The Green Fields of France was billed as, ‘A Docu-Musical Tribute to Manx Soldiers of the Great War.’ This impressive work was conceived, written and produced by a former chairman of the trust, Bill Quine. It has to be one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by us and played to good houses on the 8thand 9th of August.
When Bill first floated the idea, I was very supportive and hopeful during the succeeding eighteen months, that Bill, the cast, musicians and technicians at the Centenary Centre would be able to pull it off. This they did, well beyond any reasonable expectation. The local content, the large cast from elderly to young children, the content, the style and quality of presentation was moving and inspiring. This was particularly poignant when letters from the front to local people were read out. Sadly, many of the writers never returned or were seriously injured.
Members of the audience were greeted by a news paper boy handing out a ‘Special Great War Edition’ of the Peel City Guardian. This will become very collectable.
A narrator tied the various elements together. It began with a graveside and a small girl laying a poppy cross. The vicar for Peel, in period uniform, recited, “They shall not grow old……” followed by a lone trumpeter sounding the last post followed by a minute’s silence. The narrator held up a soldier’s New Testament inscribed ‘Trust Jesus’ Sapper William Fox 2317’, followed by his favourite text.
War was declared on 4th August 1914. Little did people realise that this bloody conflict would last for four years. 8 261 Manxmen went to fight, equating to 82.3% of all Manxmen of military age, the highest percentage of any country in the British Empire. Numerous horses were also commandeered.
Period songs, many war-related, were sung by soloists and the specially assembled choir. The audience joined in with the more familiar ones. All the music was in the hands of John Elliott – always much appreciated. Roy Kennaugh read poems in Manx dialect interspersed with instrumental items.
Suddenly, to cries of Gas! Gas!, clouds of smoke rolled across the stage accompanied by the sounds of guns and shells screaming overhead, serving to illustrate the vicious cruelty of the enemy. This was contrasted by the name of the trench recreated on stage, titled Lhen. The sound of guns and shells were realistic.
The unofficial Christmas truce of 1914 was featured together with a decree from King George the Vth that this was not to be repeated. The fear was that if the two sides saw each other as humans and even fellow Christians, the will to fight might be sapped. At this point, our bagpiper moved from the back of the theatre to the front, playing, “Silent Night.” This had a dramatic effect. The final battle scene in 1918 with accompanying loss of life was very moving.
The last scene back at the graveside with the little girl, complete with poppy petals falling, was very moving.
It was appropriate that our narrator was James Mylchreest, grandson of the late Col. Brian Mylchreest, Colonel in Chief of the Manx Regiment.
I’ve tried to capture the atmosphere of this fine production. All the cast, too numerous to list here, performed with distinction. We are grateful to our sponsors listed in the Guardian and the unstinting efforts of the Peel Centenary Centre. All profits are being donated to the Poppy Appeal. A further event to mark the war’s centenary will be a conducted tour of war graves at Peel Cemetery at 2.30pm on Sunday, 5th October. Meet in or at the cemetery chapel. Remembrance Day will be marked by a special event on the 11thhour of the 11th day of the 11th month at the cathedral war memorial. This will include a large number of children.
In much lighter mood, our next meeting is at 7.30pm on Wednesday, the17th September in the Centenary Centre. Dot Tilbury, the undisputed Queen of Manx Cycling will be unleashed in a presentation entitled ‘Cycling Anecdotes’. This will appeal to all her many fans, so come early!