On Thursday the 11th of December myself (Gus Hales) and Vince Chittock made our way to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to pre performance leaflet the RSC’s production of the now enshrined events of the 1914 Christmas Truce. We had been offered two free tickets by the producer who, following email exchanges, made it known that he valued our work. The cynic in me expected a couple of rear view seats with an accompanying strong pair of binoculars, however, the reality being that we were given two press tickets valued at £57:50 per ticket. Perhaps an indication of the producers intention not only to our organisation but to the moral message of his play.
Outside pre performance we were accompanied by an ardent supporter Martin Newell who made the journey by bus all the way from Birmingham to join us in handing out our postcard leaflets to anyone heading in the direction of the theatre. Overall there was a positive response from the public and we distributed some 200 to 300 leaflets in the half hour leading up to the curtain raise. Because it was a matinee there were schools in attendance and we were able to canvass some teachers regarding school visits. The intention was to repeat the exercise for the evening performance, but due to a fierce Tempest(no pun intended) we decided this was not a good idea but all agreed to repeat the exercise sometime in the new year.
The play itself was a brilliant exposition of the events of Christmas 1914 and a poignant reminder of the futility of war and how the price is always paid by those with nothing to gain but everything to lose. With this in mind, some forty miles away at the National Memorial Arboretum, Prince William was opening a bronze relief sculptor comprising of a handshake enclosed in a wire football, commemorating the events surrounding the soccer match in no mans land. However, who was he representing during this unveiling? was it the men from both sides who laid down their arms or was it the officer class, his class, who ordered the men back into the trenches to continue the slaughter.
The story of the truce was a “message of hope and humanity”, the prince said, but wasn’t it his great great grandfather George V who stated in 1917 that the war must go on in fear of a Russian style revolution arriving in Britain. Wasn’t it our hero Harry Patch who said “WW1 was a family row between the royal houses of Europe, irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims of these people. But then again nothing new here. Hasn’t Royalty and the establishment always taken the peace and goodness of the ordinary man, exploited it and given it back as some kind of gift. On March 26th this year the bones of Richard III will be taken around Bosworth on his final journey, but at least he died on the battlefield leading from the front, a far cry from today’s royal hero’s who brag about their exploits while sitting in the front of an Apache helicopter.
So this was a very rewarding and productive day, where the message of Veterans for Peace reached out and extended its influence on a stage befitting our cause, and as a bonus we got to see the play for free from the best seats. All’s well that ends well as the Bard himself said.
Gus Hales served with the British Army in Northern Ireland and the Falklands War. He is a member of VFP UK
Many thanks for all your replies, I would just like to share this letter I have sent to the producer of the play.
Back in 1982 after the cease fire in the Falklands, I was in a unit called 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers. We were told we would be staying behind for a further six weeks to locate the minefields.
Some of the now captured Argentine Engineer prisoners, were reluctant to be repatriated as a defeated army, they feared the consequences of returning home. Therefore, many decided to stay and show us where these mines had been laid, but the Geneva convention forbid the use of prisoners in this type of work. So they volunteered, were issued pay books and worked alongside we British Engineers in the clear up operation. During that time I befriended many Argentinians, we had BBQs, the regulation two cans of beer, exchanged stories, showed off family photographs and got to know each other. However this was short lived as they returned home after a couple of weeks, but what I did learn in that period was that these people were never my enemies and that we shared a common brotherhood.
So your play and the Xmas truce story is very close to me and your production drove home the message that it is not the ordinary soldier who has enemies, and a common brother exists amongst all soldiers.
Once again many thanks, if you sent me your size, I would like to send you a VFP tshirt.
Best Wishes for the future
Peace and happiness
A very nice story re` the mine clearance.
I was at FI in the early 90s not long after returning from Germany. I volunteered to go, thought of it is a bit of an adventure really, I remember spending some time at the mass grave site for all the Argentine dead. Many of the graves are marked with photographs of the dead on the head stones or plaques (etched into them or actual prints attached to them) and I remember being quite moved looking down at all the images of young, carefree boys enjoying the sun in their respective Argentine homesteads loving life and being very much alive. Many of them were several years younger than me (I was 24 in 94 when I was there) and I remember feeling very somber looking down at these carefree young men/boys in happier times, conscripts, laying beneath my feet in an isolated, desolate wind swept land where not even their loved ones (at that time) could visit them.
Hi Garry, I have today received this reply from the RSC Christmas truce playwright.
Kevin Fitzmaurice, our producer, passed your exchange of emails on to me. I just wanted to say how much it means to me that you liked the show and that an organisation like yours would support what we’ve done. Once you’ve been working on something for a while it can get hard to see the wood from the trees. But your support tells me that the play says what we want it to say. Thanks for coming.
That’s a really fascinating story you tell about working with the Argentinians after the Falklands War. One of my earliest memories is of my uncle coming back from The Falklands. I think he was only about twenty-one and was very shaken up by the experience. He was a submariner normally but I think he was on a ship, floating round the South Atlantic hoping not to get hit by a missile.
All the best,
Phil Porter (Christmas Truce playwright)
I have visited the cemetery at Darwin, and it is a terrible burden knowing I helped put them in there.
I am sorry to hear your pain, Gus. War is a terrible affliction to the human race. You were not the same person then as you are now…….but I suppose this does little to help ease your burden.
Take care, Gus
Many thanks Garry. I long since recognised that was the way it was for me, and dealt with the pain. I guess today the burden is the difficulty of speaking truth to power
“IF ANYONE ASKS WHY WE DIED
TELL THEM BECAUSE OUR FATHERS LIED”.
from a gravestone on the Western Front
I refuse to lie anymore, therein lies the burden.
Well Done Gents, a great opportunity to pass the message on to our Children by approaching the Teachers accompanying the school groups who attended the Matinee.
I think that people should never forget the reason behind why the troops were sitting in those Snowy Trenches far from their loved ones during the 1914 Christmas Truce.
Ordinary working class Folk doing the dirty work of their own individual Establishments from both sides.
I do not believe in God , Santa, or the Tooth Fairy, but I do believe in Peace on Earth.
Namaste -Well Done Lads.
Commoners can be just as bad: Bush & Blair for example.
Point taken Norman but there is a difference. The likes of Bush and Blair are for good or bad elected by the public, whereas the parasitic murderous deceitful lineage of the benefit scrounging Royal interbreeds are not elected by anyone, wear what uniforms and medals they like and continue to thieve and plunder from those with little to give.
I don’t know about you Norman but I’m sick and tired of being a subject, time to get rid of these people and put them on trial for crimes against humanity.
Well done to those involved in reaching out to this audience. I was once talking to a lady about how royalty bedeck themselves in medals, uniforms and wallow in military regalia. But non spent months on end suffering shelling or other deprivations. There will never be peace in the world while we have Kings and Queens and people willing to slavishly bow to them. Wake up people there is no blue blood.
Well done Gus and Vince, raising the awareness of VfP at such a event is brilliant.
Would be able to help out with more leaflet hand outs if you are planning another visit,
OK Paul, will let you know of the next leafletting.
Most youngsters who join the ranks are lured in by promises of ‘Learning a trade, lots of sport & seeing the world, etc.’, without a word that they will be required to slaughter fellow human beings.
Does this apply to the ‘officer class’ (who have been mentioned)? Credit must be given to Prince William that he found his niche in piloting rescue helicopters. Not so his brother Harry: After passing out from Sandhurst, he expressed the hope that he would soon be allowed to ‘see action’. By which he meant he was anxious to be sent somewhere (ANYWHERE) to kill someone (ANYONE) on behalf of his Grandma.
To tell of my own experience: In 1943 I was lured into joining the Royal Navy, NOT by ‘the opportunity to learn a trade & etc’., but by the propaganda that we had to fight ‘To Preserve Freedom in Britain. IF ONLY WE HAD IT! Learning late in life that corruption is rampant in the British courts, my mission to expose it brought many years of persecution. To avoid more, at the age of 86 I was forced to flee the land of my birth to seek safety in the Republic of Ireland.
For more email ‘
Great post. Despite my lifelong atheism, I am almost always reduced to tears every time I hear “Silent Night” because of the association with that day 100 years ago.
I too am an atheist (and, yes, silent night, especially when sang in German, is vey moving) and atheism and belief contrast quite strikingly in so far as those who send us to war are
believersthemselves, more so in recent times with Bush and Blair!
We all have the right to believe what we want, just as we all have the right to state that certain beliefs are ridiculous! As for war, any belief that this is in any way a force of human nature for good, is a s lubricious as that of an
all seeing, all knowing, jealous, psychotic
godthat would seemingly permit his supposed creations to behave in such an appalling manner…..or, as believers term it,
impose free will!