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Writer inspires war museum
A WARTIME novel – written by a former Northwich teacher – has inspired a week of activities at one of Britain’s most popular museums.
The Machine Gunners was written by the late Robert Westall and is now a feature attraction at IWM North, which is part of the Imperial War Museums.
“His story talks about children during the war and the secret world they kept from adults so it is something young people today can still relate to,” said Odile Masia, Exhibitions Co-ordinator at IWM North.
Visitors to the museum will this week be able to crawl into fortresses and listen to the stories of the book’s characters through specially-created audio scenes dramatised by Oldham Theatre Workshop.
Other activities include making model planes and viewing a Second World War machine gun as well as shrapnel found at Trafford Park.
The Machine Gunners is part of the museum’s ‘Once Upon A Wartime’ exhibition and tells the tale of a group of children during the Second World War.
They set up a fortress while their town is frequently bombed and the story is based on Robert’s time in Tyneside.
The former head of art at Sir John Deane’s Grammar School wrote 48 books and was the first author to win the Carnegie prize twice. Earlier this year his partner Lindy McKinnel revealed the story was not meant for publication.
“Robert wrote the story for his son Christopher because he wanted to show him what it was like when he had been a boy of 12 during the war,” she said.
“When he had written it and read it through, he threw it in a drawer and didn’t do anything else about it. As I was his friend I asked if I could read it and told him he should get it published.”
Robert, who died 19 years ago, sent it to publishers Collins who declined it before Lindy suggested he tried again.
She added that Robert was ‘very pleased and surprised’ when the story was published by Macmillan in 1975.
Now a new audience are discovering his words and getting to experience a little of what he wrote about when they visit the Imperial War Museum.
“You can now enter the kind of fortress that he wrote about in the book, which is something that is popular with children and adults,” said Odile.