Category Archives: William Armitt

Hands Up Interviews Preserved for Posterity


Actor Stanley Dawson (left), who played the role of General Archibald Wavell in Hands Up! For You the War Is Ended discusses a scene with artistic director Peter Cheeseman

I sent a note to the New Vic Theatre after publishing my initial post about their 1971 production of Hands Up! For You The War Is Ended.” I was interested in what had become of the interview tapes made during creation of the play.

A warm response came from Romy Cheesemen, who was married to creative director Peter Cheeseman. Since his death in 2010, she has been acting as honorary archivist of the Victoria Theatre Archive held at Staffordshire University’s Thompson Library (Special Collections).

She wrote, “Peter would be so gratified to know that his documentary work with local people still has resonance today. He always believed that people’s personal stories and experiences were important and that a theatre subsidised by its own community should find ways of valuing local people and celebrating their stories. Having lived through the war as a boy, Hands Up was Peter’s favourite of the 11 documentaries that his company created. For him it was an unforgettable experience meeting and talking with those ex-POWs and their families, and one that he valued all his life.”

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Theatre of War Recaptured


This is the last of three news articles from the Evening Sentinel (Stoke-on-Trent, England) covering a 1995 revival of the New Vic Theatre’s 1971 original musical documentary, Hands Up! For You the War Is Ended.

See also “Hands Up—For You the War Is Ended!,” “More on the Camp 59 Theatre Subjects,” “Prisoners of Experience,” and “Revived Play ‘the Voice of a Community’.”

Captions for newspaper photos.

Bill Armitt of Scholar Green in captured by Rommel at Fort Mechili in North Africa (top image), and Laura Beckford and Nicola Wainwright as the fortune teller and Gladys Bayley (above left) Neil Hulse, photographer

Jack ‘Jock’ Attrill (above right)

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Revived Play “the Voice of a Community”


This is the second of three news articles from the Evening Sentinel (Stoke-on-Trent, England) covering a 1995 revival of the New Vic Theatre’s 1971 original musical documentary, Hands Up! For You the War Is Ended.

See also “Hands Up—For You the War Is Ended!,” “More on the Camp 59 Theatre Subjects,” and “Prisoners of Experience.”

Captions of newspaper photos:

Daniel Tomlinson and Stefan Marling, who are to play the parts of Bill Armitt and Frank Bayley.

Bill Armitt as he is today. “Even though Bill is now 78, I can see how he was by the way he stands and what drives him,” says the actor who plays him as a young man.

Frank Bayley in uniform in 1940. Sadly, the Hartshill newsagent died a few years after the original production.

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Prisoners of Experiences


A recent post on this site was dedicated to a 1971 theatrical production of the Victoria Theatre (Stoke-on-Trent, England) entitled Hands Up! For You the War Is Ended.

The musical documentary was based on the real-life experiences of several Staffordshire WW II ex-POWs.

Nigel Armitt’s father, Bill Armitt, was one of those veterans, and my access to the playbill for the production was courtesy of Nigel.

Nigel has since brought to my attention that in 1995 the theatre, now called the New Vic, staged a revival of the play to commemorate the 50th anniversary of VE Day. Nigel sent three news clippings, from March and April 1995, which revisit the former troops’ stories and cover the play itself.

Here is the first of the three articles:

real life exploits of the brave PoWs who won their freedom

News In Focus
Evening Sentinel [Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England]
March 23, 1995

the prisoners of experiences…

A KNOCK on the door of a Gillow Heath house announced the return of a young, emaciated soldier.

It was the final leg of an amazing journey for Bill Armitt who escaped from a PoW camp by walking over the Alps – in a pair of dancing shoes strapped to his feet with string.

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More on the Camp 59 Theatre Subjects

This post offers details on several of the men whose war experiences were the inspiration for the Victoria Theatre 1971 musical documentary “Hands Up—For You the War Is Ended!”

I am grateful to researcher Brian Sims for access to repatriation records for four of these men, who were transferred together from PG 59 to PG 146/22 Vairano in the summer of 1943. The British National Archives records provide the men’s imprisonment timelines and details on their escape to Switzerland.

According to the Victoria Theatre playbill, “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.”

Perhaps it was an oversight that Jock Attrill and Jock Hamilton were not mentioned in this list of transferees from North Africa, as the program later mentions their departure from PG 59:

“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.”

When the men later escaped from PG 146, Italian Domenico Lunghi was involved in protecting all four. They later arrived in Switzerland on the same date, April 1, 1944, so it is reasonable to conclude they made the cross-border journey together.

Eric “Tug” Wilson and Jack Ford seem not to have transferred from PG 59 to PG 146 with the others. It is possible that they were transferred later, or they may have remained in Camp 59 until the time of the camp-wide outbreak on September 14, 1943. At any rate, Jack ended up in Germany according to the playbill.

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Hands Up—For You the War Is Ended!


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.

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