March 1

The Motivation Behind Dear Mother: from history to respect

Cover of Dear Mother by Mark JamesVery soon you will be able to pre-order your copy of Dear Mother written by me and published by Magic Oxygen.

It’s a one act play and follows the journey of a young boy via letters to his mother at the turn of the 20th Century. Over the course of less than a decade, you discover how a man’s world was seen through the eyes of a young boy and find out how it managed to destroy a childhood before it had begun.

We have all heard stories and seen films of men in battle. Now, almost 100 years after the start of the Great War, it can be very easy to feel complacent about the challenges many service men and women had to face in the past. We see images of men in the trenches, we look out over those baron landscapes of no-man’s land and hear the stories that are told in so many different ways; these reminders almost seem to have lost their shock effect at first glance.

I have to admit, I too fell into this trap for a while.

War was something that my grandfather’s generation were involved in, then they spent the rest of their lives going on and on about; it was a life that I didn’t really understand and hadn’t fully considered.

Then one day I saw a photograph.

It was taken from behind Allied lines during the Battle of the Somme. It was a grainy, black and white image of a row silhouetted men taking their first steps to charge the enemy line. All of a sudden, the significance of this moment in time hit me. Each dark figure was a person, not an actor. Unlike the films that I had watched over the years, no one could shout, ‘Cut’ and let them all go home at the end of the day.

Soldiers going over the top into battleThe people I looked at in the picture were all about to rush into an unknown void, with little to no cover. These brave men knew that each step they took, could well be their last. All of them would have had first-hand knowledge of the impact a single round could have on a human body, they had probably lost countless friends and family and knew the perils that lay before them as they defiantly charged forward; yet still they chanced death together.

I tried to put myself their position and to think about how I would feel. As an actor, I regularly put myself in a variety of situations but as I stood there, my eyes transfixed on these faceless men, none of whom would ever know I even existed, the truth was I simply couldn’t connect.

I couldn’t imagine the horrors they were facing, or the fear they felt, or the guts and determination they had to stump up in order to carry out their duties.

Over the next week or so, I thought about this picture a lot. As I did, more and more fluid thoughts started to invade my head and I found myself wondering about the backgrounds of the men; where did they live, what did they do before the war, did they have wives or children?

My list of questions was endless.

A few weeks later, an opportunity arose to write a piece to enter into a one act play festival. It gave me the perfect opportunity to explore all of these possibilities.

I made a conscious decision that if I was going to write this play, I would have to make it as accurate as possible and therefore set about researching the Great War. Using books, documentaries, the Internet and first-hand accounts, I found myself in a state of shock and complete awe. Not only about the sacrifices that so many of the soldiers must have made, but of the horrendous conditions, the ignorance of the senior officers, the attitudes of those back home and how completely unprepared we as a nation were, for this new style of warfare.

As I wrote Dear Mother, I went to great pains to ensure through the words of my fictional Young Thomas, that the memories of the men I had now come to respect, were portrayed in an accurate and realistic way; even minor details had paramount importance.

I went on to play Senior Thomas as we toured a variety of  local theatres and festivals for about 2 years. Every time, the cast and I always tried to convey the same passion with our audience, allowing them to feel the same respect for those unknown soldiers.

Dear Mother is by far my proudest achievement on stage to date and not because I wrote it, but because I feel that somehow by simply telling this story, it allows others a chance to step back in time to appreciate the magnitude of what these men went through.

Graves At Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, The SommeI no longer walk past war memorials and just see a list of names. I see an entire person for every line that is carefully carved upon it.

I no longer feel a poppy is something you have to wear in November. Instead, I thank God I have the freedom to wear it because of the countless sacrifices that millions of soldiers gave and continue to give to this day.

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Posted March 1, 2014 by Mark James in category Dear Mother

2 thoughts on “The Motivation Behind Dear Mother: from history to respect

  1. Tracey West

    Hey Mark,

    What a terrific insight to your motivations to pen the play. I look forward to a live performance but will content myself with the published version for now.

    Wonderful writing,
    T x

  2. Pingback: Our Author Posts: A new one from playwright, Mark James

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