How the Play-Reading and the book ‘A Village at War’ was Created

It all goes back to July 1984. The late Rev. Dennis Parker gave me a nearly complete set of Parish Magazines for safe-keeping. The Newdigate Society had just been formed and he felt that they should stay within the village rather than be deposited with the County. At that time our youngest son was seriously ill in hospital and to while away the interminably long nights I read the magazines which transported me back into another bygone world. I found the years between 1914 and 1918 particularly moving and realised that here was a rich historical source. I then wrote out, by hand, all the pieces relating to the First World War and my wife then meticulously typed all the notes up.

I realised that the notes basically fell into four sections relating to the rector, the village, the country in general and the war overseas and that this was the basis of a play reading. I then created a narrative relating to events during the war, interwove this with extracts from the magazine, and created a script. The four characters were the Rev. H.G. Bird, the Home Correspondent, the Commentator and the War Correspondent. The players were dressed in appropriate costumes and the first performance played to a full house at the Village Hall in February 1985.

When Mabel Whiffen died in 2004 the last direct link with the First World War had been severed. Her brother, Alfred Wooltorton, died in 1918 and his name can be seen on the war memorial. As I listened to the names being respectfully read out every Remembrance Day I was determined that these brave men deserved to be remembered and so I extracted all my papers and notes and set out on a fascinating journey of discovery. The result was the publication of the book entitled ‘ A Village at War – Newdigate in World War One.’

Sometimes research revealed some very poignant facts. I interviewed an elderly villager who had remembered Aubrey Hudson. He said that he was very tall and joined up at a young age. That was, indeed, an understatement. Aubrey was born on the 30th June 1901. In September 1914 he had been punished at the village school for being ‘generally slack, talking and inattention, careless writing and spelling, talking and being idle.’ On the 28th July 1916 he was killed at the Battle of the Somme and his body was never found. He was just one month over 15 years of age.

Gerard Bray married Evelyn Joan Broadwood in a society wedding and moved to Vancouver. At the outbreak of the war he travelled back to England with his wife and two children and was commissioned into the Royal West Surrey Regiment. 2nd Lieut. Gerard T. Bray arrived at Gallipoli and when he landed on the beach he immediately took some photographs. He was killed on the very day he arrived and his camera, along with his other belongings, were returned to his family. A descendant kindly allowed me to copy them.

In order to formally launch the book the Dorking Dramatic and Operatic Society agreed to re-enact the play reading at the Green Room Theatre on the 11th and 12th November 2011. It was a sell out.

The final part of completing the book had at times been tough, tiring but always inspiring. But I wasn’t shivering in freezing water, I hadn’t seen my best friend blown away, I wasn’t dreading hearing the whistle, I wasn’t experiencing the horrors of a whizz-bang and all my limbs are sound and in one piece – in other words a small price to pay in my efforts to ensure that the thirty two names that appear on our war memorial will always be remembered.

Books can be purchased from Tommies Guides at £12.95 plus £3.00 postage or from Amazon.

John Callcut