Volunteers’ workshop – flash fiction with Instigate Arts

By Sarah Reynolds, volunteer

Heather the archivist in R.N.C.M. and the woman responsible for creating and bringing the ‘Making Music in Manchester in WW1’ to life, teamed up with Instigate Arts to deliver creative workshops on the project. Together they have picked out a narrative from some of the material I have helped to digitise, and will be working with it in a variety of creative ways to help bring the past to life. My workshop was a creative writing workshop, something I have not had a lot of time for since finishing college, so it was nice to get writing again.

Two images had been chosen from the archive, the aim was to create a piece of flash fiction. Flash fiction is a cross between an extended poem and a very short story, which was a nice challenge as I had not encountered or worked with this genre formally before.


One image is of the Brodsky Quartet, the leader was Adolph Brodsky who was very important to both the R.N.C.M. and The Halle. Adolph Brodsky was travelling around Europe when war broke out and was interned for a few months. The second image is of an orchestra made up of interned civilians in the Ruhleben Internment Camp, on the back of this photo is some writing in German.

Both men’s experiences are representative of many who were at the wrong place at the wrong time when war was declared and were arrested and eventually released. Musicians had to travel to earn their living and this was problematic in wartime as the authorities were suspicious of people who moved round a lot, especially if they were of a foreign nationality or had dual nationality, and were treated as a potential threat to national security as spies etc.

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Early in the war musicians, doctors, businessmen, students etc. who were in the wrong place at the wrong time when war broke out, and missed their last chance to leave. This made them ‘Enemy Aliens’ and they were put into camps where they waited to be processed, some spent the whole war in the camps. The Brodsky Quartet was made up of Mr. Adolph Brodsky, Mr. Rawden Briggs, Mr. Simon Speelman, and Mr. Carl Fuchs. Carl Fuchs was visiting his mother in Germany when WW1 broke out and he was arrested on suspicion of being an allied spy, and was put into the Ruhleben Internment Camp. The photo of the Ruhleben Orchestra was given to Carl Fuchs when he arrived back in Manchester, he was one of several professional musicians who were in the orchestra.

We created two pieces of creative writing during our session, my first piece I originally decided to base on the structure of a sonnet. Whilst I have forgotten some of the intricacies of the sonnet I did restrict my poem to fourteen lines. I decided to keep it anonymous so that most people could be able to identify with the story of going to see their mother and being arrested, despite being a musician and not a threat to the German authorities. My second piece I based on what I imagined life would be within the camp, although a lot of creative license was used as I was not familiar with Ruhleben at the time.

Ruhleben was a civilian detention camp located to the West of Berlin, it was a horse racing track before the war. Ruhleben was for mostly British civilian men who were in Germany at the time war was declared. The detainees were allowed to regulate their own affairs by the German authorities, so items like books, a printing press which created the magazine ‘In Ruhleben Camp’ in 1915, sports equipment and of course the Ruhleben Musical Society were created and run by the detainees.

I had not heard of Rhleben until the workshop and I have since looked into it, and have found various informative articles and institutions like the National Archives and the BBC have information on the camp and is well worth going through to better understand what civilians went through, when they were arrested and sent to prison camps.

Now if I was to rewrite my work I would be able to give a more accurate literary description within my idea of camp life for a musician. I really enjoyed the session and enjoyed learning more about the individual stories of the Brodsky Quartet and Mr Carl Fuchs.

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