Exploration of the connections between Music and the FEPOW experience proved very fruitful in two areas...

Considering how the female choirs in the FEPOW camps made famous in the film of "Paradise Road" helped to raise morale and survival rates


Examining how one man's quest to make a musical instrument helped him to survive... the story of Tom Boardman.

Activity 1: Songs of survival and hope - The female choir

Choir performing live on BBC local radio on 9 November 2010.Pensby has a thriving choir and  the music teacher was keen to explore the way that in the camps human voices were trained to sound like instruments so that classical music could be performed.

A small sub-section of the choir was formed of eight senior girls. They took two favourite songs “You Raise Me Up” and another entitled “I Am A Small Part of the World”. Working with their teacher the girls experimented with humming parts of the choral arrangements to sound like a collection of instruments. They were first introduced to the history behind the idea and afterwards one pupil commented: “Thinking that we were trying something that had  first been done by women in severe hardship as a way of raising their spirits was an uplifting experience”.

The choir attended the Researching FEPOW History conference at The National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire in October and performed before a large audience of FEPOW, their families and international historians.

Then on 9th November 2010 they performed live on Roger Phillip's Phone-in Show on BBC Radio Merseyside. Listen to an extract here, introduced by Jill Thompson, Head of English at Pensby High School for Girls:

The choir was much appreciated at the conference. Music was a bridge between the present generation and the past and further study in school explored the human need for music as a way of commemorating and sustaining people in times of hardship.

Activity 2: Making a musical instrument from scratch…

Sitting in a case in the Imperial War Museum North is FEPOW Tom Boardman’s ukulele preserved for  people now and in the future to admire.

For the story of how Tom made the ukulele follow the link .

In Year s 7 and 8 at Pensby in Art and Music pupils study instruments of the world and how clever ideas with locally available materials have resulted in the diversity of shapes, sizes and resultant sounds of a range of musical apparatus from different countries. These triumphs of imagination and resourcefulness are a testament to the human spirit and highlight the need for music to help unite communities, entertaining both the musician and their audiences and speaking directly to the human spirit.

After studying this pupils spend time designing and creating their own instruments from odd materials in their own homes and they share these with the class. This work will be familiar to Music and Art departments in secondary schools everywhere, but how wonderful to be able to enrich this study with a living example of just such resourcefulness in the shape of Tom Boardman who created the ukulele in the camps for his own and others’ amusement, to keep up morale and to pass the heavy weight of time. His determination not to be downcast but to create something within that hell must surely have helped him and others to survive.

He visited the IWM North (see the section on Trips for full information about organising a visit there to see the ukulele) and the school took the whole of Year 7 to meet him. He is ably assisted by his proud son Ron who may be willing in future years to visit schools.

It is a truly inspirational story which really focused the girls on their studies, not least by the fact that they could actually see the ukulele out of the cabinet which amazingly he managed to bring home to England despite the  conditions in the various camps he was interned within.