The Week in Radio: Fascinating tales from heroes on the home front in BBC's World War One at Home

 

"I was born when the war was on. And I was yellow." So began the story of Gladys Sangster, one of the First World War's "canary babies". Gladys' mother worked at the National Shell Filling Factory No 9 on the outskirts of Banbury, Oxfordshire. The chemicals in the TNT powder she handled daily turned her skin yellow, and when Gladys was born, she came out yellow, too. "It gradually faded away," said Gladys unfazed.

Gladys's story is one of many arresting tales in World War One at Home. An ambitious piece of centenary broadcasting by the BBC, it launched on Monday with 230 stories across its local radio and television stations, from BBC Berkshire to BBC Radio York. By the time it comes to a close in 2015, it will have told around 1,400 tales about life on the home front.

The short stories – they range from two to 10 minutes – have aired on local radio stations at 8.15am all week and will continue to pepper schedules through to 2015. The real treasure chest, though, is the website www.bbc.co.uk/ww1 which gathers all of the pieces by region, allowing listeners to click through and browse the 100-year old tales at their leisure. It is a remarkable project –hyperlocal but with global significance, history with a very human voice. On which note, it is a proper pleasure to hear so many and varied regional accents in one place; you don't get that on Radio 4.

I listened to 10 in a row, looking up places of personal interest, clicking through the sidebar, and simply being drawn in by titles like "Mossband, Cumbria: Devil's Porridge" (as cordite was popularly known), "Albion Works, Sheffield: Lizzie the Working Elephant" or "Reading: Emergency Ration Biscuits". This last missive from Radio Berkshire was typical, focusing on something seemingly small to tell a bigger story. A visit to the Huntley and Palmers factory revealed how biscuits were crucial in keeping up morale. Not because they tasted good – quite the opposite. Instead the soldiers would send them home to their families, using them to make picture frames, or as the butt of some black trenches comedy. "My teeth might fall out if I eat this, so I'm sending it back to you..."

These are the stories of those left behind, who kept calm and carried on while their lives were turned upside down or devastated by fighting in far-off fields. There are tales of munitions factories and makeshift hospitals, of Bristol Zoo hosting parties for wounded soldiers, of nationalised pubs in Gretna and of The Blimp, a satirical magazine edited by Cambridge cadets. Naturally, women feature heavily – from the founding of Britain's first WI group in Llanfairpwll, Anglesey to the female football team of St Helens. What started as a way for a group of Merseyside munitions girls to get some fresh air on their breaks, ended as a popular phenomenon cheered on by thousands. By the end of the war, there were simply not enough male footballers left for fans to watch.

The horrors are rarely far away. BBC Cornwall has an interview with a descendant of the Rowes, a Penzance family which lost all four young sons – Charlie, Bertie, Fred and Sidney – to war. A two-minute segment on BBC Manchester tells the story of Chapel Street in Altrincham, a 12ft-wide cobbled terrace that became known as "the bravest little street in England" after 161 of its residents joined up. Twenty nine of them were killed. The street was demolished long ago but thanks in part to the BBC's far-reaching project, it will not be forgotten.

www.twitter.com/alicevjones

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?