Virtual reality might seem like the kind of far-out technology that only kids and video-gamers are interested in, but the technology was recently used to transport 91-year-old British WW2 veteran Frank Mouque back to Armentières, the town that he helped liberate from Nazi occupation 72 years ago.
Mouque didn’t have to get up from his chair at the London nursing home for veterans where he now lives to feel as if he were actually back in that small French town, in a room with local schoolchildren who were singing for him, thanking him for his service long before they were even born. (Scroll down to see the 360-degree video.)
Suffice it to say that Mouque was blown away. “Fantastic!” he said. “I’m lost for words. It was like you were there…. Not only the children, but the mayor,” he added, referring to the Mayor of Armentieres, who awarded him an official medal. “He was right up in my face.” Along with the kids and the mayor, local townspeople spoke to Mouque — one older couple was there at the time of the liberation and remembered how they felt when the British soldiers arrived in 1944.
Back then, Mouque was a corporal with the British Royal Engineers, fighting alongside Allied troops. On D-Day, his division arrived early and helped clear mines for those who followed. “It was chaos,” he remembers. “We were bombed, shelled, sniped, fired at constantly. There were a number of casualties. I lost a lot of my friends.” In the weeks following the D-Day landing, Mouque helped to liberate a number of towns in northern France, including Armentières’. During his VR experience, he got to stand in the town’s market square again and relive the liberation.
Creating Frank Mouque’s VR Experience
How did Mouque’s remarkable VR experience come about? For Remembrance Day 2016 — the British version of Veteran’s Day — English creative start-up Twine asked its community of freelancers for help. The goal for this VR first, according to Twine, was to “Look beyond thrills and entertainment and use it to achieve something truly profound.”
The virtual reality footage was filmed in Armentières with a 360-degree camera to create a truly immersive environment. Back in London, Mouque was outfitted with a VR headset that let him see the filmed environment in three dimensions. He could look up to the ceiling, down to the floor — the room and its occupants had all the depth of the real thing.
Unless you’ve tried it, it’s hard to imagine why Mouque was so blown away, but virtual reality really does make you feel as if you are actually there. We tried VR out on Senior Planet with Google Cardboard, an inexpensive way to have a VR experience. (Read about our VR experience with Google Cardboard.)
After the presentation Mouque expressed his gratitude: “I’m honored, on behalf of all of us who were there. I’m 91, there are still hundreds of us, but I’m a diminishing breed.
Experience It For Yourself in 360
Click on the four arrows at the top left of the video to move around the room.