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Page last updated at 13:36 GMT, Monday, 26 October 2009
Blackouts, bobbies and bombs
PC talking to kids
What life was really like on the beat

Jo Irving
BBC Devon

Crime stories come to life across Devon as a group of teenagers get to grips with what it was really like to be a police officer during the war.

The youngsters along with professionals will research, write and perform a play based on the real life experiences of wartime bobbies.

Artistic Director Jon Croose said: "We need to have a strong dramatic crime story to engage the youngsters."

The auditions start now for three performances in February 2010.

The whole idea is a collaboration between Devon Arts in Schools Initiative (DAISI), Devon's Youth Theatre and the Devon and Cornwall Police Heritage Learning Resource, based in Okehampton.

youngsters workshop
Stop thief! The teenagers get a chance to tell real life stories

Jon Croose from Devon Youth Theatre told BBC Devon: "This is a real chance to break down barriers between the police, young people and museums.

"We've already heard about a gang of counterfeiters who were faking coins during the war.

"And one retired police officer told us about the part he played kicking incendiary bombs off the roof of Exeter Cathedral to stop it catching fire."

Workshops in Exeter, Okehampton and Totnes will put the 14 to 19-year-olds, keen to take part, through their paces.

Then, Devon and Cornwall Police Heritage Learning Resource Officer Mikhal Brandstatter introduces the group to former police officers.

She thinks it's important for the budding actors to meet the real people in the force during the 1940s to hear their wartime stories, and with one workshop already done she knows it was a rewarding experience.

"They couldn't believe what people had to go through during the war, like walking two miles for an orange or getting a comb for Christmas.

"The only real experience these youngsters have of war is hearing it from their friends whose fathers are in the services."

Jon adds: "Youngsters don't realise how few police officers there actually were then.

"You may have had two or three guys to cover a massive area compared to what we have today."

Young people
Professional artists work with the youngsters to get the play off the ground

After they are picked from the workshops, some 25 youngsters will go on to two theatre boot-camps in January 2010.

They will also forfeit their February half term with intensive rehearsals, ending with three productions in three different places across the county.

Jon says: "It's going to be hard work, but really good fun and it's a great chance for teenagers to work alongside professionals."

This oral history project is not just about breaking down barriers but about collecting some great material for the force's heritage archive as well as linking young and old to mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.

The national programme is called Veterans Reunited and Mikhal was successful in her bid for £10,000 of Big Lottery and Museums Libraries and Archives money to put towards the project.

"Up until now we haven't had the funding to be able to put together an oral history of former police officers serving during the war.

"This is a great opportunity for young people to get involved in an exciting piece of creative work which will preserve and honour people's memories."

You can find out how to get involved using the link at the top of this page.

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