Photo gallery: Student actors meet soldier’s family ahead of First World War production at Norwich Theatre Royal

Robert Millington Knowles's family showing scrapbooks to legendary actor John Hurt. Photo: Bill Smit

Robert Millington Knowles's family showing scrapbooks to legendary actor John Hurt. Photo: Bill Smith

Students from Norwich's Hellesdon High School came face-to-face with history yesterday when they met the living relatives of the First World War soldier and airman they have studied in class.

Robert Millington Knowles, second left back row. Photo: Submitted

Robert Millington Knowles, second left back row. Photo: Submitted

The students have spent weeks learning about Robert Millington Knowles, who was awarded the Military Cross for bravery during the 1914-1918 war, as part of the Norwich Theatre Royal arts education commemoration project To End All Wars.

The project culminated in a performance on stage last night which was narrated by actor John Hurt – who also met up with the relatives and students during a break in rehearsals.

The war hero's descendants were unaware of many of the details of his time in the trenches and as a Royal Air Corps navigator until they found out about the project. The Knowles and Hewitt families travelled from Shropshire to see last night's show, which included on-stage performances by pupils from four Norfolk schools – Hellesdon High and Arden Grove Infants in Norwich, Aldborough Primary near Cromer and Great Yarmouth's North Denes Junior School.

Great grandson Robert Knowles, 13, said: 'It was really exciting to find out about this production. It really opened my eyes to what had gone on in our family ancestry.

'It's made it come to life all these years later. The time and effort they have put into the production is amazing.'

Daughter-in-law Nell Knowles, 91, who remembers her father-in-law well, told the students that he had never really recovered from his experiences in the First World War. However, she added: 'I think he would have been rather glad that his life has been recognised.'

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Robert Millington Knowles' grand-daughter, Rebecca Hewitt, said: 'We were completely surprised when we found out about the production and that over 100 letters existed that he had written during the war.'

Her brother Andrew Knowles added: 'Now we have seen what he went through, and when you realise the next war came and two of his sons died, it makes you realise the suffering and pointlessness of it all, but also the incredible bravery it inspired.

'His being part of this project has been a huge honour and we're amazed, impressed and touched.'

Hellesdon student Will Roxby, 17, who played Robert Knowles on stage last night, said: 'It was an honour to portray him and it's really lovely to see his relatives here and to speak to them.

'It makes you feel closer to the war even though it happened 100 years ago. We knew about the general context of the First World War, but by learning about actual individuals it's come to seem much more real.'

For more information about the Norwich Theatre Royal's arts educational project see

Fallen but not forgotten – the Evening News' tribute to those who fell in the First World War starts on page 17.