There are not many people that would admit to being inspired by Tory grandee Michael Gove but I will.You see I was not sure there was a need for a new play about World War One, but then when I heard Gove going on about how the reported futility and suffering of the First World War was nothing more than left wing spin, and ranting on again about honour and glory and sacrifice - something I feel would be alien to such a self serving git - I felt the urge to put my metaphorical pen to paper. In truth I have long been angered by the politicians that, on one hand, talk of honouring those that fought for the country and, on the other, systematically dismantle what they were fighting for. So when idiots like Gove start talking their usual bollocks I feel a need to respond, and respond in the only way I can.
The First World War was not a war to end all wars but a tragedy whose blame lies with all sides, and its end was merely a ceasefire in a much longer conflict - a conflict that we still feel the implications of today. The Unknown Soldier focuses on a survivor of that war – a man who, for two years after the guns have fallen silent, has stayed behind to search the battlefields for the fallen. A lot has been written about the First World War - about its horrors, its great death toll, its historical implications – but little has been said about what happened immediately afterwards, particularly to those men who survived the carnage of the Western Front. The men who stayed behind to clear the land of the ravages of conflict, the men who built the great cemeteries, and the men that, changed by war, tried to return to find a normality in a world that would never be the same again. These are the casualties that are never counted, these are the inconvenient reminders the world wants to forget, but it was their experiences that shaped the politics of the early twentieth century and eventually saw the rise of a more caring society.
I hope The Unknown Soldier will provoke a fresh look at the consequences of that war on the individual and how those individuals were treated. It is a story about comradeship and betrayal that I think is strangely resonant today.
'It is as if we have not learned the lessons of the war of 90 years ago' – Harry Patch, The Last Tommy.