Somme centenary 'a painful reminder of what can go wrong in divided Europe,' warns War Horse writer amid referendum fall-out

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War Horse writer Michael Morpurgo has said the dreadful losses of the Battle of the Somme are a reminder of what can go wrong in a divided Europe.

The former children's laureate, who campaigned against Brexit, was wearing a white rose in memory of the MP Jo Cox at the launch of a major exhibition of his life's work, which takes place in the North East.

War Horse writer Michael Morpurgo at the launch of a major exhibition of his work in Newcastle, where he said the dreadful losses of the Battle of the Somme are a reminder of what can go wrong in a divided Europe. Picture by PA.

War Horse writer Michael Morpurgo at the launch of a major exhibition of his work in Newcastle, where he said the dreadful losses of the Battle of the Somme are a reminder of what can go wrong in a divided Europe. Picture by PA.

Morpurgo, 72, spoke movingly about the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, and the divisions that the country now faces after the EU referendum.

The storyteller said: "It has been the saddest 10 days that I can remember, ever since the death of Jo Cox.

"I don't know if that was the beginning of it, but we are infinitely sadder now as a people, confused and upset, even if you were on the winning side, so-called, of the referendum.

"Everyone knows that people are living through great difficulty and our political leaders are at sixes and sevens.

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"It has been a very sad time and then we arrive at July 1 2016, 100 years after maybe one of the worst battles the world has ever seen in terms of losses , and you wake up to the sound of Big Ben chiming half past seven when you know the whistles blew and over they went.

"And who were these people? They were young lads from the Tyne, they were young farm boys from Devon, they were butchers and bakers and poets and artists and their lives were in a way surrendered by the machinations of people who didn't have the wit to sit down and sort stuff out.

"We have been living through a week of reflection of how serious division is and how the growth of prejudice and hate is so easy to encourage if we are not careful."

Morpurgo, whose First World War novel War Horse became a hit play and Steven Spielberg film and who also wrote Private Peaceful about a soldier in the trenches, said that if the losses of the Somme were to have any point, "they fell in that mud so that we could live in peace, so there is that hope".

He spoke at the launch of an exhibition at the Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books in Newcastle, which holds his archive.

It features orange notebooks and manuscripts from his working life and a recreation of the shed in his beloved Devon where he writes.

He said: "We have to go on fighting the fight and this place, Seven Stories, is part of that, having children reading, empathising, learning about themselves, learning about the world, and growing up to respect and love other people, rather than the other thing."

He added: "What to do? We have to make the best of it, but we absolutely have not to go down the road of blaming our difficulties and problems all the time on other peoples of what ever colour or creed."

The exhibition A Lifetime Of Stories runs until June 2017.