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