Today I received a message of thanks from a young person who has just returned from a visit to the Somme in France. She is a member of the National Youth Music Theatre who are performing in “Brass”, a musical which tells the stories of the Leeds Pals who were decimated on the first day of World War I’s Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916.
“My name is Kitty Watson and I am in the NYMT cast of Brass. I am absolutely exhausted this morning after arriving back in Leeds at 2:30am after a truly amazing trip to France where we visited the exact place where the Leeds pals went over the top on July 1st 100 years ago. It was a deeply moving experience and being from Yorkshire, I felt such pride as we showed our respect to the men of Leeds who took their lives for our country. This trip has allowed us, as actors, to have an in depth understanding of WW1 and we learnt so much about the Leeds Pals. We will take this knowledge and this experience on stage with us in our performance in Brass at the end of August.”
Yet, sitting in my inbox alongside the email from were dozens of messages from partners around the world, shock and stunned by the Brexit vote, anxious about the future, but setting out their continued support for Leeds and the work that we do together, be that in culture, education or economic development.
Later this week the Leader of Leeds City Council will play host to politicians from both Lille in France and Siegen in Germany, two of Leeds’ European partner cities. They will stand shoulder to shoulder in remembering those who fell in World War I. The city of Leeds signed up to these “twin city” agreements in the 1960s in a wave of post war city partnerships, which were created to promote peace and cooperation between the peoples of Europe; the premise was that the nations of Europe should never go to war again.
As we prepare for this week of commemoration, it is a time for reflection about Leeds as a European city and how we should continue to engage with our partners not just in Europe, but across the world, upholding and honouring these principles of peace and cooperation.