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R C Sherriff

John Simkin

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Surrey History Centre wins Heritage Lottery Fund grant to commemorate First World War's greatest playwright.

A better understanding of the greatest play to emerge from the trenches of the First World War will be the outcome of a Surrey County Council heritage project, thanks to a grant of £59,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The councils Surrey Heritage has been awarded the money for a First World War commemoration project entitled To Journey's End and Beyond: the Life and Legacy of R C Sherriff. The project will focus on Sherriff's great play Journeys End, set in a British dugout on the eve of the great German offensive of March 1918.

Sherriff's papers are held at the councils Surrey History Centre in Woking, the home of Surrey Heritage, and will be catalogued and preserved as part of the project. Using this unique collection, Surrey Heritage will work with The R C Sherriff Trust, Kingston Grammar School and schools in Elmbridge to bring Sherriff's own experiences on the Western Front to a wider audience, through a newly commissioned play and dramatic workshops. Volunteers will have the opportunity to learn archive conservation and packaging skills to make the precious records accessible to the public.

As a junior officer in the East Surrey Regiment, Sherriff spent four gruelling months on the Western Front until he was wounded at Passchendaele in August 1917. His papers contain hundreds of letters to his parents and friends, which he later used in the writing of Journey's End. The play was first performed in 1928 with a young Laurence Olivier in the lead role and remains a key part of the literary legacy of the First World War. Sherriff went on to be a successful Hollywood scriptwriter, responsible for such classics as 'The Dambusters' and 'Goodbye Mr Chips'.

Helyn Clack, Surrey County Councils Cabinet Member for Community Services, said It is important that we do not lose sight of the horrors of the First World War and the experiences and sacrifices of those who fought. This generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund makes it possible for us to properly preserve this remarkable collection and use it to promote understanding of what it was really like to serve on the Western Front.

Stuart McLeod, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South East, said:

This impressive collection of R C Sherriffs works, once restored and catalogued, will give people an incredible insight into his life and his personal experiences of fighting on the Western Front. The First World War changed the face of modern history touching the lives of millions of people and we at the HLF are committed to funding a variety of projects which will create a deeper understanding of the heritage of the conflict. Capturing individual stories such as R C Sherriffs will form an important strand of the commemorations happening across the country.

For further information about the project contact Michael Page, Surrey Heritage, Tel: 01483 518756, email: mpage@surreycc.gov.uk


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