On 21 August 1917, Nellie Spindler, a nurse from Wakefield in Yorkshire, was resting in her tent after a hard night-shift at the No.32 British Casualty Clearing Station in Brandhoek, Belgium, when a German shell fragment pierced the canvass, hit her and killed her.
The sacrifice of Nellie Spindler, and nurses in the First World War in general, has been the focus of a recent project involving the folk experimentalists and storytelling trio Harp and a Monkey – and they have released a video today (which you can view here) to mark the anniversary of Nellie’s death.
“Recent events to mark the centenary of the opening of the Third Battle of Ypres, or ‘Passchendaele’, have focused on the soldiers, but it would seem fitting today to spare a thought for the nursing staff, many of whom – like Nellie Spindler - were never too far from danger” said Martin Purdy, the band’s frontman and a First World War historian, said:
‘Clean White Sheets’ (The Nellie Spindler Song) was inspired by the work of secondary school children from Nellie’s home town, who worked with Professor Christine Hallett (from Manchester University), to remember the sacrifices of their local heroine, who was only in her mid-twenties when she died.
As well as performing their standard shows, Harp and a Monkey have spent the past two years highlighting different aspects of the First World War, and challenging stereotypes about it, by performing in unusual venues related to the conflict on home shores. This has seen the Lancashire trio perform to the inmates of a prison that once housed conscientious objectors; disabled veterans on a community purpose-built for the maimed in 1919; at the scene of a Zeppelin attack in the middle of the West Pennine Moors; at the former parish church of the most decorated First World War clergyman; inside the pithead of a mine that was crucial to the war effort; in front of the railway van that brought home the body of the Unknown Warrior; and on the site of a former First World War aerodrome.
First Show 10 September
The first show will be on Sunday, September 10 inside a First World War military hut in a farm field in Suffolk. More than 800,000 volunteers needed housing around the country after the outbreak of the war in 1914, and providing the huts to do so became the biggest building project of its kind ever undertaken. After the conflict, many of the huts went on to have useful lives and some are still found in communities around the country today under the guise of scout huts, churches, church halls and the like. A project is now underway (courtesy of the Khaki Devil organisation) to restore and preserve a number of these huts and build a museum around them, and it is this collection that will provide the backdrop to the Harp and a Monkey show at Brook Farm, Bells Lane, Hawstead, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP29 5NW. The show starts at 2pm, is free and suitable for all ages.
Second Show 30 September
The second show will be on Saturday, September 30 at the Heritage Centre in Crossgates Library, Leeds. This is the community that housed the Barnbow munitions factory during the First World War in which there was a huge explosion in December 1916 that killed 35 of the female workers and injured many more. Sadly, many of the dead could only be identified by discs with their names on that they wore around their necks. Because of the censorship at the time, the explosion was kept secret and production started again soon afterwards in the affected workroom. It would be six years after the end of the war before the story was made public. The memorial to the dead is near to the heritage centre on Farm Road, which also hosts an exhibition about the event. The show starts at 1pm, is free and once again suitable for all ages.
The performances include field recordings and interviews with veterans, new songs and re-workings of traditional and contemporaneous songs. The shows are tied to the band’s critically acclaimed third album ‘War Stories’, which was described by the likes of The Observer as “bold and brilliant”.