Children of the Blitz  

 

 

 

 

An Extract

For evaluation purposes, you can find an extract from the opening of the play below.

If you would like to read more then you can click the button below to download the full script of Act 1 in pdf format.

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Act 1

Scene One: Before the War.

               An empty stage. Lights up on Helen. Centre Stage 

Helen               I'm not particularly special -not special at all.  There's no real reason why this story should have been about me - it could have been about any one of thousands - millions even - of children just like me.  Perhaps it's because I'm so ordinary that I was chosen. But in the war, even ordinary people did the most extra-ordinary things.

                        I'm Helen Fisher. In 1938 I was eleven years old. Like most children I didn't take much notice of the news. We all knew about Hitler of course:  we'd seen him on the newsreels at the cinema.  It seemed stupid that people should be afraid of him - the way he danced about and shouted all the time, waving his arm up and down. He always reminded me of Mr Punch from a show I'd seen on the beach at Eastbourne!  He seemed such a little man to be so important.  But over the next few years whenever people talked about what Germany was doing, I always saw Germany as that one man - Hitler.

                        People had been talking about war for ages but it didn't really mean anything to me.  It all seemed so far away - it was something for grown-ups to worry about.  I was more worried about passing my exams and getting into Grammar School. But in the months from January 1938 to September 1939 so many things happened that I couldn't ignore it all together.  We talked about War as if it was a game - and to us it was.  At playtime in school playgrounds all over Britain, Hitler was never far away...

A school handbell rings.  the rest of the  stage  is illuminated  and  children run on as  if  for  school break. They gather in small groups playing games. Two newspaper sellers stand each side of the stage next to billboards. As they call out they turn the boards to show the appropriate headline and date.

Newseller1     Evening Standard.   Get your Evening Standard! Germany occupies Austria!  Read all about it! Germany occupies Austria.

            As he finishes, attention shifts to one group of children playing.

Child1               'ere, where's Austria.

Child2              Dunno. In'it in Russia?

Child3              No, it's near Africa. My uncle went to live there. It's where Kangaroo's come from.

Child4              What does Hitler want wiv Kangaroos?

Child3              Dunno.

Child5              My dad's volunteered for the ARP's.

Child1              What - like the angels.

Child5              No A.R.P.  Y' know - Air Raid Precautions. He showed me how to put out an incendiary bomb.

Child4              Show us then.

Child5              Can't - you need a stirrup pump and a fire bucket.

Child1              What if you ain't got 'em then?

Child5              You just get blown up!

            They carry on playing.

Newseller2     Daily Mirror.   Get your Mirror  'ere.  Germany threatens Czechoslovakia.   Chamberlain to meet Hitler. Daily Mirror.

            Highlight on the next group of children.

Child1              You seen what they're doin' in the park?

Child2              No. What?

Child1              Digging.

Child3              What for?

Child1              They said it was for air-raids.  Great big trench it was.

Child4              What are you supposed to do then?

Child1              Jump in it and put your hands over your head.

Child5              That's daft. You won't be able to see anything.

Child2              Yeah.  You won’t catch me in a stupid ditch.  I wanna watch.

            The children start a mock dog-fight.

Child5              Anyway, my brothers in the army and 'e says  there won't be a war.

Child4              No - worse luck.

            They move off and continue to play.

Newseller1      Evening Standard.   Get your Evening Standard. Munich Pact agreed.  Chamberlain announces  "Peace in our Time!"

            Focus in on next group of children.

Child1              Ere, if there aint gonna be a war, why we still got to have stupid gas masks?

Child2              I hate 'em. The smell makes me sick.

Child3              I was sick after gas drill yesterday!

Child1              Sir looks really stupid waving that rattle around, doesn't he.

Child4              Not  'arf.  And he really gets annoyed when you breathe out and it makes that farting noise.

Child5              Yeah (Blows a raspberry and the rest giggle)

Child2              Yesterday was like a real gas attack though.

Child5              Yeah no wonder sir was so angry.

Child1              Why?

Child4              Well because of the noise the masks make, half the kids in the class had been passing wind during the drill.

Child2              Stupid thing was we only found out when we took the masks off!

All                    Phew!

            Their expressions show the effect of a rotten smell as the move off.

Newseller2     Mirror.  Get your Daily Mirror.  Germany occupies Czechoslovakia. Conscription announced.

            Focus on next group of children.

Child1              My big brother got a letter today saying he'd been called up.

Child2              My brother got one yesterday. Mum was really upset but dad told her not to be stupid because there wasn't going to be a war.

Child3              I'm sick of Hitler. I hate him.

Child4              My dad's joined the civil defence.  He says we’ve all got to do our bit.

Child5              We put sticky tape on our windows last night.  It told us to do it in that book that came.

Child1              What for?

Child5              In case there's an air raid.

Child1              Sticky tape won't keep the bombs out!

            They act out a bomb falling and blowing up.

Newseller1     Standard.  Evening Standard.  Germany and Russia sign agreement.  Thousands return from Europe. War expected.

            Focus on next group of children.

Child1              I’m fed up of all this stuff about war. It's boring.

Child2              My teacher said that if there’s a war they’re going to send us all to live in the country.

Child3              I don't want to go to the country. That would be like running away. We should stand and fight.

Child4              Yeah, if there's going to be a war I don't want to miss it.

Child1              I was helping mum make blackout curtains last night.

Child2              That's easy.  I had to help dig up our garden for an air raid shelter.  Dad and me brother have been building it.

Child3              We've cleared out under the stairs just in case.

Child5              My dad says that there won't be a war.  He says that in the paper only one out of five people thinks there will be a war.

Child4              Which five people?

Child5              Dunno - he didn't say.

Child1              I think they should have the war and get it over with!

            They move off.

Newseller2     Daily Mirror.  read all about it.  Germany invades Poland. War imminent. Blackout enforced.

            From off stage comes the cry. 

Warden           Oi! Turn those lights out!

            There is a blackout on stage.  A flashlight flashes across the stage.

Warden           You kids. Get off home. Clear the streets.

            The children leave the stage. As they do so the light comes up on Helen.

Helen               September 1st, 1939. The day Hitler invaded Poland. I'll always remember that day. On that day I became involved in the biggest mass movement of civilians ever to take place in this country. The plans had been made for years but I didn't know anything about them until that day. All the decisions were made by the officials of course.

            Lights down on Helen. She exits. Lights up on the two officials either side of the stage.

Official 1          The need for evacuation was first discussed in 1924.

Official 2          By the end of the First World War in 1918, there had been 103 air-raids on Britain causing 1,400 deaths.

Official 1          Evidence suggested that with advances in the design of aircraft the role of bombing in any future conflict would be considerable.

Official 2          Obvious targets would be areas of dense population and manufacturing centres.  London would clearly be a primary target.

Official1           In the event of war, such areas would need to be cleared of superfluous civilians whose presence would merely hinder the war effort.  Children, pregnant women and the blind were identified as falling into this category.

Official 2          We expressed concern at the time that some of the small children who come from London would not be the kind of children that would be welcomed too ardently, even by patriotic householders.

Official 1          Through the 1930's we continued to develop our strategies.  In  1933 we made the plans for an evacuation known to the public for the first time.

Official 2          We decided that evacuation would take place prior to the outbreak of war.  Our proposals indicated that we would move some three to four million people within the scheduled time limit of 72 hours.

Official 1          Relying almost totally on the railways of course.

Official 2          As the crisis worsened we divided the country up into “danger”, “neutral” and “reception” areas.

Official 1          Children would be evacuated from the danger areas and moved to billets in their reception areas. Where possible schools would be kept together and the children would be accompanied by their teachers.

Official 2          Children under five would be accompanied by their mothers.

Official 1          In June 1939 war was felt to be likely. Messages were broadcast on the radio recalling children and their teachers to school.

Official 2          To avoid panic, regular evacuation practices held.

Official 1          On September 1st, 1939, His Majesty's government delivered an ultimatum to Hitler.

Official 2          With war now inevitable the plans for evacuation were put into operation.

            The lights dim and the two officials exit.  As they do so the school children, carrying assorted suitcases, bags and boxes, enter and move into position.

Scene Two: Evacuation.

The East End school children sit to one side of the acting area and the North London children are on the other. When one group is "on" the other is frozen.

Carol                'ere, 'ow many times 'ave we done this now?

Claire               Dunno.

Carol               It must be at least three times this week.

Fay                  Four! We done it twice on Tuesday.

Carol               Oh yeah.

Claire               Waste of time if you ask me. We never go anywhere.

Kitty                 I know, it's stupid in'it. I've said goodbye to my mum every day this week thinking that I would be evacuated.

Asha                Yeah, my mum made a real fuss on Monday.  She was crying an' everything. Today she said "Ta ra then" and just got on with me dad's breakfast.

Audrey             Last night when I got in my mum just said  "Oh you're still 'ere then are ya" and sent me off to get some chips.

Gas Mask       I  live wiv me auntie. I reckon she’ll be glad when I’ve gone!

          Pause

Carol               Do you reckon there really will be a war?

          Freeze. Action switches to the North London Group.

Helen               Daddy says that if Hitler invades Poland there  is bound to be a war.  He says that Chamberlain will have no choice.

Sarah              But Miss said that everything would be alright.

Pamela            Well she has to say that doesn't she.  She's  just trying to keep our spirits up.

Sheila              She's not doing a very good job then.  She  always seems terrified when we go down to the station.

Pamela            Well you know why that is don't you.

Sheila              She doesn't want to get blown up?

Pamela            No  silly.  How can she get blown  up.  She'll  be going  into  the  country with  us  to  avoid  the bombing.

Helen               What's she worried about then?

Pamela            Well,  her boyfriend is in the RAF. She'll have to leave him behind.

Sarah              Miss has got a boyfriend! How do you know?

Pamela            I saw them kissing when we went to the station  on Wednesday. He drove up in a little sports car - I think she telephoned him.  They went into a little room by the ticket office and they thought no one could see.

Veronica          Are you sure it was her boyfriend.  Couldn’t it have been her brother?

Pamela            Not by the way they were kissing!

          They all giggle.

Veronica          How were they kissing then?

Pamela            You know...

Veronica          No.

Helen               Was it like this?

            She turns her back to the audience and wraps her arms round her back to make it look like she is in embrace.

                        Oh my darling, How can I live without you.  The minutes will seem like hours with you gone. Mmmmm... .

          They all giggle.

Pamela            A bit like that yes.

Veronica          Miss was doing that! But she's a teacher.

Helen               A teacher and (with emphasis) a woman!

Sarah              It’s disgusting.  She’s really old.  Thirty at least.

Sheila              What was he like.

Pamela            Actually he was scrumptious.  He looked really handsome in his uniform.  He was an officer.  He had a little moustache like Clarke Gable.

Helen               Clarke Gable! Aaaahh! (She swoons into the arms of one of the girls)

          Freeze.  Back to the East End group.

Peter               Spitfires are best.

Robert             No they're not Hurricanes are better.

Peter               Don't be daft. Spitfires are miles quicker.

Robert             'Ow do you know?

Peter               My dad told me.

Robert             'Ow does he know!

Peter               He just does.

Fay                  Shut up you two.

Vicky                I hope we don't 'ave to wait much longer.  This is boring.

Kitty                 It's better than doing sums. They're too hard.

Fay                  We haven't had to wait this long before.

Asha                Perhaps they’re really going to evacuate us this time.

Vicky                You really think so?  I was going to have fish and chips tonight.

Fay                  I've already eaten my sandwiches.

Vicky                They don't have fish and chips in the country.

Audrey             They don’t have anything in the country  - just trees and animals.

Peter               We won't go today.  They haven't even declared war yet.

Robert             My dad says "the sooner, the better. It’s about time we gave Hitler a bloody nose"

Peter               My dad could give Hitler a bloody nose on his own.

Robert             My dad could duff him up good and proper.

Fay                  He's only little though.

Robert             No he isn't he's huge.

Fay                  But I saw him on the newsreel at the cinema. He didn't look very big.

Robert             You saw my dad on the newsreel?

Fay                  No not your dad - Hitler!

Robert             Oh yeah - Hitler's a little squirt.  I could duff him up.

Peter               Couldn't.

Robert             Could.

Peter               Couldn't.

Robert             Cou... 'ere what's that smell?

Vicky                Eeurghh.

Kitty                 Oh no, it's Gas Mask - he's farted.

Gas Mask       Sorry!

Peter               Blimey, that's horrible even by your standards Gas Mask.

Fay                  They should parachute Gas Mask into Germany. The Nazi's would surrender overnight!

Audrey             Hang on - one of the teachers is coming.  It  must be our turn now.

          Freeze. Change to North London group.