Registered Charity N° 1099807

 

DEAR CHOCOLATE SOLDIER: SYNOPSIS

PART ONE:

SONG:  IT’S A LONG WAY TO TIPPERARY

It is June 1916.  In Whiterock, a small village in Cornwall, a 6 year old girl, Joan Burbridge, watches as her father wraps up a packet of chocolate for the brave soldiers at the front.   A thought strikes her:  ‘How will the soldier know the chocolate is from me?’  Her father obligingly writes on the packet: ‘From Little Joan, Whiterock, Wadebridge, Cornwall.’  Six weeks letter, a green field envelope arrives, addressed to Little Joan.  It is from Bombardier Edwin Hassall, still in the midst of the fighting at the Battle of the Somme.  In the first of ten letters, he describes how he happened to see the chocolate packet in a trench which they had just taken from the Germans.  He was touched that the soldiers were being remembered by the children of England and so decided to write. He signs himself E.Hassall, Bombardier, 49 Siege Battery G.A., B.E.F.

A few weeks later, Joan’s father writes back and asks Joan is she has a message for him.  Joan doesn’t hesitate.  ‘Tell him I’ll marry him when I grow up!’  Hassall is evidently delighted and sends back an ‘engagement ring’, made out of a piece of German time fuse. 

SONG:  IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD

He also describes how he walked out of work one fine morning from a small firm in Leek Staffordshire, and enlisted on the spot.

POEM:  THE VOLUNTEER  by Herbert Asquith

We hear a little about the arduous job that the artillery have at the battle of the Somme.

SONG:  PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES

In the next letter, Hassall is in England, invalided out due to a severe case of dysentery.  He hardly had the strength to pull his socks up, let alone handle a gun.  Yet He could not believe his luck when he was told he was on the Blighty list.

SONG:  TAKE ME BACK TO DEAR OLD BLIGHTY

By November 1916, Hassall has news.  He has become engaged - really - to a young lady.  He assures Joan that he will continue to keep in touch with his ‘Little Mascot’, and sends her a Regimental brooch. 

SONG:  JOLLY GOOD LUCK TO THE GIRL WHO LOVES A SOLDIER

We witness a conversation between Hassall and a friend in which Hassall reveals he has been offered a job In Leeds.  The first half of the show closes with a rendering of WHEN THIS ROTTEN WAR IS OVER.

PART TWO:  It is 1917 and it’s all change with the Russian Revolution, the Americans entering the war and a change in leadership - Lloyd George as the new Prime Minister and Foch as the new French Commander in Chief.  Hassall tells Joan that they have been busy ‘chastising the naughty Germans’.  In fact, this is the Battle of Arras which started well (along with the Canadian success at Vimy Ridge), but then petered out with horrific casualties.  Hassall makes light of the terribly muddy conditions, jokingly telling Joan how he fell face first into the mud, and how the soldiers asked if he was trying to swim the Channel!

POEM:  IN MEMORIAM by Edward Thomas (who died at the Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917)

SONG:  GOODBYE DOLLY GRAY

A new attack is now planned towards the village of Passchendaele.  Significantly addressing his letter to Joan’s father, Mr Burbridge, Hassall admits that the conditions are far worse than at the Somme.  He says they are experiencing ‘a very, very rough time indeed.’  He clearly thinks of Joan as a Mascot:  he has christened the battery’s big gun ‘Joan’s gun’.  It needed some repairs for a few days and while his battery was out of action due to this, ‘Fritz’ launched an attack killing several.  Although he escaped death, one of his friends was killed.

POEM:  THE SOLDIER by Rupert Brooke

Passchendaele drags on throughout the year and the horrors are told by two actors. 

POEM:  SUICIDE IN THE TRENCHES by Siegfried Sassoon

Somehow Hassall manages to remain stoical and even humorous.  He tells Mr Burbridge a couple of anecdotes about Busty the cook who made the tastiest of meat rissoles and was taken off to Blighty because he was wounded.  We witness an exchange between Hassall and a soldier who was so anxious to get a ‘nice soft Blighty one’ that he really believed he had been hit by German bullets when it was actually only a bit of soft earth.

SONG:  KEEP THE HOME FIRES BURNING  

Conditions at home come to the fore in an early morning scene between Hassall’s sister Emma and the town doctor - Dr Sowerby as they queue for rations.  A letter from Hassall, briefly on leave, has a touching little story about how, to his great distress, he left the two photos of Joan in a trench in the heat of battle; happily he recovered them when they retook that trench from the Germans…

As 1918 dawns, a huge attack is planned by first the Germans under their new commander Ludendorff and then by the allies.  Actors describe the ferocity of the German offensive.  Morale among the British was at an all time low.  But the allies’ riposte, beginning in August and lasting until the end of October finally turned the tide.  Hassall and his battery were involved heavily in all this shelling.  Ludendorff realises that the only way out was to negotiate for an Armistice.  The poet Wilfred Owen was killed near the Oise on 4th November.

POEM:  ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH by Wilfred Owen

The armistice is signed.  Hassall, in a letter of 3rd December 1918, comments on the uncanny quiet among soldiers after the signing.  His anger about the role of the Kaiser is palpable: he suggests that the right thing for the Kaiser and his ‘pinnacle skulled son’ to do would be to commit suicide after all the damage they have been responsible for.

In a scene between Emma and Dr Sowerby, punctuated by quite angry asides from Hassall, we see something of the post Armistice atmosphere.  Hassall wants to know what he will get for over four long years of service on the Front (while some people didn’t sign up until 1917). However, Emma and Sowerby believe that with a new job to go to plus his impending marriage, things look bright for Hassall, who ends this letter with a paean of praise – and thanks – to Little Joan for having been a mascot throughout so many conflicts.

The play comes to a shocking end with the news, in a letter from Emma, that Hassall is dead, after an excruciatingly painful eight month illness.  

We hear the Last Post, followed by SILENCE, followed by The Rouse and then a gun salute.  All the actors sing ‘O God our Help in Ages Past’

CURTAIN

Home