I wrote this short play, based on my grandfather, George Lockwood, to mark the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli. Today seems an appropriate time to share it. George never wore a poppy nor attended memorial services.
A short play
Granddad: (George) 70’s tall and frail with bright twinkling eyes – a gentle man.
Charlie: His eldest grandson 18. Also plays the young George
Vicky: His eldest granddaughter 17. Also plays the nurse.
Colin: A Quaker 30’s a stretcher bearer in the medical corps. Also plays Henry, George’s son.
The back lawn of a suburban garden in a small provincial city. George is sitting in a comfortable chair asleep and surrounded by wrapped presents. He stays onstage throughout. Charlie enters with a sack.
Charlie: Happy Birthday Granddad. Here’s my present.
George: Thank you Charlie. I wonder what it can be.
Charlie: You should be able to guess.
George: It’s either pine cones or sheep manure.
Charlie: Brian’s got you the pine cones – not so messy to gather.
George: My tomatoes will be very pleased and Nana will be able to light the fire. Thank you.
Charlie: There’s lots of food. Mum’s done her stuffed eggs, Aunty Dawn’s brought a pav and Aunty Lizzie has made her famous brandy snaps – all the usual.
George: Good. Any sign of Henry?
Charlie: No, they were supposed to be leaving an hour ago.
Vicky enters with a parcel
Vicky: It’s here Granddad, your medal that Mum applied for. She said I should bring it straight out to you.
Charlie: Can we open it Granddad?
George: We should wait for Henry.
Vicky: Oh, please Granddad, they’ll be ages.
George: Alright, but the presents have to wait.
George un-wraps the parcel
Charlie: That’s a pretty flash box.
Vicky: It’s huge. What does it say?
Charlie: 1915 The Donkey and the Wounded ANZAC. What does that mean Granddad?
George: Charlie, go and see if there’s any sign of Henry. There’s a good boy.
Vicky: (Turns the medal over) Australia and New Zealand 5 stars
G.Barker … Granddad, what was it like at Gallipoli?
George: Well, we arrived on boats, there was a beach and we had to line up for kit inspection. We were supposed to supply various things ourselves. For example, we had to have three kinds of soap: Shaving, bathing and laundry and were ordered to produce the items when they were called out. There was a small chap, Jones, I think his name was, didn’t have much in his kit. When the sergeant called out ‘Bath soap’ Jones brought out a small bar of white soap from his kit, held it up and then put it back. When the sergeant called out ‘Shaving soap’, he pulled out the same small bar of soap and held it up. Finally, the sergeant called out ‘Laundry soap’, and Jones, again pulled out the bar of soap and held it up.
Vicky: I always like that story, it makes me laugh … you never talk about the fighting.
George: It’s all such a long time ago … there’s nothing much to tell.
Vicky: Mum says you got shrapnel in your lung …. Not long after you arrived.
George falls asleep.
The camp-site at Gallipoli, It is very cold. George enters in a great-coat with rucksack on his back. There is sound of sporadic firing throughout the scene.
George: Hello, they’ve moved us, I think I’m supposed to be sharing with you.
Colin: Gidday, you just arrived?
George: Yes, a few days ago. George Barker, infantry.
Colin: Colin Levinson, medical corp.
George: Are you doctor?
Colin: No, just a stretcher bearer. You a conscript?
George: Yes. What about you?
Colin: I’m a Quaker … Couldn’t afford the hundred pound fine or going to prison.
George: I’m an Anglican. I don’t know anything about Quakers.
Colin: We don’t believe in war, so this was the only option.
Colin: Take your pack off mate and sit down, you’re a sitting duck standing there.
George: Rightey oh.
Colin: That’s more like it young fella. How old are you?
George: Eighteen, I left school a year ago.
Colin: Brothers and sisters?
George: Two older sisters.
Colin: Only son eh? I dunno. It’s such a waste.
George: What is?
Colin: Just … this fight. (Pause) But, she’ll be right if you keep your coat on and your head low. Bullets and the cold is what’s killing men here.
George: Are you married?
Colin: Fifteen years. I’m just hoping all this will be over by the time my oldest is seventeen.
George: Over by Christmas they told us.
Colin: Can’t see it myself, but what do I know? The British generals are hopeless. See all those bridges there and the steps over that way. We and the Ozzies organised all that. You can even have your hair cut down there by the store. No, it would be over by Christmas if we were in charge. Let’s have a look at your chitty. Nah, you’re not with me, you’re further down the line. Just remembered, you infantry blokes have to be together, ready to go over the top.
George stands and puts on his rucksack. There is a tremendous burst of gunfire. There are ricochet sounds of bullets bouncing off cliffs. George is hit and staggers.
Colin: Hold on there mate. Where are you hit?
George: Here, it hurts.
There is another burst of gunfire and Colin is hit. He falls to the ground. The scene fades into the hospital ship where both men are lying side by side.
Nurse: It’s shrapnel. The surgeon says it’s in your lung so we can’t operate. You might have to live with it for the rest of your life.
George: Live, Nurse?
Nurse: Yes, you’re one of the lucky ones. You’ll be able to tell your children about it.
George: But I didn’t do anything, didn’t fire a shot, except in training.
Nurse: It doesn’t matter. You were here.
George: Where? Where am I?
Nurse: You’re on the Hospital ship Gascon. They’re shooting at us as well, but you should be OK down here. Now try to get some more sleep, that’s what you need just now.
She exits. George looks around and sees Colin.
George: Colin … Private Levinson. They carried us out on donkeys … Are you alright? Hello.
With difficulty, George gets up and gives him a prod. Pause
George: I’m sorry mate.
George drifts off to sleep as the lights fade.
George is asleep again. Vicky enters.
Vicky: We’re all starving, can’t we open the presents? Uncle Henry might be ages.
George: Just a few more minutes.
Vicky: Granddad, what about the food in the war. What did they give you to eat?
George: Well, there was a shortage of flour so there wasn’t much bread or cake. One day, the cook found a sack of flour sitting behind a shed. He was so excited that he made a batch of scones.
Charlie enters with a bag of pine cones.
Charlie: Mum makes great scones.
Vicky: Shh. Granddad is telling another war story.
Charlie: (whispers) They all tell the story of the scones.
Vicky: How did the scones turn out Granddad?
George: Well, they looked great but when the men tried to eat them they were as hard as rocks.
Vicky: What did the cook do wrong?
George: The sack of flour turned out to be Plaster of Paris.
Vicky: Oh. What was that doing at Gallipoli?
Charlie: For setting broken arms and legs.
There is a sound of a car arriving, doors opening, greetings and adult and children’s voices.
Charlie: They’re here Granddad.
Vicky and Charlie rush off. George looks again at his medal then falls asleep.
Henry: Sorry we’re late Dad. Had to sort out some sheep this morning. Anyway, Happy Birthday … Dad? Are you asleep again? Come on, wake up.
He gives him a shake. There is a pause.
Vicky enters followed by Charlie
Vicky: We can open the presents now that you are here Uncle Henry. Shall I call the others?
Henry: No, Vicky. Granddad isn’t going to wake up.
Charlie: Is he dead?
Henry: Charlie, go and ask Nana to come out here please, and Vicky make sure none of the kids come out. Find them some games to play out the front … or something.
Henry picks up the Gallipoli medal and looks at it.
Henry: You never did tell us about it, not properly, just the funny stories. Now it’s too late.
Fade to black.