Boy Soldiers: voices from the Great War

Boy Soldiers: voices from the Great War, is a short film, commissioned by the Museum of London which tries to imagine some of the experiences of boy soldiers in the trenches.

No one aged under 18 should have been able to sign up, yet we know that over 250,000 boys fought in the war.

Research carried out by John Shepherd at Islington Museum found that over 50 boys from Islington alone joined up and never came back. The names of these Islington boys create the backdrop for the film.

Actors from Islington’s Young Actors Theatre give voice to their peers from 100 years ago and in so doing try to bridge the gap of the intervening century connecting the generations together. Scenes filmed at a reconstructed trench are juxtaposed with teenagers in contemporary Islington locations interspersed with archive footage some of it taken from the Imperial War Museum.

The film was conceived, written and directed by artist and film maker, Mark Maxwell and produced in collaboration with Islington based Three Legged Theatre Company  Mark Maxwell has over 20 years experience creating artworks, video and paintings. A common theme in his work is the transformation of materials and their reformation to show qualities not normally visible. Founded in 1990, Three Legged Theatre Company focus on commissioning and developing new writing. They have produced 14 plays including a national tour. This is their first foray into film.

The film was shot on location at a reconstructed trench in Charlwood, Surrey and at Barnard Park and the Young Actors Theatre in Islington. It was funded through Arts Council England.

We hope that the film will stimulate debate and discussion around the Great War.

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The Streets They Left Behind – the animation

In 2014/15 Islington Museum received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create an educational resource to complement The Streets They Left Behind (STLB Mapping Project).

The map 

The STLB is an interactive map commemorating all those with Finsbury and Islington connections who died in the First World War. The project focused on the streets where these men and women lived and worked before they left for war. Each casualty is represented by a poppy on the interactive map at their last known address. Local war memorials and schools are also highlighted on the map. 

During the project we discovered many powerful, heart-breaking stories about the devastating impact of the First World War on those who lived in Finsbury and Islington.


Animation resource

There were stories of great bravery, tragic loss and remarkable fortitude. We decided to create an educational resource to help share some of these stories and support schools, educational settings and individuals to access the STLB map.

In Spring Term 2015 Islington Museum worked with artist Amanda Wayne and pupils from St John Evangelist Roman Catholic Primary School to create a stop frame animation introducing users to the STLB map. Pupils from Mars and Jupiter classes investigated some of the themes and stories within the map, before focusing on six stories to tell through animation.

Stories include

  • Recruitment in Islington
  • Victor Hember, the tragic story of a family searching for their son after the battle of the Somme
  • Alfred Smith, a remarkable hero who gave his life to save others during a bombing raid on London
  • Captain Frederick Parslow, one of our local Victoria Cross recipients
  • Clara Shead, a brave women caught up in one of the tragedies of the war
  • War widows

Mars and Jupiter learnt how to create stop frame animations, from story-boarding, to creating their own props and photographing frames, very, very slowly! The final editing was completed by Amanda.

Please watch our animation before looking at the STLB resource. We hope it will inspire you to research, uncover and commemorate the remarkable lives of our local men and women who died in the war.

Using the STLB map:

Local schools have used the map in a number of different ways to explore the impact of the First World War in Islington.

  • Ashmount and Drayton Park Primary Schools used the data for a whole school remembrance project. Each class did a workshop with the museum looking at the resource, focusing on individual stories. Each class then chose a different person from the resource who lived near the school to remember.
  • Samuel Rhodes Primary Unit created their own ‘Tower of London’ poppy memorial in their school corridor. Each pupil made a poppy for a different person from the resource.
  • Samuel Rhodes Senior School pupils used the resource to identify six men who had lived close to their school and died on the Western Front. They then researched these individuals, before finding their graves when they visited France and Belgium on the Battlefields Tour.
  • St John Evangelist Primary School chose to focus on two soldiers from the resource who lived near the school. They based their topic of WWI around these soldier’s lives. They researched their early life in Islington using census records and other archival material, before using geography to explore their military careers and the impact of the First World War on their lives and family.

If you’d like to find out more about these project or replicate them within your school do get in touch.


“Thank you for this resource. Even though the children have heard figures about how many people died in the war, the visual impact of this on a local scale really struck a chord with them” (local teacher)

“What an amazing resource!! I’ve been engrossed all morning checking the areas I live in to find out who and what has happened. I’ve found my next door neighbour fought and died in the First World War” (local teacher)

“Only just looked at this email how amazing – will 100% be sharing in the morning with 4J” (local teacher)

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