Away from the front the floor was ablaze with white, yellow and blue flowers.

 

The story of WW1 soldiers observing a truce on Christmas Day 1914, to partake in an impromptu game of football has touched many. Perhaps it is the raw humanity in this story, shining through the bloodshed and horror of men killing one another in the trenched fields, which has made it so famous.

Perhaps we are surprised to hear of the softer side of these men, revealed momentarily even in war.  Perhaps we should not be surprised at all.

‘Regeneration’, the Grow Wild funded youth project from 20-year-old Zak Douglas, an actor and director with the Central Youth Theatre in Wolverhampton, explores another side to WW1 using film and spoken word.

“I’d been doing a lot of research into WW1 and I thought to myself, I wonder if there’s a different side to this story, a different viewpoint” Zak says.  

Through reading the diaries of WW1 soldiers, Zak discovered a strong appreciation for nature, which seemed unanimous amongst the men.

“They literally lived in it [nature], in the muddy trenches for weeks. They lived closer to nature than they had done for centuries and it was important to them. The only upside of their situation was this appreciation for nature,” he says, “The diaries I read were full of lists of birds and flowers and snatches of emotion.”

The film explores what life was like for the soldiers in the trenches and their connection to nature, interweaving landscapes and wildflowers we can enjoy today, with excerpts from their diaries.  

“I wanted to use their words,” Zak says.

“I cannot recollect any spring that thrilled me more. Man might destroy himself and his civilisation through the incredible stupidity of war, but the annual rebirth of nature continues. Here is something assured and permanent. An established truth in a world of constantly altering values.” 

Zak regularly goes out for walks in the woods near where he lives, taking his younger brothers and sisters with him.

“I want ‘Regeneration’ to make people think about something they never considered before,” Zak says, “A lot of people these days don’t appreciate how beautiful England actually is. Especially if you live in a built-up city. But just down the road, there’s all this beauty, you don’t have to go far. They [the soldiers] lived in war and they still appreciated nature.”

“There was always succour in nature's redemptive healing of a mutilated countryside. Nature is elemental, eternal, unvanquished. Even when war descended in all its fury, nature was quick to reclaim and re-beautify.”

The film will be showing as part of Grow Wild’s Youth Takeover Exhibition at Summerhall, Edinburgh June 24 to July 9. On the opening night, Zak and a fellow member of their project will perform a spoken word piece, made up of dairy entries, in what is sure to be a moving moment for all.

“But away from the front, the floor was ablaze with white, yellow and blue flowers. The luxuriance was so unexpected, as to make me feel as though I was in a fairy story. I had inadvertently broken into some secret and privileged place where I had no business to be.”