The element of doubt surrounding those events and the fog of mystery that has shrouded the legendary ‘football match’ led to a detailed research exercise. The piece had to be flexible enough to be performed in a variety of venues to an equally varied audience. It also had to be historically accurate. The amount of research material available is truly breath taking, websites, biographies, anecdotal collections, archive records and regimental accounts all helped build as accurate a picture as possible of the events that led up to and included the Christmas Truce of 1914. Yet still the spectre of ‘that’ football match hung in the air. It would have been easy to shoe horn the play’s central character into a situation that found him involved in the most ‘organised’ of the football stories from that incredible Christmas but in the end I opted to place Sgt. Meredith in the middle of a more informal ‘kick about’. This allowed me to involve more people ‘men of all ranks’, and it also allowed me to include men from all regions on both sides in an attempt to capture the unbridled enthusiasm for a pause in the mayhem on both sides of the line.
Of course the Truce was not universal and it did not last. Both sides recorded casualties on Christmas Day 1914 in the very sectors that ‘The Truce’ broke out. So it became a very localised truce, dependent on the willingness of the soldiers themselves to engage with the enemy in a very different way than they had up to that point. I wanted to show the changes in attitudes amongst the troops from fighting an honourable war, a great adventure to the deadly grind of trench warfare that developed in such a short space of time following the Truce.
Sgt. Meredith’s War – The Christmas Truce is therefore a reflective piece. Which sees Sgt. Meredith looking back over two years of war to a time when everything, for a short period of time at least, was so very different. Performances of Sgt. Meredith’s War to Primary and Secondary school audiences were followed by The Rhyme Of No Man’s Land a collaborative project that saw Sgt. Meredith’s War interwoven with songs, carols, letters and poems performed by a community choir and children from local schools. The result was an atmospheric and often emotional performance to a full house.
Sgt. Meredith’s War was then adapted for an interactive workshop with a Primary School Year 3 group and then evolved again as part of the Truce Centenary Cup an exciting junior football competition. Between games, players, coaches and spectators alike listened to stories of life at The Front line in WW1, the story of the Christmas Truce and of the so called ‘Footballer’ battalions. The attitude and response of all involved was fantastic and the tournament was played in the true spirit of those footballing encounters in No Man’s Land at Christmas 1914.
Sgt. Meredith’s War was then serialised on BBC Radio Lancashire with the final episode broadcasting on Christmas Eve a 100 years to the day that the Truce began.
Writing and performing Sgt. Meredith’s War has been an amazing experience and thanks must go to Mid Pennine Arts for the opportunity and the faith they placed in me to deliver. The process has inspired me to write more adventures for Sgt. Meredith as he marches his way across France and who knows where those roads will lead him?
Visit the Truce webpage for more information on the project.
Read the programme from The Rhyme of No Man’s Land
Truce was funded by: Heritage Lottery Fund, Lancashire County Council Arts Development Team, Granada Foundation & Hyndburn Homes. It was also supported by Accrington Stanley FC and BBC Radio Lancashire (Up for Arts).