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DEAR CHOCOLATE SOLDIER: SYNOPSIS
SONG: IT’S A LONG WAY TO
is June 1916. In Whiterock, a small
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
hear a little about the arduous job that the artillery have at the battle of the
SONG: PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES
the next letter, Hassall is in
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
SONG: GOODBYE DOLLY GRAY
new attack is now planned towards the
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…
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
POEM: ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH by Wilfred Owen
armistice is signed. Hassall, in a
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’