed to say exactly where we are, but we live in trenches day and night. I don’t get much sleep. I’m lucky if I maybe get an hours sleep of an afternoon. We are woken up at different times to fight or do daily chores.
The smell here is awful. Our latrines sometimes overflow into our trenches. I have got used to rats running around me constantly, you wouldn’t believe the size of some of them, they are as big as cats.
The sounds of the shellfire send shivers down all our spines. I have watched good men die right in front of me. But I am still one of the lucky ones as I am able to write to you Mother. Some men are just left in the slime and mud as their last resting place.
When I manage to sleep I think of you all and sitting around the fire. I specially think of Christmas and willing myself to be back for Christmas this year to look forward to one of your home cooked dinners.
I’m not sure how much longer I will be here. My commanding officer is unsure about my age, I think he might know that I am much younger and should not be here . But I will keep doing my bit for my country as long as I am allowed to and make you proud of me Mother.
Your ever loving son,
This is based on the true story of my Great Grandfather David Lipscombe who at the age of 13 managed to enlist in the army and was sent to the Western Front. His officer did find out his true age and David was returned home, but he still managed to enlist for a second time and get to the front again. But was finally sent home for good and survived the war.
However, for the rest of his life he always slept with one eye open...