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Lichfield Players go back in time for new Garrick production

Members of the cast of a new Lichfield Players production have been getting into character by turning back the clock on Cannock Chase.

They were preparing for their performance of The Accrington Pals at the Lichfield Garrick by donning World War 1 costumes and going through drills with military historian Edwin Field.

Edwin Field, Richard Clarke, Richard Bannister-Lowe, James Bentley and Brian Asbury

Edwin Field, Richard Clarke, Richard Bannister-Lowe, James Bentley and Brian Asbury

The Accrington Pals were a volunteer East Lancashire battalion made up of groups of friends from Accrington and its neighbouring towns. They were billeted at Brocton Camp from May to July 1915 in huts similar to the reconstructed barracks accommodation located opposite the Marquis Drive Visitor Centre on Cannock Chase.

“It’s haunting to think we are where the real Accrington Pals would have been involved in mock battles and military exercises, ultimately in preparation for going to fight in France,” said James Bentley who plays Ralph in Peter Whelan’s play. “We’re here in the damp, similar to the Accrington Pals’ first experience of the Chase.

“The battalion marched three miles from Rugeley station to arrive in the cold and pouring rain, and then after the rain stopped, conditions didn’t get any better as the troops were inflicted with smoke and dust from the surrounding moors setting alight.”

The Accrington Pals were one of the initial battalions to be housed in camps set up on land offered by Lord Lichfield to accommodate the huge numbers of new recruits enlisting. By the end of the war, Rugeley Camp and Brocton Camp had their own infrastructure, and could house approximately 40,000 men and over 11,000 horses.

“Being here in uniform where the Accrington Pals were makes me even more conscious of the parallels with my own family history,” said Richard Bannister-Lowe, who plays young Pals recruit Tom on stage. “My great great uncle suffered a similar fate to that of so many of the Accrington Pals.

“Of some 720 Pals, 584 were reported as killed, missing or wounded on July 1, 1916 – the first day of the Battle of the Somme. My great great uncle died on September 17 at the Battle of the Somme fighting as part of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment. He is remembered alongside the Accrington Pals whose bodies were also never found, at the Thiepval Memorial at the Somme battlefields.

“The fact I’ll be the same age as he was on the 100th anniversary of his death – 35 years old – is quite chilling.”

The Lichfield Players’ production of Peter Whelan’s play about the Accrington Pals and the changes faced by the women they left behind opens at the Lichfield Garrick on March 24 for a five night run. Tickets are £12 (concessions £11 & £9). To book call the box office on 01543 412121 or visit www.lichfieldgarrick.com.

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