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One Day in December


This book is dedicated to all those who strive to promote peace in a challenging world, in particular teachers and educators everywhere.

One Day in December

D.B. Lewis

with Len Friskney

Wilfred Owen, The Bombardment and Scarborough in the First World War

Also by D.B. Lewis

A Little Bit of Trouble in London

Plotting Shed (Ed.)

Great Aunts and Armadillos

Return to Premantura

A Wedding in Hvar





Chapter 1: Wilfred Owen in Scarborough

Chapter 2: Life at the Clifton Hotel

Chapter 3: The Owen Map and Trail

Chapter 4: Scarborough and the First World War

Chapter 5: ‘One Day in December’

Chapter 6: Community Theatre: Production Notes

Chapter 7: Owen’s Legacy


Select Bibliography


I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all those who have supported this work in whatever way and in particular; Stewart Macdonald and Mark Vesey of the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre; my co-author Len Friskney; David and Angela Chalmers; Liz Baxter and Julie Vinson and all the staff at The Clifton Hotel; David Henderson of the Western Front Association; Adrian Perry of Scarborough Civic Society; the Cuxhaven Naval Museum, Germany; Meg Crane and Sam Gray of the Wilfred Owen Association; Simon Powell of the Britannia Hotel Group; Denise Gilfoyle; the Outreach Department at the Stephen Joseph Theatre; Ali Watts and John Patterson of Beach Hut Theatre Company for their constant theatrical inspiration; Robert Parkinson of Blue Sky Graphics; Mark Haynes, Elsa Monteith and all the performers and staff at Westborough Methodist Church, Scarborough; the late Joyce Bell, artist and poet, together with Jonathan Brown, lecturer at the Worker’s Education Association for inspiring my interest in Owen and the war poets; Rob Webb and Liam Kitto at Bryn Stowe Publications; Debbie Seymour, Andrew Clay, Esther Graham, Jennifer Dunne and Ruth Yoxon of Scarborough Museums Trust; Wayne Murray of the Proposed Scarborough Social History Museum; Callum Nash for the cast and rehearsal photographs; all the staff and students at Scalby School, Scarborough, in particular Liz Stockhill and Paul Offord, who are so welcoming in my visits; all my colleagues in the International Police Association Writer’s Forum, both here and abroad for their continued support and friendship in all things literary; to Rod Jarman, Adrian Rabot and Ed Sherry of the London Policing College and Youth United for providing me with both inspiration and work; to Sue Wilkinson and The Scarborough Evening News (formerly Gazette) for help with publicity and press cuttings; Sylvia Anderson, Mirko Esquivel, Theresa Reichelt and Nadine Otto of the publishers ‘tredition’ for their support and advice; Liz Dyer, North Yorkshire County English Advisor and Regional Coordinator for the National Literacy Trust; all the staff and volunteers at Newby and Scalby Library, in particular Lesley Newton; Mark Marsay of Great Northern Publishing in Scarborough; Doug, Louise, Evie, Will and Hugh Stanway; Mike Bortoft at St Martin’s on the Hill; and Felix Hodcroft, Tony Howson, Mark Thompson, Heather Stoner, Jo Reed Turner, Dorinda Cass (of the Scarborough Writers’ Circle), Wanda Maciusko, Jen Thomas, Sandy Sandevik; and almost finally, to all my other fellow authors and performers in Yorkshire for their constant help in sustaining the various writing and theatrical endeavours we all seem to become involved in. A final thank you to fellow author, Maria Fuller, who as a very professional PA, has promised to sort out my incommodious filing systems, and to my wife, Sonia, for once again supervising the proof reading.

The cover imagery is an artistic photographic creation from the 2014 production of ‘One Day in December’ entitled ‘Futility’ by David Chalmers. I am grateful to him and to Angela Chalmers for the use and reproduction of their art in this work. The cover wording and rear imagery is by Liam Kitto of Bryn Stowe Publications, Scarborough.


In memory of

Mark Gay

(Musical Director, ‘One Day in December’)

Lillian Roberts

(‘Voice’ in the Westborough production of the play).


Joyce Bell

(Artist & poet; the original inspiration for this work).

‘Wilfred Owen in Scarborough’

Digital montage created by
Robert Parkinson, 2018, for Bryn Stowe Publications


‘Why Remember?’

By David Henderson

The Western Front Association

The tumultuous events that occurred during 1914-18 have had a special resonance since the centenary commemorations of the Great War. In so many ways the events of that time have shaped what we are today.

The legacies of the early 20th century such as the broader cataclysm that was the eventual rise of Nazism and the Second World War, or the social and political movements of trade unionism and female emancipation, gained a heightened definition in the crucible of the Great War conflict.

To know what we are today, we should seek to understand why nations were moved to fight and why individuals on all sides rallied to their respective causes. We can understand by remembering Wilfred Owen and what he and countless other combatants saw, felt and suffered. We can remember the many who came back and endured through the difficult post-war years. And we can learn much from those who stayed at home to support the troops, coped with the stresses and strains of bereavement, and suffered countless other privations whilst feeding the furnace of total war.

The loss of the last of the veterans has put the Great War just beyond our reach. But we have been bequeathed a rich canon of literature, imagery and art from the conflict to help us better remember.

When we remember, we can learn and we can understand. And that is the very least we owe such a remarkable generation.

David G Henderson

The Western Front Association


The Western Front Association is a Registered Charity No. 298365

The logo of the Wilfred Owen Association

Introduction: The Owen in Scarborough Story

by D. B. Lewis

Thank you for delving into this book; hopefully within these pages you will find ideas, stimulation or a confirmation of your own feelings about the destructive nature of any war or any conflict, big or small. The book has been published to commemorate the message that Wilfred Owen was trying to impart to us through the poetry that had its origins in his time spent in Scarborough in 1917 and 1918.

The message tells us of the need to strive for peaceful ways of settling our global disputes and it is this that formed the justification for this book to add to the many now existing about Owen. It is in an amalgam of several separate strands of this same message that took place throughout the commemorative years of 2014 to 2018 and are now produced in this one volume.

It is hoped that many people will enjoy the book for itself, even if they have no thought of performing the piece of community theatre that appears within the story. The play was originally intended for community performances such as those produced within schools, clubs or uniformed youth organisations as a way of bringing individuals together through one performance project, but it has resonance for the general reader and all those who visit, or care for, the wonderfully enigmatic seaside town of Scarborough.

In April 2014, I wrote and produced ‘One Day in December’ as a community theatre production for that year’s Scarborough Literature Festival, later to become ‘Books by the Beach’. It was a commemoration about the start of the First World War in 1914 and, by the end of the project over 120 people had become involved; 100 people alone being involved in the play itself.

Owen wrote over 80 ‘war poems’, three of which feature in the play and accompanying art installation; ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth,’ ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Futility.’ Together with his many letters which are in their own right a rich insight into the life and times of a war poet and his circle, they show a progression from outright angry indignation at the loss and slaughter of young lives, move through a bitter, almost helpless despair, to end up with what appears to be a softer resignation of what Owen probably saw as his own death only months away. He was killed in action leading his men across the Sambre-Oise Canal at Ors just one week before the war ended. His parents were told of his death on the very day the Armistice was signed. I was inspired by fellow writer and artist, Joyce Bell to write about Owen and Scarborough as well as highlighting the effect war had on the townspeople, then and now. The idea of staging a community theatre production linking these themes arose from that moment.

I was formerly a member of the Metropolitan Police Central Youth Team in London and later a co-ordinator with ‘Youth United’, working with the Prince’s Charities at Dumfries House in Scotland, and it was through these experiences that I discovered the real value of bringing disparate groups of people of all ages together. The community theatre concept came directly from that experience as the groups involved in the production were drawn largely from the ‘Uniformed Youth’ groups of Westborough Methodist Church in Scarborough.

With the production came the first small edition of this book, in the form of an extended programme with interesting insights into the ‘Owen in Scarborough’ and ‘Bombardment’ stories. During the writing of that work, I met and worked with two local people with whom it was a real joy to be associated; Mark Vesey from the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre, and Len Friskney, the ‘general factotum’ at The Clifton Hotel, where Wilfred Owen was first billeted on his arrival in Scarborough in 1917. Both of these people readily agreed to contribute to this work and I am very grateful to them both for their dedicated efforts in helping to keep the legacy of Owen and the First World War alive in the area. In 2017, I spent some time with the students and staff at the wonderfully supportive and disciplined Scalby School in Scarborough. There, I witnessed the teaching of Owen and his legacy in the classrooms and well-stocked library and truly felt that the teachers and educators of today were alive to the importance of the messages Owen was trying to impart.

Finally, in 2018, we, the Production Team at Bryn Stowe Publications with its theatre producing arm, ‘TAFAT’, launched the ‘Owen Map and Trail’, a guided tour around the Owen sites with the support of many of the connected Scarborough organisations. This has proved very popular and copies of the map can be obtained, free of charge, at the key places of the trail. This work provides a deeper insight into those sites and acts as a source of ‘background information’ for the play and its settings.

Whether you are planning to produce a piece of community theatre about the First World War, walking the Owen Trail, or visiting any of the fascinating historic sites of Scarborough connected to the story then this book should be a source of help and interest. We all hope you will find a message of hope for the future within its pages.

Central to the memory of Wilfred Owen in Scarborough, nestling just below the North York Moors and hugging the North Sea which forms a part of this story, is Len Friskney of the Clifton Hotel.

Meeting Len for the first time was like stepping back into the history books of a great long- established hotel…modest, hardworking, neat, a gentleman and character from the old school of hotel life, a life which is in danger of slipping away under the seas of plush décor, designer bars and the all too familiar cut of silver-grey, tidy corporate conformity with zero hours contracted holiday staff.

I first went to the Clifton Hotel in search of Wilfred Owen for the short story from which the play in this work was then derived. It is a well-trodden path but, like other things in Scarborough, underrated by many - even by its own inhabitants. The Civic Society blue plaque was fading and there was little to tell me that this was one of the important venues of the Owen story as well as an essential marker on the First World War historic trail. I felt it was particularly important in the story of the futility of war with its need to continually search for an end to the conflict and global catastrophes that Owen gave us so poignantly, and powerfully, over one hundred years ago.

Talking with Len and seeing the hotel, feeling the ambient stillness together with the view from Owen’s ‘Five Windowed Turret Room’, led to the writing of ‘One Day in December’; firstly, as a short story and then as a community stage play. I interviewed Len by his fascinating Owen foyer display in the Clifton Hotel on a number of occasions. He came into the offices of the theatre company I was then running at Woodend, the creative arts centre in The Crescent, Scarborough and there, he recounted the story which he has now graciously agreed to have used in this work.

Fig 2: Part of Len Friskney’s ‘Owen’ Display at The Clifton Hotel

Chapter 1:

Wilfred Owen in Scarborough

by Len Friskney

These two chapters are about Wilfred Owen, the First World War and Owen’s association with Scarborough, in particular with the Clarence Gardens Hotel, now The Clifton Hotel on Queen’s Parade. In the foyer of the hotel is a display dedicated to the poet and soldier which I have put together and maintained over the past few years. Owen was posted to the hotel after he had become a patient at Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh after suffering from ‘neurasthenia’ (‘Shell Shock’ or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, as we would now call it). He was stunned after having an accident at Bouchoir in France where he fell down a well.

He resumed duties after that incident, but in April 1917 a shell exploded near him whilst he was asleep. His Commanding Officer recognised the symptoms of shell shock and sent him back to ‘Blighty’. While in the hospital he was examined by a Dr Brock who favoured an ‘Occupation Cure’, and so Owen was encouraged to continue writing and in so doing this helped him to recover as well as helping to develop his own poetic style. Owen had an interest in writing poetry from a young age.

Owen’s thoughts, feelings, emotions and his own experiences of the horrors of war were expressed in his poems as a serving soldier and his phrase ‘My subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity’ is well known, appearing as it does on the War Poets’ Memorial in Westminster Abbey.