Girls in Year 9 at Bolton School Girls’ Division spent an entertaining and informative afternoon ‘meeting’ a typical soldier who fought in the First World War. Peter Gill’s one-man play ‘Meet Tommy Atkins’ tells the story of “an ordinary man who was caught up in an extraordinary time” and not only portrays the trenches of the First World War but also the aftermath, including the life-long impact those experiences had on so many of the soldiers who came home and the changes that generation made to the UK.
Peter skilfully brought Tommy to life, allowing pupils to see beyond the statistics in their textbooks. He regaled them with stories of the action at Ypres, Passchendaele, Loos and the Somme as well as recalling moments of joy and empathy, including the Christmas truce. He also showed Tommy’s changing feelings about the war over time: bitterness at the way the war’s heroes were quickly forgotten by society turning to pride and comradeship as he gets older over the course of the play.
The programme notes, “Peter feels privileged in being able to portray ‘his’ Tommy and to remind audiences just how much was given by so many to ultimately give us the country we live in today.”
As well as providing lots of details about the First World War and its impact through Tommy’s story, Peter was happy to answer questions from pupils about his inspiration, research and particular moments in the play. He said that although no one person would have experienced everything that Tommy does in the play, it gives an overview of the whole war from a soldier’s perspective. The programme also included plenty of helpful and interesting information, including poems, a timeline, and an explanation of why the generic name ‘Tommy Atkins’ came to be used for British soldiers.
‘Meet Tommy Atkins’ was written by Peter in 2014 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.