With the help of the Wilfred Owen Story in Birkenhead, Wirral Chamber member, YMCA Wirral, is seeking to collect, record and display documents, photographs and histories relating to the Birkenhead YMCA and the impact of the First World War upon it. The organisation turned to some old friends – Dean Johnson and his team at the Wilfred Owen Story.
Research volunteers at The Wilfred Owen Story have been commissioned by YMCA Wirral to discover the part that the organisation played in The First World War. Initial groundwork has discovered that there is a wealth of information documenting the YMCA's role in the war effort between 1914 and 1919. The support for the soldiers is unprecedented in Wirral, involving the YMCA's own building, then in Grange Road and numerous prefabricated structures across Wirral.
Soldiers received accommodation, food and entertainment, along with prayers and readings. Even land at the present site of The Bebington Oval was purchased to form the headquarters of The Bantam Regiment that was formed in Birkenhead.
The Chief Executive of YMCA Wirral, Nigel Hughes said, “We had very little information relating to the YMCA's work during The Great War, and what The Wilfred Owen Story have discovered so far is fascinating and very rewarding, considering the aims on which we were formed. I would recommend other organisations to consult with the Wilferd Owen Story if they are interested in how their own history may hold great prevalence to World War One.”
Dean Johnson, founder of The Wilfred Owen Story, added, “Our research into Owen's time in the town has already thrown up many wonderful facts. This data often overlaps with other prominent institutions and individuals that were contemporary with him.”
The project is being developed by the YMCA in the run up to next year’s 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War and will focus on how the war affected the people of Birkenhead and the wider communities of Wirral, in particular the home front and how the war changed the role of women in society at that time.
The story of the local shipyard and its role in the design and building of warships for the Navy, and technological advancements incorporated not only in the building and armament of the ships but also in their propulsion will also be investigated. The Cammell Laird shipyard is known across the world and has been operating since the late 1820s after being founded by Scottish entrepreneurs William Laird and his son John. Over the years it has built more than 1350 ships including many famous and innovative vessels and the company played a key role in World War I and II building and repairing vessels. During World War II alone the shipyard produced nearly 200 vessels both commercial and military in support of the UK war effort. Including HMS Rodney, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Ark Royal and is acknowledged as having been a key part of Britain's war effort when it became famous as the shipyard that turned out one ship every 21 days.
YMCA residents and local people will be able to take part in research and interpret local history of the First World War, and use this information to write and record a radio programme for broadcast on Vintage Radio, incorporating some of the sounds of the First World War – the work of the shipyard, the battlefield and create a soundscape.