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Soldiers in Château Wood near Hooge, 29th October 1917 • Photo by Frank Hurley

Local cultural organisation Portsmouth Poetry have been awarded a grant of £10,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for their project ‘I Died In Hell’, commemorating the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

Awarded through HLF’s ‘First World War then and now’ programme, the project will focus on telling the story of Portsmouth people who participated in one of the worst conflicts of the First World War.

The project will research participation by soldiers and civilians from Portsmouth in the battle which claimed over half a million lives.

The experiences of local people will be illustrated in a month-long exhibition in Portsmouth Cathedral as part of Portsmouth Festivities 2017, and the results of the research will be shown on the Guildhall Big Screen and preserved in a digital archive.

Following the exhibition, lectures and presentations will be available to local organisations and community groups. A schools project for those aged 11 to 14 will enable local children to continue the investigation into this important piece of local history.

Soldiers and naval personnel fought in the battle from July to November 1917 in some of the worst conditions experienced in WW1 as members of local regiments including the Hampshire, Sussex and Dorset regiments, the Second ‘Pompey Pals’ brigade and the 63rd Royal Naval Division. Three local men were awarded the Victoria Cross.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a specially-commissioned performance inspired by the works of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and other WW1 poets, in Portsmouth Cathedral on June 20th, presenting the human cost of Passchendaele through words, music, and imagery.

The performance is supported by the New Theatre Royal and the University of Portsmouth’s Department of Creative Technology.

Portsmouth Poetry is a mixed-arts voluntary organisation which launched during Festivities 2016 to bring performance, educational, and community projects based upon poetry in the city and was responsible for performances by Sam Cox the city’s poet laureate and the iconic John Cooper Clarke.

The Passchendaele project is supported by the Portsmouth Festivities, Portsmouth Cathedral and the New Theatre Royal. The research investigation by local archivist Donna Bish is aided by the Gateways to the First World War at the University of Portsmouth, the Pompey Pals Project and Alan Lashley of Portsmouth WW1 Research.

Commenting on the award, Josh Brown, Chair of Portsmouth Poetry, said: “The enormous contribution to Passchendaele made by the people of Portsmouth and the suffering they endured is an important part of the city’s and our own history. We are thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund in helping us to make these experiences known and preserving this heritage for the future.”

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