Play: Bomb Happy
Venue: York Army Museum
Review by: Julia Pattison
I had the privilege of reviewing this must-see verbatim play Bomb Happy at Pocklington Arts Centre back in 2017, which brought to life the first-hand accounts of the last five remaining York Normandy Veterans.
Bomb Happy is a slang phrase used by the soldiers when they were under fire for many days at a time, describing the outcome of such conditions.
Sadly, Dennis ‘Hank‘ Haydock and George ‘Merry‘ Meredith didn’t live to see the play project completed but thanks to the dedication of writer and director Helena Fox, working closely with York Normandy Veterans, her team of Creatives and Cast, and generous funding from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund (and additional funding from Grassroots Endowment, administered by Two Ridings Community Foundation and by York Normandy Veterans) this play acts as “a lasting legacy not only to their memories, but to all those young men who lost their lives on the beaches of France and in liberating Europe”.
I had no idea back in 2017, when reviewing this moving play, that I would be accompanying Ken “Cookey” Cooke, and Ken “Smudger” Smith, two of those five young conscripts landing on the beaches in 1944, on a very special trip back to Normandy in June 2019, along with members of the York Normandy Veterans group, led by Nick Beilby, to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.
Reviewing the matinee performance on June 16th 2019, in the very apt surroundings of York Army Museum, having just returned back from Normandy, and being in the company of the three remaining Normandy Veterans (Albert “Bert“ Barritt hadn’t been well enough to travel so it was wonderful to see him again after talking to him after the performance in 2017) was an emotionally charged experience. It had been an honour to hear Ken Cooke and Ken Smith tell their stories to us in Normandy; particularly when we all visited Gold Beach where both men had landed on June 6 1944, D-Day.
Beryl Nairn’s (who had also been on the recent 75th D–Day Anniversary Trip to Normandy) portrayal of Queenie, whose character was based on the experiences of the wives and widows of Normandy Veterans, brought home to us all the long-term impact that war can have on both veterans and their families in her opening and closing words.
The five monologues of the young soldiers were interwoven to create sequenced scenes, with most effective use of simple set, music, movement, sound and lighting; you felt you were there with the lads.
The Normandy Veterans gave their seal of approval at the validity of the words with an occasional “yes“ as their own words were spoken out, or echoing softly, “no choice”; I must confess, I had a lump in my throat at that, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.
A superb ensemble piece, with all of the actors, Carl Wylie (George ‘Merry‘ Meredith), Joe Sample (Ken ‘Smudger’ Smith), William Darwin (Albert ‘Bert’ Barritt), Danny Mellor (Ken ‘Cookey‘ Cooke) and Jack Chamberlain (Dennis ‘Hank‘ Haydock) performing with dignity, respect, sensitivity and passion.
After this carefully crafted and truly moving play, the Normandy Veterans were invited up onto the stage with the actors who had portrayed them so accurately; receiving rich applause, and were on hand after the performance to sign copies of 75th Anniversary Commemorative Editions of the play.
This production of Bomb Happy was specially commissioned by York Civic Trust, in partnership with Everwitch Theatre, York Normandy Veterans and York Army Museum to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day June 2019.
“We will remember them”.