A remarkable achievement

PUBLISHED: 11:08 23 February 2006 | UPDATED: 14:36 12 May 2010

Ron Smith

Ron Smith

IN one sentence the three hours and more of the documentary Royston a Town at War was simply described as a remarkable achievement". No-one in the audience at a preview showing in Royston Town Hall on Saturday could have said otherwise. From almost 40

Chris Murphy

IN one sentence the three hours and more of the documentary Royston - a Town at War was simply described as "a remarkable achievement". No-one in the audience at a preview showing in Royston Town Hall on Saturday could have said otherwise. From almost 40 hours of interviews and days working through archives there emerged not just a documentary of recollections, but an important historical document. Quite simply, it has to be preserved. Chris Murphy, who had the idea of the documentary and has worked tirelessly on the project over recent months, can be rightly proud of his achievement. As Air Commodore Ed Jarron, secretary-general of the national Royal Air Forces Association, told the audience: "It's a tremendously researched documentary which has taken a huge amount of work. "It is memorable and compelling and in the end a remarkable achievement," he said. Mr Jarron recognised the role the war-time residents and the veterans had played in the documentary. "These are astonishing experiences and they are shared by the people in this room," he said. His words were absolutely right. We had witnessed - and during the weekend of the running of the documentary about 1,000 people saw Royston - a Town at War - ordinary people who through circumstances in the dark days of the Second World War had been involved in extraordinary events. For example, Peter Maddox spoke of serving on the HMS Belfast and its pursuit of the German battle cruiser, the Scharnhorst. Although he was there at the sinking of the German ship there was more than a touch of emotion in his voice as he spoke of seeing it disappear after being constantly shelled. "It's sad to see another ship going down," he said. The gruelling times during the Battle of the Atlantic were re-collected through Cyril Rayment while days serving in the RAF came from Peter King and George Ellis. History may tell us of the events of the Second World War in clinical detail, but here were the people involved on a day-to-day basis: the people, indeed, who did not know whether the next day would be their last. It's true to say they recalled the horror of war. This was especially so from Ron Smith, a veteran in the Burma campaign who was captured and was made to work on the Death Railway. Time has not dulled his memory and his graphic recollections of the time spent as a prisoner of war are a stark reminder of the reality of war. He is convinced to this day that the dropping of atomic bomb helped create a scenario which has prevented another world war. It was, to say the least, the most controversial part of the documentary. But Royston - a Town at War had, too, drama and humour. As Cllr Bill Prime, the Mayor of Royston, said at the end: "This is something that will live with me for the rest of my life." The second part of the documentary showed the role the Americans played in the war: especially those who were based at Bassingbourn, Steeple Morden and Nuthampstead. And during his research Mr Murphy unearthed footage of an original documentary the Hollywood director William Wyler shot of the last mission of the crew of the Memphis Belle: the Flying Fortress bomber that was based at Bassingbourn. He had a helping hand in explaining the impact of the Americans from Ken Wells, at Steeple Morden, and Malcolm Osborn, of the Nuthampsead Airfield Research Society. Speaking after the showing, Mr Murphy said: "Everyone who appeared in the documentary earned the right to say what they had to say." That, too, is true. As The Crow has reported in recent weeks, it took about 400 hours of editing from Mr Murphy and cameraman John Harwood to eventually create the documentary. "The impression I had before was that people were thinking it might be a bit amateurish. They were not expecting something which was so professional. "But it's not the kind of documentary that can be made with a hand-held video camera. It had to be done properly," said Mr Murphy. He was helped with a grant of more than £7,000 from the Lottery Home Recall Fund, which was set up to help projects revolving around the 60th anniversary of the ending of the Second World War. But, as Mr Murphy told the audience, the hours of work that went into the making of the documentary would have needed much more money. It was made through passion and dedication and a lot of determination. "We set out to cover every aspect and every angle of the war through the people who were living here and those who served," said Mr Murphy. "The chances are this will not be done again," he added. For those appearing in the documentary it is, perhaps, the last opportunity to talk about their experiences to such a public audience. But the documentary is about hope, too. The hope that coming generations will learn from the experiences of those who appeared and that they will not be called upon to be involved in such devastating events. That is the lesson from Royston - a Town at War - and we can all share that hope.

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