The Other Side of Peace 2019
Isn’t it strange how sometimes life offers you opportunities you wouldn’t have dared dream about? I’d never have thought I’d write anything which would be performed on a stage by professional actors but in 2014, a friend asked me to write a short sketch for some of his friends who belonged to the Forget Never Project which was set up to commemorate the centenary of World War One.
I agreed and I was asked to write about three real men who fought in the First World War – one from England, one from Germany and one from France. It didn’t occur to me that the ‘sketch’ would turn into the production entitled ‘The Sons of Three Countries Remembered’ which would be directed by Andrew Lindfield and performed four times by DOT Productions in three different countries – England, Germany and France. Click here to read about the last performance in 1917
But the dream didn’t finish there because I was asked to write a second play about the men returning from the First World War. I hadn’t previously given much consideration to what happened after the men came home from the fighting. I’d focused on the end of the conflict and the men’s return. The Forget Never Project is a joint endeavour, incorporating Basildon Borough and its twin towns of Heiligenhaus in Germany and Meaux in France, and I looked at the post-war conditions to which men from those countries returned and how they and their families might cope.
‘The Other Side of Peace’ was performed by Andrew Lindfield and DOT Productions in 1918 in Basildon to an international audience and I assumed that since the Forget Never Project had drawn to a close with the end of the centenary of the First World War, that would be its first and last performance. However, members of the audience who’d come over from Heiligenhaus decided they wanted to stage it in their town and DOT Productions went out to Germany for two performances in November 2019.
The director was Andrew Lindfield
The members of the cast were:
Bill Richards – Andrew Lindfield
Florrie Richards – Natalie Scotcher
Jacques Dubois – Christopher Walthorne
Madame Dubois – Dawn Bush
Karl Friedrich – Louis Hill
Anna Friedrich – Francesca Ottley
Shopkeeper/Barmaid – Sarita Plowman
Soldier/Ghost – Matthew Burrcombe
Musicians – Hannes Johannsen and Sebastian Grothe with choirs from Heiligenhaus.
The play explores the changed relationships of the three different families and looks at some of the social conditions which they would have experienced. I generally (although not always!) like to write a happy ending to my stories but in this instance, it seemed that all their lives had been blighted by the war and that the emotional scars were likely to persist. Society, too, had changed forever.
In order to leave the audience with a message of hope, I decided to incorporate an animation at the end which considered war from Nature’s point of view. It seemed ironic that land – the very thing men were fighting to possess – was being destroyed in the process of that warfare, as trenches were dug, bombs exploded and thousands of men trampled the ground as they marched. But after the battles were finished and the men had gone home, Nature would have taken over and once again, birds would have returned and flowers would have bloomed. I imagined the flowers of remembrance of Britain, Germany and France growing together in a field. They obviously wouldn’t have arranged themselves in banks of poppies, banks of cornflowers and banks of forget-me-nots. They would simply have grown together, mixed and sharing the field. I wondered why we – the people of the world – couldn’t be like that. The final frame says: ONE PEOPLE-ONE WORLD-TOGETHER. And that is my hope and the final thought I wanted to leave with the audience.
I wrote a piece which Angela Makepeace of Motion Graphics Studio set to an animation. You can see it here (There is sound but no images for the first 40 seconds of the animation)
The words are:
One army loses. It wearily staggers home.
The other army wins. It takes possession of the land… and wearily staggers home.
Now the blood-drenched fields are deserted, silent, but for the echoes of the dead.
Wind caresses the pock-marked earth, and rain washes away all traces of the killing.
Barbed wire rusts and wooden posts rot in the water-logged ground. Beneath the earth, flesh decays, becoming one with the soil.
These fields, so highly coveted, are now wasted.
The land, so highly prized, has been sacrificed on the altar of man’s desire to possess.
But Mother Nature will not be conquered.
One by one, birds return to fill the silence with their song.
And beneath the earth, the spark of life ignites an explosion of shoots, roots and leaves, to cover the soil’s nakedness.
And there, a red poppy bursts from its bud. It entwines a blue cornflower and embraces a forget-me-not.
Different colours, shapes and sizes but all growing together towards their future in the sun.
Thank you to everyone who helped to make the play a success. I had such a wonderful time in Germany. And to everyone who played a part, however big or small, YOU helped to make my dream come true.