War radio report brought to virtual and visual reality

By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

One of the most dramatic radio reports of the Second World War has been brought to virtual and visual reality by a Waterford-based education company.

Immersive VR Education (IVRE) has made a 14-minute virtual reality (VR) experience film, in which viewers are placed in the belly of an Royal Air Force (RAF) Lancaster bomber on a September 1943 night-time raid on Berlin.

However, it is not just any of the thousands of sorties made over Germany during the war. It recreates the night BBC reporter Wynford Vaughan-Thomas and sound recordist Reginald Pindsley climbed aboard to record what happened for the service’s listeners.

BBC commissioned IVRE to make the film in February, as this year marks the 100th anniversary of the RAF’s creation.

In the original radio broadcast, aired hours after returning to the RAF base at Langar in Nottinghamshire, Vaughan-Thomas described what he saw and heard. The audience also heard recordings of the conversations between pilot, bombardier, and gunners as they saw off attacking German aircraft and probing searchlights trying to thwart their mission.

An image from '1943: Berlin Blitz', made for the BBC by Waterford virtual reality firm Immersive VR Education

"Once we’re through that searchlight... I got a glimpse of that furious glowing carpet of light, that’s all we can now see of Berlin,” the reporter said from the plane."

The 14-minute film 1943: Berlin Blitz incorporates some of the famous broadcast, but IVRE’s four-person team also pored over other archive material during the four months spent making it.

“To create the experience, the team gathered hundreds of photographs of Lancaster bombers and all of the original mission data in order to recreate the historic event,” said IVRE co-founder David Whelan.

We pretty much recreated the mission with everything being historically accurate, right down to the smouldering Berlin landscape below.

1943: Berlin Blitz will be in competition in the VR cinema section of the Venice Bienalle, which begins at the end of August. It is expected to be available from the BBC for users of VR headsets later this year.

In the meantime, however, a 43-second teaser trailer uploaded to YouTube by Immersive VR Education gives a taste of the action.

David and wife Sandra Whelan set up the company in 2014 and their focus is on distance learning platforms, with Oxford University and Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland among their third-level and corporate educator partners.

IVRE’s holding company is listed on the Dublin and London stock exchanges and 34 people are now employed. It plans to release a showcase within weeks that places VR headset users on board the Titanic the night it sank or to dive the wreck.

“Our vision for the future is to see virtual reality become a staple tool for education and training,” said Ms Whelan, IVRE’s chief operating officer.

The original 1943 BBC broadcast by Wynford Vaughan-Thomas can be heard on the Australian War Memorial website here.

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