War Table

By Gail Swainston, Head of history, Dover Girls Grammar School | 18 July 2010

War Table, a project by Dover Grammar School for Girls, was a multimedia reconstruction of a World War 2 plotting table. The Head of History, Gail Swainston, and Art teacher Trudie Beaney, worked with a mixed group of Year 8 and 6th form students to create a War Table in plasticine.

Boy on telephone in secret wartme tunnels in Dover Castle

Boy on telephone in secret wartime tunnels in Dover Castle © English Heritage

Using original WW2 uniforms, the Year 8 students enacted a raid at sea, and the whole event was filmed in stop frame animation. The filming – 15 frames per second – was carried out by two independent documentary film-makers who also instructed the students in this technique and provided workshops, so that the 6th formers were able to do some of the filming themselves.

From start to finish the whole project took two weeks of lunchtimes and two days of filming – although a great deal of planning had gone into it beforehand. Filming was carried out at the school and in the Wartime Tunnels at Dover Castle. War Table will be shown on the Big Screen in Dover in the near future. The project was funded by English Heritage.

Here you can read the students’ diaries to find out all about this exciting project.

Written by Heather Williams, Lower Sixth

Our ‘War Table’ project started before Christmas 2009, and started with a visit from a maths teacher, who explained the Year 8 about Trigonometry and Plotting, which was used during the war under Dover Castle to find the location of boats and aircraft.
We then went on to produce a stop-motion animation with the help of two professional cameramen and a table full of plasticine which depicted the sinking of two ships which took us an entire week to finish, including covering an entire table in plasticine which left lots of us with sore hands!

A plan to visit the castle during February to film the rest of the movie was thwarted due to heavy snow, so I didn’t get to go. I helped with some of the filming that we did in school and I also helped the year 8s with their storyboards, including editing some of them in Photoshop so that they were in colour.
Overall it was a fun experience working with the younger years as well as learning more about the history of our castle. The opportunity to use high tech equipment such as the HD cameras and the powerful Mac Desktop computers to edit our video was very exciting also, and it will be hard to forget the time I spent on this project.

Written by Lacey Coulson, Year 8

On 20 May 2010 I and some other Year 8 girls went to Dover Castle to film our ‘War Table Project’. At 9am we had our hair and makeup done by our art teacher. At 10am we left to go to Dover Castle. When we arrived there were many people on tours and many of them gave us strange looks because of our hair and bright red lipstick!
We went to meet our guide for the tunnels which we were filming in. They tunnels are over 4 miles long! We were taken for a walk around the tunnels so we could get ideas and plan where we wanted to film. We were given access to places closed off to the public.

After we had looked around we started the filming. I was the first person to film using the camera. We had to use words like ‘turn over’, ‘speed’, ‘action’ and ‘cut’. I directed the second scene; it was more time-consuming than I thought it would be as we had to film the scene several times. For the third scene some of the Year 8s stayed in the Castle hospital whilst the others filmed. Then we went to the operations room where we decided what we were going to film, and then we had lunch.
After lunch we filmed in the operations room, where we acted as if our English ship had sunk the German ship. We only had one day to fit in all of our filming so we had a tight schedule, but we worked hard and finished all of the film.
Overall I had a great time filming and acting for the film, but I also learnt a lot about the tunnels and the role that Dover Castle played in the World Wars.

Dover Castle by night

Dover Castle by night © English Heritage

Written by Josephine Carter, Year 8

Our War Table Project started when – with a very mysterious notice in our registers – ten of us Year 8 students were summoned to the Art Rooms. When we all met we had absolutely no idea what we were doing, but we were all pleasantly surprised when our teachers, Mrs Beaney and Ms Swainston, announced that we were taking part in a mixed-media project based in and around the nearby Dover Castle.
We worked on the War Table Project in two weeks of lunchtime sessions, during which we learned about the Second World War, and that while the men were away, women skilled in languages, mathematics or secretarial work were employed in Dover Castle to intercept the signals of enemy ships in the Channel.

The activity I most enjoyed was making storyboards in which we cast ourselves as the working girls. With a little help from our Sixth Formers and Adobe Photoshop, we turned our pencil sketches into works of art! Then a two-member strong film crew came to our school and we made stop-motion animations to depict part of our storyboards – we had great fun making explosions out of coloured cotton wool and waves out of blue and white plasticine. We all worked on our stop motion animations and edited them together… miraculously, they all flowed rather well. As well as animating, we also had an opportunity to try on real, authentic ATS uniforms, and had our hair styled in the fashions that ladies favoured at the time – the victory roll – all in preparation for the live action filming we would be doing on location at Dover Castle later in the year.
I really enjoyed working with our visitors and in and around Dover Castle. This project has been educational, interesting and lots of fun!

Written by Laura Winter, Year 8

As preparation we had to soften the plasticine: we did this in various ways, including sitting on it (didn’t seem to work that well), and then we tried using a heat lamp. This worked, but not quickly enough, so we resorted to the hairdryer. We also roped in other members of Mrs Beaney’s form to sit on the plasticine to help it along. The white plasticine seemed to warm up and soften up the quickest, but then we were unable to handle it, which meant it had to harden up a bit before we could use it in our animation.

On our first day of doing animation I worked with Josie and Keely. We did an animation on a ship being bombed by a missile; we had explosions and sparks going off. When we were doing this, Keely had an OCD over waves. We then rummaged around Mrs Beaney’s room to find some red Christmas tinsel and added this; when we caught the shot it had caught the light just at the right time and looked like we had actually set it alight (we hadn’t actually, just to let you know!). When doing our animations we had to take 15 shots per second. As you can imagine it took a while just to make one second of the film. We spent the whole day making our animations and as a group I think we never wanted to see another bit of plasticine again!

Boys doing worksheet in secret wartime tunnels in Dover Castle.

Boys doing worksheet in secret wartime tunnels in Dover Castle © English Heritage

Written by Saffron Gurung, Year 8

At first it didn’t sound much fun, but like people say: don’t judge a book by its cover. Soon I realised that it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, and actually I found it very interesting and amusing. It was fun. We used plasticine to make the sea as part of our movie. The plasticine was hard and somehow we had to soften it. We used different methods. The ones that failed miserably were sitting on the plasticine and trying to heat it with a lamp. Methods that managed to work were using a hairdryer and using a couple of heat lamps. The white plasticine softened the quickest. We researched Morse-code. I personally think it was fascinating. We had our hair done by Miss Beaney, an art teacher in our school. The hairstyle all of us had was called a victory roll. We also tried out the costumes the women used to wear.

We made animations with the plasticine. It went badly. We moved the objects too quickly so it didn’t look good. We tried it again and it was better the second time. It took 15 shots to make 1 second of our video… so to make one minute it took quite a lot of shots. We used onion skin to help our animations run smoothly. Onion skin is a system used to put something back to its original place; say if one of the battle ships was accidentally moved, you could onion skin it and put it back to where it was before.
On Thursday 20th May 2010 we went to Dover Castle to film out the rest of our movie. Each of us got to be a director and an actress. I learned new information about the women working underground, for example: there were about 80 women and 1 toilet between them, and they didn’t wear a uniform until the day before the king’s arrival. Overall it was great!

Written by Jasmine Aydugmus Fox, Year 8

At the end of January a few of my friends and I were chosen to help make a film. We were told that it was going to be about the Second World War. On the 9th of February we had two members from the camera crew came to our school to film our animation work. We made ships and planes with plasticine and moved them across the table taking snapshots which together produced a small video. Finally on that day my friend and I did a small amount of acting, where we had to wear some authentic 1940’s clothes. We were acting out the scene where the water was hitting a cliff, and splashing us as well, and to act this scene out our art teacher threw a cup of water over us and we had to pull a face of shock! We were meant to go up to Dover Castle on the 11th of February to do the main filming but this was delayed due to heavy snow.

On the 20th of May we went up to Dover Castle to do the acting that we should have done on the 11th of February. We were able to go down to places which are not normally open to the public. We had our hair and make up done in a 1940s style with bright red lipstick. We then took turns in taking on the roles of director and cameraman. We acted out scenes such as taking a message from one point to another, plotting ships on graphs and tracing them, and typing up the information on the typewriters. Overall we had a good time and I would love to do it again.

Communications area of the secret wartime tunnels in Dover Castle.

Communications area of the secret wartime tunnels in Dover Castle © English Heritage

Written by Rosie Carter, Year 8

Our War Tables project – from what we told our friends – seemed to mainly consist of squishing hard green plasticine onto an already green table. But it didn’t. In this project we did a variety of things: making stop-motion animations, mapping co-ordinates, researching Morse code, trying on authentic World War 2 uniforms, and, finally, going to Dover Castle to make a film in the war tunnels. Along with all this we had a great time researching and acting as ATS girls.

One of the things that didn’t work as well as I expected was the stop-motion animation, as the animation wasn’t very smooth and it seemed unrealistic and too fast. It took 15 shots to make one second, so it was quite time-consuming. The waves were a little strange – unlike Keely Smith’s ‘wave action’ OCD. We also made explosions, which we went a little (and that’s an understatement) over-enthusiastic with.
My favourite thing about this project was probably taking part in filming and directing the movie because I had a say in the final film, and quite a lot of the things I filmed were put into the final movie and I was quite pleased with them. I also didn’t want to act too much, and I was only in one scene so I was happy with that too.

Written by Suzeeta Gurung, Year 8

When we were told about this project, about going to Dover Castle and animating war ships, we were quite excited.
We missed some lunch breaks to find out how to co-ordinate the next hit (bomb), researched about the Morse code and squeezed plasticine for our animation. The plasticine was hard so we used different methods to make it soft, but failed. At last, we came up with heat lamps which did the trick; but the white plasticine went very gooey. When we went to Dover Castle for our ‘war table’ project we met our guide for the day. He led us into the wartime secret tunnels. It was quite dark – only lit by an overhead ceiling lamp.

We went into a staff-only dressing room. We were lucky because we were VIPs. Sorry to boast. We got our hair done into a victory roll. Mine took really long because my hair is thick and heavy. So to solve this problem, all we did was spray hairspray before and after doing it up and put a hair net in. This was the hair style they had back then. While ‘victory rolls’ were originally the name for a fighter plane manoeuvre, women adopted the term for the rolls of hair to celebrate victory in WWII. After this, we started filming and directing. We all took turns to film each other and make up.

Boy learning with adult in secret wartime tunnels in Dover Castle.

Boy learning in secret wartime tunnels in Dover Castle © English Heritage

Written by Sophie Lewis, Year 8

On Tuesday 8th February a group of Year 8 students and I took part in creating plasticine models of ships to represent war ships in WW2. Once the ships were created Jasmine Fox and I had to put on original WW2 jackets that women wore at the war tables. This was very exciting as the jackets were a part of history.

To make us look more the part we had our hair done in the style which was the fashion at the time, our hair was curled up and pinned to our head, and after lots of hairspray and clips our hair was finally finished. Once our hair was done it was time for the make-up. Bright red lipstick and pale powder for our faces.
When our outfits and make-up were done we looked like real WW2 people. I found the whole experience of the outfits and make-up very fun and interesting. Finding out about fashion and make-up from the war combined History and Art.

Written by Keely Smith, Year 8

On the 25th of January we found out that we would be doing a multimedia project on the war tables in Dover castle. We then managed to cover an entire table in the art room in green plasticine, which we found was great fun as we were able to get to know each other a bit more. To do this we had to sit on plasticine to make it softer and easier to use.
During the ensuing two weeks, we learnt more about how the girls in the tunnels knew where the ships and aeroplanes were going. They would receive bearings from certain places and then pass on to others the information about exactly where they were going. Learning the techniques used to calculate bearings got us a little confused as it was a rather quick lesson. Also, we made plasticine models of ships and aeroplanes using pictures from the internet.

In our school library we were able to go onto a website that translates English into Morse Code and plays it aloud. We had a lot of fun playing on this site as it would translate anything we put in.
Soon we were creating the stop-frames that would be included in the final film. We had to move the plasticine models very slowly, and each time we moved them we took a photo. This took a while to do as everything had to be edited very slightly for the next frame. I worked with Josie and Laura for my stop-frame animation, and we worked very well together, which was a plus as we were with each other for a few weeks.

Watch the students final War Table film

Like what you’ve read? Find out about Dover Girls Grammer School A 360 degree journey in 2008/09 with Dover Castle. The project took the students through a multi-sensory investigation of Dover Castle and culminated in an exhibition at Dover Town Hall and at Centurion House.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share