Chorley Pals in the spotlight for anniversary production

'Pals' will be staged at Chorley Little Theatre
'Pals' will be staged at Chorley Little Theatre

A Chorley dad is penning a script to pay tribute to the ‘pals’ who fought side-by-side during the Great War.

Ahead of the 100th anniversary of The Battle of the Somme, which claimed the lives of many Chorley soldiers, Mark Jones it putting together a poignant performance.

Artistic director Mark Jones

Artistic director Mark Jones

Mark is the CADOS (Chorley Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society) artistic director, and has adapted famous stories for the stage over the past 10 years, including The Hound of the Baskervilles and Oliver Twist.

And as part of the society’s current ‘Northern Lights’ season, which showcases plays by writers born in the north of England, he’s working on a rather special project to bring together a selection of true accounts from Chorley people during the First World War.

The 49-year-old, from Devonshire Road, explains: “It’s coming up to the centenary of the Somme and there is a lot of information about the Chorley Pals, from memorials and exhibitions, so it seemed a good opportunity to explore that.

“I felt there was a story to be told.

“There are a number of different stories from real life accounts - one tale involves a man who refused to fight but met a tragic end because of the guilt he faced.”

Artistic director Mark Jones

“This is really about the people who lived at the time. It’s set in the 1980s when there were still some survivors from the war, and focuses on a 93-year-old called Bill.

“Bill’s story features lots of different accounts from various people. It’s a drama rather than a documentary.

“A student called Tom visits Bill in a care home to hear his story for a college project.

“In the end, the ‘Pals’ theme also represents the relationship which forms between the two characters.”

Father-of-five Mark directed a play about the Accrington Pals in 2004, so carried out a lot of research about the Great War for that.

To develop the personal stories for the Chorley Little Theatre show, he relied heavily on the the Chorley Guardian archives, based at the town’s library.

“I went through lots of Guardian articles to find out what life was like generally back then,” he says. “There was a lot of people being drunk and disorderly, and there was also the formation of the trade unions in the mills, which is ironic when all these men were going off to war.

“The scenes in the play are very disjointed, bringing together the different elements of Bill’s life. I didn’t want it to be in chronological order, it’s stylised because it’s all in Bill’s head, but all of the scenes are linked.

“There’s a scene in the mills, but the main sets are the old folks’ home and the Battle of the Somme.

“We see Bill as a 20-year-old in the trenches with a few other soldiers, and we touch on their stories too.

“There are a number of different stories from real life accounts - one tale involves a man who refused to fight but met a tragic end because of the guilt he faced.

“I haven’t named anybody specifically, but I’ve uncovered all of these stories, and I think it’s right they are told.”

Mark’s voluntary role as artistic director is a hobby, and he works in management training for a dental practice by day.

By night, once the children are in bed, it’s his time to put pen to paper and focus on the play.

“From about 10pm and midnight, the house is all quiet, and I can really get my head down and just write,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed the research, but the writing is my favourite part of the process.”

The location of the performance is also poignant, as people at the time would have visited the Little Theatre - then the Empire Theatre - to watch film reels to find out what was happening at the front line.

Mark adds: “One thing I find interesting is that the soldiers are portrayed as saints, which I can understand, but really they were just ordinary people who didn’t deserve what happened to them.

“World War One to me is the big war - I don’t mean to glorify it, but these people volunteered, and were massacred on the day of the Somme.

“It was such a waste of life. They were fighting other men who were just like them.

“With the Second World War, there was an obvious enemy, but I think people still find it difficult to understand why the First World War happened.

“It was the death of innocence.”

Around 170 members of the Chorley Pals went over the top at the start of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916, resulting in 34 being killed and 57 wounded in the attack.

Steve Williams, secretary and co-founder of the Chorley Pals Memorial Trust and the Chorley Remembers Project, believes the play will be a fitting tribute to the Pals.

“I’m delighted CADOS is playing its part in recognising and commemorating the Pals,” he says. “I’ll look forward to seeing the play.

“Our groups are also working with Chorley Council to plan a programme of events to mark the anniversary of the Somme, which we’ll be able to reveal more about soon.”

- ‘Pals’ runs from June 20 to June 25. Visit www.chorleylittletheatre.com for tickets.