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Thursday, 04 February 2016
Year 10 girls at Bolton School were captivated by a one-man play performed by Peter Gill which saw Private Tommy Atkins reflect on the Great War and its dramatic impact on history. Wonderful acting drew the audience into the world of the former soldier who regaled them with his recollections of action at Ypres, Passchendaele, Loos and on the Somme. In turn, he reflects on the horror, the boredom, the pain, the fear and even moments of joy and empathy, recalling how during one Christmas truce he realised they “were all blokes together”.
Private Atkins’ feelings about the War change over time. Initially he is bitter at the way that the heroes are quickly forgotten by society but, as he ages, comradeship and pride become his overriding emotions. He talks about how he and his comrades reflect on the War of a Saturday evening at the Royal British Legion and how, even though it took another war to “seal the deal”, they were responsible for making this country what it is today. He marvels at being able to pick up a pension – something his own father or grandfather could not do – and how a nurse comes out to visit him after he turned his ankle. Remembering how his own son died in the First World War, he ends the play by saying “he gave up his todays for our better tomorrows”.
Bringing the excellent solo performance, 'Meet Tommy Atkins', to an end, Peter Gill then answered questions about the play and the Great War from the audience. He told the girls that he had wanted to portray a normal “Tommy” and the character was a conglomeration of several veterans he had met through the course of his life and research. Like many other men of the period, Tommy does not think of his life as being particularly remarkable but in actuality his story is a fascinating tale. Peter Gill said he had been interested in World War One for the past sixteen or seventeen years and there were lots of good books published around the centenary of the war. The first draft of his play was written in two weeks but it was then developed and refined over a period of six months as he learnt the lines. Many of the facts in the play are true such as the death of the first man in the War, John Parr aged 14 and the oldest man, Henry Webber aged 67. The afternoon certainly saw history come alive for the girls!
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