The World War I centenary year has captured public interest and received widespread coverage on TV, radio and in the press. Consequently, the first few months of 2014 have proved to be particularly busy for historian, and former Shiplake teacher Jon Cooksey. Jon left Shiplake at the end of the 2013 Autumn Term, in order to dedicate himself to increasing work commitments associated with the impending centenary year. Judging by his endeavours since then, this look to be a wise decision!
In March, Jon featured in television documentary 'Hidden Histories – WW1's Forgotten Photographs', screened on BBC4. In the programme, Jon told the story of Harry Colver, a soldier who took his camera into the trenches in 1915, and captured some marvellous images. The programme proved to be popular as it was ‘pick of the day’ in the Radio Times and the story was featured in several Sunday papers.
On another recent trip, Jon took black professional footballer and ex PFA Chairman Clarke Carlisle to France as part of BBC Radio 4's World War One at Home programme. With an IQ of over 150, Clarke is regarded as Britain’s most intelligent footballer and has made regular television appearances on programmes such as Question Time and Countdown. He is also well known for campaigning against racism and inequality in football, and is an ambassador for the ‘Kick It Out’ scheme.
Clarke and Jon were in France to follow and investigate the story of Walter Tull. Walter was one of the first black professional footballers and the first black officer in the British Army. Clarke and Jon are pictured examining an unexploded shell near the spot where Walter was killed in action on 25 March 1918. His body was never found.
A third interesting project for Jon was a separate visit to France with Rev Richard Coles. Some of you may remember listening (or dancing) to Don't Leave Me This Way by the Communards. Classically-trained Richard was one half of the Communards pop duo, and nowadays co-presents BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live.
The purpose of the trip was to explore the life of Lt Col Bernard Vann. An ordained priest, Vann was killed attacking the German Fonsomme Line near Ramicourt on 3 October 1918, just four days after the action for which he received the Victoria Cross. This is the highest military honour in Britain, awarded for ‘valour in the face of the enemy’. Bernard was also awarded the Military Cross and Medal Bar. Jon and Richard are pictured at Bernard’s grave at Bellicourt British Cemetery.