Photo by Neil Grant
Photo by Neil Grant

This year Liverpool will be at the forefront of anniversary events commemorating 80 years since the Battle of the Atlantic.

LJMU is partnering with the Battle of the Atlantic Memorial Trust and the Western Approaches Museum to tell the untold stories of those involved in the pivotal victory.

Thirteen second-year Drama students from Liverpool Screen School have, in collaboration with History academics and students from the School of Humanities and Social Science, produced an original show to be performed during anniversary events across the city in May.

Written by the students, Blowing a Raspberry at Hitler: A story of WATU, the WRNS and the War at Sea, is based in part on Simon Parkin’s book A Game of Birds and Wolves.

The play tells the story of how victory was ultimately sealed, with military personnel in Liverpool working on intelligence reports, battle reports, planning, directing daily combat, and mapping out the strategy of the war at sea.

Forming part of their second-year studies focus on adaptation, the production is currently in its research and development phase.

At an early showcase of the new play MNL was in the audience to report on the educational, hilarious, and heart-wrenching show.

The play is cleverly produced, with students utilising every aspect of the staging and taking advantage of their props.

The main backdrop of the play is a giant map where the locations of naval boats are shown, just as they were within the Western Approaches Command HQ which was relocated to Liverpool from Plymouth in February 1941 and located just off the waterfront.

Dr David Clampin, subject leader for History at LJMU, one of the drivers behind the creation of the performance, was contacted by the Western Approaches Museum.

They had discovered an archive related to a pantomime that the Naval Players, an amateur drama group made up from naval personnel based in Merseyside, had performed some 80 years ago.

An initial idea was put forward that the show could be restaged. He then contacted Dr Ros Merkin, who is a Reader in Drama, to help bring the idea to life.

The performance is in part a variety show, a nod back to the Naval Players and their pantomime, but was workshopped over time to ensure that other untold stories, particularly those of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), affectionately referred to as Wrens, could be brought to life in an entertaining but also serious and factual way.

Photo by Neil Grant @ LJMU
Photo by Neil Grant @ LJMU

David explained how it was the “creative genius” that is the Liverpool John Moores students who came together to create the play in such a successful format. He added: “It’s extraordinary … 99.9% of the content in the play is completely factual.”

Blowing a Raspberry at Hitler is a very fitting name for the play as ‘Operation Raspberry’ was the name of the first British tactical manoeuvre designed for deployment against the German navy and pioneered by the Wrens.

The play also shines a light on the challenges the Wrens faced both professionally and personally, with some women having to hide their true sexuality or indeed questioning their relationships living in close quarters with many of their female colleagues.

The production is a must-see in this special anniversary year

While the production is based on fact and historical research, the Wrens were thrust into a world of utmost secrecy with many never sharing what really happened behind closed doors as they took their vow to the Official Secrets Act incredibly seriously.

We may never know some of the exact details of their actions, but what we do know has been included in this incredible production, a must-see in this special anniversary year.

It is anticipated that a re-worked version of the production will be performed for the wider public during the main commemorative events taking place across the city in May.

Other ways that LJMU will mark the Battle of the Atlantic 80th anniversary

As part of the wider programme of commemorative events taking place in May, the Centre for Port and Maritime History will host a one-day conference on Saturday 20 May, in association with the Battle of the Atlantic Memorial Trust, considering the history and legacies of the battle 80 years on.

Experts from the LJMU Maritime Centre are scoping out an interactive display opportunity with the Western Approaches Museum and other opportunities to celebrate LJMU’s maritime links throughout 2023.

LJMU 200 years of history and heritage – looking back and navigating the future

LJMU has its own unique ties with the maritime history of Liverpool. In 1852 it opened its Nautical School and College, reflecting Liverpool’s status in the 19th century as one of the world’s leading ports.

Since then, LJMU has developed its education and research offer dedicated to the maritime sector, through specialised courses offered at the Faculty of Engineering and Technology, which also houses the LJMU Maritime Centre, connecting industry regionally and internationally to plug future skills gaps.

Maritime ties will be celebrated this year as LJMU marks its own milestone anniversary. Celebrating our bicentenary, always ahead of our time.

Featured image: Neil Grant


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