Written by Carole Sowden
As Harrogate Theatre Choir perfect their performance for their Remembrance Day concert You Must Remember This, they feel proud and privileged to list among their members nonagenarian, Frank Ward, a man who really does remember.
The youngest of five children, aged just seven, Frank remembers with clarity and emotion, hearing the declaration of war on the radio. He remembers too having to carry his gasmask to school and learn how to fit it in an emergency. The practice in schools was to adopt, and write to, battleships and Frank recalls corresponding with Peter Sanderson, a cook on HMS Hood and being given the sad news that it had been sunk by the Bismark with only a handful of survivors.
Bombs fell around his hometown of Northallerton but for Frank and his friends the smoldering craters provided an exciting if somewhat dangerous, playground.
At the age of ten, Frank’s family moved to Richmond to be close to his father’s work liaising with Catterick Camp. Frank attended the Methodist School where even the harsh discipline of the Headteacher directed at boys who, like Frank, were unfamiliar with scales and staves, did nothing to dampen his love of music.
A chorister from the age of seven, singing has always been a huge part of Frank’s life. He formed a quartet with friends at Richmond Grammar School encouraged by a new breed of enthusiastic young teachers returning from the war.
A keen cricketer, it was a chance meeting during a match which led Frank to join the cast of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. He recalls his only line was ‘Bagels, fresh bagels!’ but from then on he was hooked on musicals.
As part of the 1000 voice choir founded by NODA and later the Sing Live Choir he has travelled the world, singing at the Vatican, Ground Zero, cathedrals and cruise ships and even in the Disneyworld Parade where he says he forgave Snow White for standing on his foot because she was so beautiful!
Following the war, Frank joined his father’s former regiment, the Green Howards, to complete his National Service. He was captivated by the swagger and glamour of two visiting paratroopers and volunteered for the Parachute Regiment. Frank has lost none of his skill and courage and made national headlines when, at the age of 90, he jumped from 15,000 feet to raise money for state-of-the-art wheelchairs for the Care Home where his wife, Margaret, is a resident.
The war holds some very sad memories for Frank. His older brother, Alan, joined the RAF and flew Spitfires on many missions. Frank has every one of his brother’s letters, carefully typed and bound, a fascinating and personal insight into the courage, resilience and optimism of the young men who enlisted. In his last letter he wrote ‘…I’d do another five years if it would bring me home for good. Home is a bright light in the distance – a lovely word.’ Tragically, Alan’s plane was shot down over Italy, just weeks before the war ended. He was 21. Italian partisans buried him in a nearby village but he was later re-interred in the Commonwealth War Grave in Padua enabling Frank to visit his brother’s grave.
Frank thinks it’s important that people learn about and remember the war, sentiments that are central to the concert where he will be enriching the bass section with his beautiful voice.
The performance will include Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man (Choral suite) A Mass for Peace, reflecting on ‘the most war-torn and destructive century in human history’ yet looking forward in hope to a peaceful future.
Additional material will include music by John Ireland, Lloyd Webber and, rarely performed WWI Harrogate composer, Ernest Farrah.
Interwoven narration by The Unknown Soldier, with projected backdrop will create an eclectic and inventive evening of remembrance. Expect powerful choral music, emotional words and poetry, stirring imagery…and barbed wire.