The Once Act Play was written by Darren Rawnsley and based on the true journal of David Polley a WW1 Soldier in the Royal Naval Division (RND), Machine Gun Corps. The Journal was re published by Mr. Allan Mott (Deceased) entitled ‘The Mudhook Gunners’.
The play has been performed by Ink Contemporary Theatre working with Bingham Players. It has also been recorded as an Audio CD recorded at Secret Shark Studios Peterborough, by Mr. David Reid.
This scene is taken from the play as the RND prepare to go over the top for one last push. David Polley is among the brave men who fought and gave their lives. Eileen Polley’s daughter is reading the Diary Entries.
Sc15: In the Trench
Sergeant Major: Well lads keep your heads down. Over there on the right hand side that is ‘Oppy Wood’, but the snipers are very busy and very accurate, so be careful.
Frank: Let’s have a cup of tea mate. We are only here for a little while longer then it is time to swap over. Just think about the bar and that lovely cool drink sliding down.
Polley, Frank and the rest sit down, scared, cold and sing ‘Pack Up Your Troubles. There are lots of gun firing noises and screams. Lighting fades and night appears.
Sergeant: Polley, you are coming with me. We are going over the top to fix the communication cables. Get blackened up. You’ve got five minutes. Here drink this rum and make sure you leave your letter here. No identification to go with you.
Polley: Yes Sarge. Frank, looks like I am off on an adventure. Listen, if, well if I go West can you ensure that Bessie and Eileen are safe? Here are their photos and here is the letter home. I am sure it will go well, but I must say I am a little nervous.
Frank: Listen mate, keep your bloody head low and make sure your belly stays on the ground. Now get that rum down you.
Sergeant: Right Polley, let’s go. Stay with me, good luck lad. The rest of you keep your eyes peeled.
Eileen: My dear darlings Bess and Eileen. Don’t be alarmed at receiving this letter. I have done my duty. I never forgot you even when the bombs were dropping and my friends were all going West. The sun shone this morning and there was peace and quiet before the dawn breaking. The tea is hot, but my feet are wet and the stench is unbelievable. However, I am not alone and I feel God is watching over me and of course my close friend Frank. It is not long now before we can go back behind the lines and get replaced for a short, but very welcome break. Take care of each other and remember you are in my every thought. I thank God in my prayers that you are both safe.
Your loving dad and husband
Sergeant: Okay lads, keep covering fire as we get in.
Frank: Jerry has blown a big hole in front.
Polley: How do we cross this?
Sergeant: Listen lad! One two three bang! Jerry is firing at three second intervals. Two three… Go and run for it.
Polley: Not sure I can Sarge!
He runs and turns the table.
Sergeant: Are you alright?
Polley: Yes Sarge. It’s just my pride hurt. Just my pride, that’s all!
Frank: Welcome back Polley. Take a breath, drink this pal.
Polley: Thanks Frank, thanks Sarge.
Sergeant: That’s okay Polley, you did well tonight lad. Now get five minutes shut eye whilst I make the report.
Eileen: We marched through Masion Blanche and onto Ecourie, via St Anzin and Mount St Eloy. Quite a relaxing place. We have a new Commanding Officer, Captain Dubbin’ as he is known because he ensures that every piece of leather is impregnated with the messy stuff. He is indeed the most popular officer in the Machine Gun Corp and I should think that anyone would follow him to their death.
On July 4th we left Maroeruil for St Catherine’s, a suburb of Arras, and closer toward the line again. Being near the once beautiful Cathedral, and the majority of the Company visited the ruins, the famous pile having been raised to the ground by the Huns. Just like the church in Albert. I remember it was said, if its spire falls so will the war end. Here we are back up the Line at Oppy Wood, part of which is still held by the enemy.
Frank: You ready Polley? Let’s get going. Remember, keep heads down and get this cable fixed.
Polley: Come on mate, this is a good night.
Polley and Frank climb over the trench and into No Mans Land. They follow the cable and find a break. Slowly, but surely, together they fix the break and head back, all the time under fire and explosions. They get close and signal to the look out. The look out tells them the line is still not working. Polley and Frank go back into No Mans Land.
Polley: Last time we were lucky, keep your bloody head down mate.
Frank: Don’t you worry about that. Look Polley, the line goes under the ground and the cross is marked In Memory of an Unknown Soldier!
Polley: I’m not bloomin’ going to lift that out of the ground. You don’t know what it might be attached to. Let’s get back and let ‘em know.
Table turned crawling into trench.
Frank: For God’s sake let’s get out of here.
Frank: I’ll make the report, you get a hot drink Polley.
Frank: Hey Polley look what Tommy Davis gave me. A copy of the Divisional Magazine, The Mudhook. Let me read you this poem.
I remember – I remember
I remember I remember
The Trench when I got wet
The Marine Trench where the Bosche
His deadliest sniper set
He never shot a sec too soon
Nor winged a Tommy once
But how I often wished his gun
Were not so close to us.
I remember – I remember
Where the bullets used to ping
And through the air they rushed as swift
As Swallows on the wing
My courage nearly left me then
I owe it now to you
The muddy part of Mariene Trench
That we used to paddle through.
I remember – I remember
The windmill dark and high
I used to think its broken top
Was close against the sky.
It was the rookie’s ignorance
But now ‘tis little joy
To know I’m going back again
Where guns my peace destroy.
Polley: Oh God please spare us. Please stop this murder!
Sergeant: Keep your sodding mouth closed Polley and get on with killing the Bosche, or you will be next. When they’ve gone there is nothing to do. Just survive Polley.
Frank: Come on keep low and take the gun. You are number one now Polley.
Sergeant: What are the orders Sergeant Major?
Sergeant Major: This is it. Let the men know and I will see the Leuitenant.
Sergeant: Right lads, look here. We have to move out in a few hours. At dawn we are going over the top for a final push. The guns will come with us and we will move forward in an orderly fashion and cross the wire. There will be some explosions before we go. The tunnel lads have already dug their way to the line. Once the bombs go off and the whistle blows, we are out of the trench and heading for home lads. This is the big one. We’ve all come so far to let ‘em win now. So get your letters written, pin them to the trench wall. Check your kit, check your guns and rifles. Get your head down, say a prayer and make ready to face the greatest day of your lives. Stick with me and you will be fine. Remember the instructions. There will be a rum rationed passed around for all of you.
Sergeant: Gun teams assemble and ready. Advance to your positions as we proceed.
Lieutenant: Sergeant Major!
Sergeant Major: Men are all in position sir!
Lieutenant: Good luck Sergeant Major. (they shake hands)
I left school in 1976 and even though I had no qualifications, I managed to achieve my City and Guilds in Textile Technology and then joined the Royal Air Force as a Logistics Expert, serving abroad and in the UK encompassing both Gulf Wars. As my career advanced I moved to the Ministry of Defence in London and decided to complete a Bachelors Degree which in turn would lead me into a new career as a Primary School Teacher. I became a qualified teacher in 2007 through the Cambridge GTP Scheme and became a teacher in a Primary School. I then decided to move across to Special Educational Needs teaching. I worked for eleven years with children who had a mixture of educational needs including EBD and Autism, but to name a few. I became the designated Drama Teacher and helped pupils find their voice, share their skills and build self esteem, listening to their concerns and teaching them how to emphasise, as well as taking them to perform at a professional theatre, building their social skills and giving them self belief. I also became a LAMDA Teacher and helped students achieve the Arts Award in Performing Arts. Having achieved my Masters Degree in Education with Drama, with Trestle Arts Theatre and Middlesex University, I decided to develop Ink Contemporary Theatre.
I was Stamford’s first Poet Laureate and have travelled to different cities reciting and performing my work and was nominated and received the Freedom Of the City of London, for my community work and services within the Royal Air Force. I am involved in local armature theatre and run Open Mic Nights in local venues. Working alongside Art Pop Up, I helped run the Stamford Street Festival. I have written and I am in the process of publishing my first book of Poetry and Prose, entitled ‘The Boy Who Loved Buttercups’. Being a member of the Royal British Legion, I help raise funds and have recently be accepted as a Fellow of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragements of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce).