New Play Brings To Life York Normandy Veterans’ D-Day Stories
Wednesday - September 27, 2017
A unique play which brings to life the verbatim first-hand accounts of the last five remaining York Normandy Veterans is being staged at Richmond’s Georgian Theatre Royal on Friday 13 October at 7.30pm.
'Bomb Happy'– a term used during WW2 to describe conflict trauma – tells the story of the D-Day Landings, and the battles to liberate Europe, from the view point of these five Normandy Veterans when they were raw young conscripts – five ordinary lads from York, Leeds, Sheffield and London; lads who were there at the time.
The three remaining York Normandy Veterans: Ken ‘Cookey’ Cooke, Ken ‘Smudger’ Smith and Albert ‘Bert’ Barritt (sadly, Dennis 'Hank' Haydock, and George ‘Merry’ Meredith, have since passed away), are so determined to share their stories with as many people as possible whilst they still can, that are accompanying the production on its tour across Yorkshire this autumn and meeting audiences after the show.
Bomb Happy originally came about when the York Normandy Veterans voiced their concern that their experiences – a critical moment in British History where so many young men lost their lives – would die with them.
“They were actively looking for a way to keep their memories alive and to honour those young men who never came home” says the play’s writer and director, Helena Fox. Bomb Happy also touches on the lifelong impact of that iconic day for these incredible men, now in their nineties and living in Yorkshire.
Helena immediately set about interviewing and recording the memories of these five exceptional men together with their wives, as well as two widows of late Normandy Veterans.
“At that time, I had just finished writing a verbatim play ‘What The Sea Saw’ documenting eye-witness accounts of the 1954 Lifeboat Disaster in Scarborough, and knew that Everwitch Theatre could support the Veterans’ aim, of documenting and sharing their experiences, through a play.”
“Dennis Haydock was in the Cold Stream Guards and it is wonderful to be able to develop the production at Helmsley Arts Centre - a stone’s throw from where he was stationed at Duncombe Park” says Helena. “Ken Cooke was in the Green Howards, and Albert Barritt was in the East Yorkshire Regiment, so it’s fantastic to be touring the play here in Yorkshire.”
The Normandy Veterans will be portrayed on stage by five young actors, including George Stagnell, fresh from his recent sell-out Edinburgh fringe one man show of ‘Private Peaceful’. George, who is playing ‘Cookey’, will be joined by Carl Wylie as ‘Merry’, Joe Sample as ‘Smudger’, Thomas Lillywhite, as Bert and Adam Bruce will be taking the role of Dennis Haydock, also known as ‘Hank’. Completing the cast is Beryl Nairn, playing ‘Queenie’.
Says Helena, “It has been, without doubt, the most humbling experience of my life to work with the York Normandy Veterans. They set off for France at such a young age and, over seventy years on, it is still with them. You could say in liberating Europe, and protecting Britain from invasion, they lost a certain freedom themselves, since they are never free from the conflicts they endured and the horror of losing comrades on a near daily basis.”
Tickets for Bomb Happy at The Georgian Theatre Royal cost £13 (includes £1 restoration levy) and are available from the Box Office on 01748 825252 or via the online booking service at www.georgiantheatreroyal.co.uk
Photo Top: George Stagnell (as Cookey) front and Thomas Lillywhite (as Bert), in rehearsal for Bomb Happy.
Photo credit: Michael J Oakes.
Photo Bottom: Five of the York Normandy Veterans, on whose testimonies ‘Bomb Happy’ is based are pictured L to R: Ken ‘Smudger’ Smith, Ken ‘Cookey’ Cooke, Dennis ‘Hank’ Haydock, Albert ‘Bert’ Barritt and George ‘Merry’ Meredith.
Photo Credit: BBC Historian Paul Reed