Frank Bayley and Bill Armitt (at right), with Simon Coady and Colin Starkey, the actors who played them in Hands Up—For You the War Is Ended!
On Tuesday, May 18, 1971 an unusual theatrical production premiered at the Victoria Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Termed a “musical documentary,” the work was the brainchild of the theatre’s artistic director Peter Cheeseman.
A commentary in Peter Cheeseman’s obituary in The Guardian sheds light on the importance of this and similar works performed at the Victoria Theatre:
“Of the more than 140 productions that Peter directed, it was the 11 musical documentaries voicing the verbatim stories and concerns of the local community that brought the Victoria theatre recognition. From The Jolly Potters (about the history of the Potteries) in 1964 to Fight for Shelton Bar! in 1974 (part of a campaign to save the local steelworks), they were researched by members of the company. Subjects ranged from the English civil war in The Staffordshire Rebels (1965) and local railways in The Knotty (1966) to the audience’s second world war memories in Hands Up! For You the War Is Ended (1971).”
The play was funded by a grant from the Arts Council of Great Britain through its program for the promotion of new drama.
My access to the playbill for Hands Up! came through Nigel Armitt, whose father, Bill Armitt, was one of the subjects of the play.
Nigel wrote to me:
“My father was a POW at PG 59. His name was William Armitt known as ‘Billie’. He was captured by Rommel, who said to him during my father’s capture ‘Hands up—for you the war is ended.’
“My father’s war experiences were made into a play which ran for many months here in the UK. Sadly my father died on 23rd February 1996 at the age of 78. He left me with many memories of his war stories which I treasure to this day.
“In 1943, my father was taken from PG 59 to join a working party in the north of Italy. Along with him were, Jock Attrill, Frank Bayley, and Jock Hamilton. They were transferred to PG 146 at Ladirago some 15 miles south of Milan on the Lombardy plain and in sight of the Alps.
“I remember my father telling me about the ‘ring of stones’ where they had to stand while they had tank guns trained on them.”
I am grateful to Nigel for sharing this remarkable document. Details from the souvenir program for the play follow, as well as photographs from the program:
Foreword by Peter Cheeseman
“Frank Bayley, who has been a friend of the theatre’s (and our newsagent) since we arrived in Hartshill village in 1962 once told me that he had crossed the Alps from Italy wearing a pair of dancing slippers tied on with string. On our way back from doing The Knotty in Florence in 1969 I was sitting in the train looking out of the window as we got into the first deep valleys on the way from Milan to Domodossola. As I watched the snow blowing off the top of the ridges, in my mind’s eye, I saw Frank up there, struggling along (it was at night, in March when they did it) and got interested in hearing more.
“Very few of the men who came back from the war have spoken about their experiences since. And little of the published material, for all the ballyhoo about the mass media, has given me, at any rate, any real knowledge of what it was like for the average soldier. For instance the amount of writing and sketching that went on in the prison camps was considerable. But we have tended to see and hear only a little of this work, and often only the officers’ experiences have been published. By the very nature of things only the most daring escapes, by the most ingenious methods have tended to get the limelight, and millions of us ordinary mortals have only wondered at the experiences of the exceptional few.
“None of the men who have allowed us the great privilege of sharing their thoughts, and recording their conversations with us, would, in their modesty, consider themselves to be exceptional beings. In that sense, in making our documentary out of their conversations, we have tried to show one aspect of a huge and complicated conflict from the ranks, and hope that it will, for a change, give a soldier’s eye view of the African campaign and of imprisonment as a prisoner of War. But our researches have also tended to show how unique and individual each man’s experience was and I hope they have taught us to respect that too.
“In one sense, we have never dealt with a more serious and immediate subject in our documentaries than this. We have been allowed to get very close to deep and painful personal experiences. We hope, in presenting their experiences to the community which, as artists, we serve, that we have done justice to this privilege, and to the men and women who have granted it. We hope also, like them, that we have not been either sentimental or downhearted in doing so.
Hands Up—For You the War Is Ended! program cover
Here are several quotes printed at the beginning of the program:
“I was only looking round at the youngsters, the members of your company thinking that if you can put them in uniform they’re the people were talking about really—that age and those sort of aspirations and their reactions.” —Reg Baker
“It was very, very lonely, it was very lonely. That time. And that’s when I think you feel bitter and you think that—those in Parliament, them start wars, have sort of—well I say, they did me out of 5 years of my married life. And I don’t know how anyone else feels, but I still feel the same.” —Edith Ford
“I’ve ate grass, I’ve ate acorns, I’ve ate cat, I’ve ate dog, I’ve ate bloody anything that was…and I say this if a bloke had of died and he’d died of natural causes we should have bloody ate him—we’d have bloody ate him.” —Bill Armitt
“One day, I think it was about early afternoon somewhere round just turned dinner time up comes a tank followed in the distance by several more tanks and I think it was the 3rd Hussars, light tanks came—oh my God what a day that was. I think we all went mad, I think we all became boys again, we were jumping on the tanks, shaking hands, congratulating each other….” —Jack Ford
Jeff Parton, Bill Armitt, Frank Bayley and Peter Cheeseman at one of the many recording sessions
Declaration of War/Parting
“On 3 September 1939 Great Britain declared war on Germany. Our opening sequence contains the thoughts of some of the men and women we interviewed who took part in this war.
“As call up machinery got into top gear more and more men were posted overseas. Frank Bayley, whose original tape-recorded interview provided the starting point for our show, was one of 314,340 registered in April 1940. Before sailing for Durban he was granted three days leave to get married.
Frank and Gladys Bayley’s wedding photograph taken on November 24, 1940 at Newcastle Roman Catholic Church
“Whilst on board ship on his way to North Africa Frank Bayley wrote to his wife Gladys: ‘Isn’t it a pity we can’t spend our first Christmas together as husband and wife, what a Christmas it would have been with Ma and Pa’s silver wedding coming at the same time, wait until we reach that.’
Progress of the War
“Following the British Expeditionary Force’s withdrawal from Dunkirk the main area of conflict on land shifted to North Africa. At first things went well for the Allies as General Wavell’s armies pushed the Italians back westwards through Cyrenaica capturing many prisoners and quantities of equipment. By Christmas 1940 General Wavell could say, ‘We can well close 1940 in the spirit of confidence for the future and pride for the past and present.’
“Despite their successes the Allied troops didn’t find the desert a comfortable place. Extremes of heat and cold, noisome smells, flies, beetles that stole your breakfast all contributed to their discomfort. The song below [Seven Years in the Sand] was collected by Ewan McColl from Herbert Smith of Oldham. Jim Barclay and Simon Coady have added some new verses.
“For the wives back in England lack of news was a constant problem; letters sometimes took months to arrive and many wives were forced to resort to more unorthodox methods of communication. Gladys Bayley visited a fortune teller who gave her news of Frank.”
War and Capture
“Allied hopes in North Africa suffered a series of crippling setbacks in the March and April of 1941. The chief cause was the arrival at Tripoli in February of General Rommel and the Afrika Korps, who, as a fighting machine, were a very different proposition to the Italians. Rommel, moving fast and disobeying orders right and left, swept round the Gulf of Sirte; and whilst British Officers in the field were telling their men ‘Disorganised retreat’—which meant get across several hundred miles of desert under your own steam—GHQ in Cairo were issuing statements like: ‘The withdrawal of troops is proceeding. There is no official fear of the situation being allowed to get out of hand.’”
Stanley Dawson (Wavell) discusses a scene with Peter Cheeseman
Bill Armitt in rehearsal
A scene in which Bill Armitt gets lost in the desert was reconstructed from two interviews with Bill, recorded by Colin Starkey, the actor who plays him.
“Many thousands of men were captured as Rommel advanced, amongst them were Frank Bayley, Bill Armitt and Sgt Major Jack Ford. Many others were killed. One such was Sgt Major Ford’s commanding officer, Captain Morgan. The dialogue in this scene was recalled by Jack Ford in an interview with the actor playing him, Alan David in ‘The Dying Soldier'”
Jack Ford with Alan David, who played him in the show
“700 men under General Parry were captured in and around Fort Mechili on the 7th and 8th of April 1941. They were placed inside a ring of small stones with tank guns trained on them. They were kept there for five days with little food and no water. It was here that any illusions they might have had about the war began to be stripped from them. In this scene, apart from the accounts given to us by Frank and Bill we have also included the captures of Reg Baker and Jock Hamilton. Reg Baker was first rounded up into an olive grove in Crete. Jock Hamilton, later to escape with Frank Bayley and Bill Armitt, was betrayed by Arabs in the desert after being one of the couple of dozen commandos who took part in the famous raid whose objective was to kill Rommel. We have tried to make the ring of stones represent more than one improvised prison. We have also put into it some of the thoughts and actions of the women left at home, unaware of the men’s circumstances, but desperately seeking news. In many cases it was months before they were officially notified as to whether their husbands and sons were alive or dead.”
Gladys Bayley inserted an appeal in the Evening Sentinel on May 21, 1941, which read, “TROOPER FRANK E. BAYLEY, serving in the Middle East, who is officially reported missing. His wife, who lives at 603 Hartshill-road, Hartshill, will appreciate any news. Trooper Bayley is the only son of Mr. and Mrs. F. Bayley, S. Queen-street, Newcastle.”
“From the ring of stones the men were moved to Derna and from there to various places of imprisonment in North Africa. Many went to Tripoli to unload machinery and supplies for the Germans. Opportunities for sabotage were numerous.
“Towards the end of 1942 as the tide turned once more in favour of the Allies and Rommel was withdrawing from El Alamein, the North African prisoners took ship, ‘…one morning they came in RAUS! RAUS! up yer get—get yer kit. And they marched us down to the docks, we didn’t know what was going on…Loaded us on a boat…and we were battened down…’ (Frank Bayley)”
On a page from ‘Retrospect’, writings done in an exercise book whilst in PG 59, Jack Ford wrote:
“Camp Life in 59. 6-1-43. Camp life in the main is dull, tending to lead to that state of condition, known to the soldier, as ‘Browned Off.’ However, much of the depression can be, and often is, relieved by varied interests and games.
“For instance, we have a large number of men who play cards practically all day, the principal game being Bridge.
“Then there are others who attend classes for Spanish, French, German and Italian, or Maths and Bookkeeping or lectures on First Aid, and various other talks.
“As I have mentioned others pass away many tedious hours by turning out efforts in tin, i.e., Stoves, Blower-fires, Brewing Cans, and even small suit-cases. These are really wonderful jobs, when one considers that the only tools available are often a stone or a tin-opener, this latter often made by the man himself out of an old blade or a piece of iron. The tin is obtained from food parcels, and fashioned to take one or two dixies of water.”
Campo Concentramento—Prigionieri di Guerra N.59
“The prisoners who took ship from North Africa were taken to various prisoner of war camps. Frank Bayley, Bill Armitt, Tug Wilson, and Jack Ford went to PG 59, (Campo Prigioneri etc) south of Ancona near the east coast, and there they stayed. The life was very monotonous and Bill and Jack told us that to help pass the time each man in the hut would take his turn to sing a song, do an impression, or tell of some past incident in his life. Our opening scene of Part Two is constructed around one such session.”
“Food in PG 59 was never plentiful. All the ex-POWs we interviewed stressed the importance of the Red Cross parcels, and it would not be exaggerating to say that many would have died without them. There were other ways of supplementing the diet however: there were curiously few instances of longevity amongst the Camp Commandant’s pets for instance.”
Bill Armitt, Barbara Gartside (Production Secretary) and Peter Cheeseman in rehearsal
“Mrs Edith Ford took a job on the buses during the war. Many of the scenes back home come from her recorded interviews with Susan Derrick, Gabrielle Lloyd and Jacqueline Morgan; and also from a session at rehearsal where she reconstructed some of the incidents from that time.
Jacqueline Morgan interviewing Gladys Bayley
To PG 146
“Sometime in 1943 volunteers were called for from the POWs in PG 59 to join working parties in the north of Italy. Bill Armitt, Jock Attrill, Frank Bayley and Jock Hamilton were amongst those who went. They were transferred to PG 146 at Laclirago some 15 miles south of Milan on the Lombardy plain and in sight of the Alps.”
A working party at PG 146 photographed with an Italian guard who is seated in the centre. Frank Bayley is seated at far right and Bill Armitt is behind him, wearing a cap. Jock Hamilton is in the forage cap at far left.
Invasion of Italy and Escape
“On July 10th 1943 the invasion of Sicily began and on the 26th Mussolini fled to Germany. On September 3rd (the 4th anniversary of the outbreak of war) the Allies landed on the mainland of Italy and six days later Italy surrendered unconditionally.”
A page from Jock Attrill’s diary (see below)
“In the confusion that followed the Italian surrender many of the Italian guards simply (in Frank Bayley’s words) ‘buggered off home’ and their prisoners were able to escape. There were three courses open to them. They could wait and hope that the Allies would move rapidly up the Italian peninsula and liberate them. They could head southwards in the hope of meeting their comrades: or they could go north and hope to reach neutral Switzerland. As more and more German troops were thrown into the front developing in Southern Italy the first possibility was all but wiped out, and since they were only about 30 miles from the Swiss frontier it was natural that Bill Armitt, Jock Attrill, Frank Bayley and Jock Hamilton should leave hiding and strike north for Switzerland. Their journey has been reconstructed with the help of Jock Attrill’s diary, noted on scraps of paper and copied out on his arrival in Switzerland. Each of the four men told us what they remembered of their wanderings, the month in the belfry of a Church, the four months crammed together in a tiny upstairs room in Ceranova, and their final journey to the foot of, and eventually across, the Alps. Bill Armitt and Frank Bayley came to rehearsal and filled in many of the details. The story is told in their words.”
A report in the Evening Sentinel on 15 April 1944 announces Frank and Bill’s arrival in Switzerland:
“GOOD NEWS Trooper F. E. Bayley, husband of Mrs. G. Bayley, 603, Hartshill-road, Hartshill, is now free again after being a prisoner of war in Italy for about three years. In a letter to his wife he states that he is well.
“Aged 28, he has been in the Forces for four years, before which he was employed by a Longport firm. In his letter he states that with him is Bill Armitt, of Scholar Green. Trooper Bayley is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Bayley, Queen-street, Newcastle, and this is the first that has been heard of him for seven months.”
Many men were less fortunate than Frank and his comrades and were either shipped to German POW camps before the Italian surrender, or recaptured and sent to join men like Reg Baker who had been in Germany since his transfer from Salonika.
“As the Allies raced eastwards in an attempt to reach Berlin before their Russian comrades more and more POWs were liberated. The letter reproduced below was sent to Reg Baker’s mother and was the first news she received of her son’s release.”
To: Mrs. Baker
29 Harpfield Road
From: Pfc. Jack Guttentag
Cannon Co. 271st Inf.
A.P.O. 417, 90 P.M., N.Y.
It gives me pleasure to inform you that your son is no longer a German prisoner but has been released by American troops. He is even now on his way home.
An American Soldier
Jeff Parton and (left to right) Gabrielle Lloyd, Susan Derrick and Jacqueline Morgan rehearsing the Pot Bank Song
Jack Ford told the group that “Pot Bank Song,” a traditional tune, was the first that was taught to young girls when they went to work in the pottery factories, known as “pot banks.” The version in the show combined the words as sung by Bill Armitt with those from Hamish Henderson’s Ballads of World War II.
“Seven Years in the Sand” was collected by Ewan McColl from Herbert Smith of Oldham. Jim Barclay and Simon Coady added some new verses.
“Ballad of the Disorganised Retreat” is a parody of “The Ballad of Wadi Maktilla” (from Hamish Henderson) made by Graham Watkins and the company using material from the taped interviews. It was sung to the tune of “Villikins and his Dinah.”
The scenes intercut with the “Ballad of the Disorganised Retreat” are taken from many sources, principally: The Rommel Papers edited B. H. Liddell-Hart, Allied GHQ statements as reported in the Evening Sentinel, and tape recorded interviews.
Bennett MacGregor, who served with the Black Watch and was wounded on the advance to Tripoli and in Belgium, sang to the group most of the verses of “The Dying Soldier” (to the tune of “Red River Valley”). The rest of the verses came from Ewan McColl’s collection.
Robert Garioch, the distinguished Scottish poet was captured in Africa and then imprisoned in Italy. He contributed the tune and text of “The Kriegie Ballad,” which he wrote at the time. The ballad was matched to a traditional Irish tune.
“Farewell, Ye Sands Of Africa,” sung to the tune of the Scottish tune “Farewell To The Creeks,” used words adapted from Hamish Henderson’s “Farewell to Skily” (Ballads of World War II)
“Suda Bay” is Australian in origin and became popular in World War I after their troops had suffered severe losses at Suda Bay, on the northern shore of Crete. The song was revived, along with many others, during World War II, when Suda Bay, where Reg Baker was captured, was again the scene of much action. Bob Burt sang for the group a parody of “Suda Bay” which was composed in one of the German POW camps. For the play a couple of words were altered to set it in Italy.
Bennett MacGregor, who served with the Black Watch and was wounded on the advance to Tripoli and in Belgium, sang the group most of the verses of [“Ring of Stone”]. The rest of the verses used in the show were from Ewan McColl’s collection.
“My Brother Sylveste,” a famous Anglo/American army song, was sung in PG 59, where new verses were added.
“Swynnerton Song” was another World War I song that was revived for World War II. There were innumerable versions, and the one used in the show used to be sung in the special buses coming back from the Royal Ordinance Factory at Swynnerton, where Gladys Bayley and many other local women worked during the war.
“Bella Ciao” was the most famous of the many work songs sung in the rice fields by the Lombardy peasant women. The song was parodied by the Italian partisans, and a version used in the show was frequently sung to the cast of The Knotty at late night gatherings when the Victoria Theater visited Florence in 1969.
“Ballad of Anzio,” sung to the tune of the traditional Australian song “The Lachlan Tigers,” with words from Hamish Henderson’s Ballads of World War II, was included in the show.
Parodies of famous hymn tunes are legion. “The Prisoners Lament,” sung to the tune of “Blessed Assurance,” was one of the most popular. It was sung to the cast by Jack Ford, who remembered it from Germany.
Regarding the song “Bless ’em” (sung to a traditional tune), the program explains,
“It is sad that commercial exploitation, as well as the problem of singing in front of women, have clouded the irony of this song, which was for most soldiers only the public or sarcastic version of their own four letter one.”
Frank Bayley’s emergency certificate, “valid for the journey to the United Kingdom and residence in Switzerland,” was issued by the British Consulate General in Zurich on June 14, 1944.
“Although the war in Europe was over, it was not until the Atomic bombs had precipitated the Japanese surrender that all the POWs could come home. Those who were captured by the Japanese were far less fortunate than Frank, Jack Ford, Bill and the rest. In many ways their imprisonment still continues and we therefore print this appeal from Mr A Knight:
“The appeal I make is for all ex-Far Eastern Prisoners of War [prisoner of the Japanese] or their dependants, who are as yet unknown to us, to make themselves known to us. We in this Association are all ex-Fepow’s, with some appreciation of a fellow Fepow’s problems and worries.
“We do not ask for anything but their comradeship. All ex-Fepows are not in need of help and it is not necessary to be a member of the Association to receive help from it.
“Wives of members, or widows, are welcomed to our meetings and find they have much in common to talk about, and usually do! Any ex-Fepow who is interested should contact me. We meet once a month, and new faces are very welcome.”
Arthur Knight (Secretary)
S-0-T & District FEPOW Assn
46 Hoskins Road
Stoke- on-Trent, Staffs
Acknowledgements from the Program
“The script is compiled from interviews with Bill Armitt, Jack Attrill, Reg Baker, Frank and Gladys Bayley, Bob Burt, Jack and Edie Ford, Mr and Mrs John Hamilton, Mrs Heath, Mrs Parkes, Eric Wilson and Arthur Winkle, and from copies of the Evening Sentinel of the period 1939–45.
“The Evening Sentinel research was done by C G Bond (Resident Playwright).
“Barbara Gartside, assisted by Geraldine Copeland, was research and production secretary for this documentary.
“Research interviews and script compilation were done by C G Bond and the Company: James Barclay, Simon Coady, Nick Darke, Alan David, Stanley Dawson, Susan Derrick, Gabrielle Lloyd, Terry Molloy, Jacqueline Morgan, Colin Starkey and Graham Watkins, directed by Peter Cheeseman. Scottish interviews done by Thomas Nelson.
“The music was arranged and directed by Jeff Parton. The Italian translation was kindly done by Professor K Brooke of the University of Keele.
“The souvenir brochure was written by C G Bond and edited by C G Bond and Geoff Sims with photographs by Richard Smiles and design by Graphic Design (Staffs ) Ltd.
“The production is designed by Graham Marsden, assisted by Alison Chitty (Arts Council Assistant Designer).
“The technical staff, supervised by Michael Grensted, are Nick Darke (ASM), Barbara Gartside (production secretary), Janet Holroyd (costumes), Geoff Humphrys (lighting), Thomas Nelson (sound recording and control) and Liz Payne (book and properties).
“Many people have given us help in our research for this show. We are grateful to Bob Burt, Mr H Colclough, Mr J Davies, Richard Dale, Mr W H Dawson, Miss J Fradley, Hamish Fotherington, Mr S G Fisher, Mrs M Griffiths, Mr Knott, Mrs Pickstock, Mr Rainbow, Mr L Thomas, Mr E Worthington and many others who answered our appeal for army songs. We couldn’t use all of them in the show but they have all been useful. Ewan McColl, Robert Grrioch, Mrs B Hancock, Hamish Henderson, A L Lloyd and Charles Parker have given us both songs and invaluable advice in our musical research. We have also learned songs from Elsie Woodward and Bennett MacGregor as well as the ex-POWs and their wives listed above.
“We are also grateful to the authors for their kindness in entrusting to us notebooks, diaries, scrapbooks and invaluable mementoes which have helped to make the script, this booklet and the foyer exhibition.
“We are indebted to Professor and Mrs Beaver and the staff of the Geography Department at the University of Keele for their assistance in sorting out and reproducing maps and aerial photographs, and to the staffs of the City Reference Library, Hanley and the Keele University Library.
“Captain Peter Redmond of the 224 Field Ambulance RAMC (V) has provided considerable advice and assistance with military properties and costumes as have Major Clare of the Light Infantry and Mercian Volunteers, Colonel Cook from Whittington Barracks, and Staff Sergeant Parpington, B Company Staffordshire Regiment of the Territorial Army.
“Similarly we would like to acknowledge the assistance of Mr Bemrose, Curator of Newcastle Museum; The Potteries Motor Traction Co Ltd; the 19th North Staffs Company of the Boys Brigade; Brush Vac, Meir; Mrs A Lloyd of Stafford Red Cross; Mrs Delamy of Stoke WVS; Mrs Phipps; the photographic department of the Evening Sentinel.
“Production photographs on display in the foyers are by Richard Smiles.
“This production was given its first performance on Tuesday 18 May 1971 at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent and has received a grant from The Arts Council of Great Britain under its scheme for the promotion of new drama.”
Bill Armitt in Scholars Green before setting off for North Africa
I am an 85yr old lady and I remember potato picking on Suches farm with Italian Prisoners. I have lived in Burton all my life Stoke-On-Trent. Childhood memories! War years, yet everyone helped. We could do with a lot more of this help around today! O Happy Day! Does anyone else remember this time? Love, Doreen