A new play marking the centenary of the Battle of the Somme looks at the effect that four years of war had on ordinary people.
Brummegem Pals, which is touring to Chesterfield, has been penned by veteran comedian Don Maclean (of Crackerjack fame) and Midlands entertainer Malcolm Stint.
The pair lead a cast of actors and musicians in a tale of under-age lads from Birmingham who join Kitchener’s Army and experience the horrors of war, tempered by the comradeship of the men they serve with and the love for their families at home.
Don, 73, said: “I have been a student of World War One since I was a teenager. I lead groups to the Western Front so I have a wide knowledge of the conflict.
“My grandfather served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He had a mule named Flos after my grandmother. Amazingly, grandad and Flos survived until the end.”
Don’s grandad was one of the lucky ones. So many didn’t return from the Great War.
He said: “Many of the soldiers who fought at the Somme were a citizen’s army of Pals Battalions; men who knew one another, and who joined in a wave of patriotic fervour. Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War had reasoned that relatives, friends and workmates from the same street, the same factory, the same village or town would fight better if they fought alongside each other. They did, but sadly it meant they also died together. “
Co-writer Malcolm drew inspiration for the play from a trip to the Somme region with a pal to trace the grave of his grandfather who enlisted in a Birmingham Pals battalion.
He visited the town of Albert and noticed that the main street was named Rue de Birmingham. Malcom said: “The Birmingham (Brummegem) Pals battalions had fought and died in that area for most of World War One. So at the end of the war, in tribute to them and the bravery of the French people who lived in underground tunnels, the city of Birmingham paid for the restoration of the town of Albert.”
l The Brummegem Pals will run at Chesterfield’s Pomegranate Theatre on November 1, at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.