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The Great War and Bertie 

Feedback from Ann Overstal


The Great War and Bertie

Brother Bertie went away

To do his bit the other day

With a smile on his lips

And his Lieutenant's pips

Upon his shoulder bright and gay.

As the train moved out he said,

"Remember me to all the birds!"

And he wagg'd his paw

And went away to war

Shouting out these pathetic words:


"Goodbye-ee, goodbye-ee,

Wipe the tear, baby dear, from your eye-ee!

Tho' it's hard to part I know,

I'll be tickled to death to go.

Don't cry-ee, don't sigh-ee,

There's a silver lining in the sky-ee,

Bonsoir, old thing, cheer-i-o, chin, chin,

Nap-poo, too-dle-oo,


            Having been in  the cast of “Oh What a Lovely War”, I was curious to see how the youth  group would treat  ‘the war to end all wars’  one hundred years on. To do this they took the fictional character of Bertie from the  song “Goodbye-ee” and followed his fortunes and those of other young people  from the schoolroom to  the Front in France. The pierrots from the seaside pier, dressed as they were in “Oh  what a lovely war”  opened the show by whispering and peering at the audience. They were to narrate the story.   Mutants,  dressed in black, became  the scenery and props. 


 Bertie , his brothers and f riends are in the village schoolroom when war is declared.  He tries to enlist but is told to go away and to come back ‘two years older’. He takes the hint ,  lies about his age and joins the army. The actors create a brilliant  train using  the   mutants and wheels and the villagers see him and his friends off to war. Everyone is optimistic as they sing “Goodbye-ee”. They think it will all be over by Christmas.


Once in France,  we find Bertie, now an officer, in the trenches with his men, young men in their teens. We hold our breaths  when on  the first Christmas Day of the war British and German soldiers approach each other’s lines to shake hands and exchange gifts.  But fighting resumes, Bertie takes his men ‘over the top’. Letters from the front are read including one in Luxembourgish.  Eventually Bertie  and  his group of men are wiped out. The only soldier who survives the fighting returns to the village a broken being, damaged for ever by his experience. The roll is called in a half empty schoolroom and we are reminded of the loss of the country’s youth. 


The players used the space of the Altrimenti cleverly. The schoolroom and home were in the centre of the hall while the stage area became the battlefield.   Everyone played several parts using slight changes of costume to delineate their different roles. The costume department did a great job.   Boxes were used in many ways to suggest furniture and scenery.     Props were kept to the minimum; the actors mimed life in the trenches. In the  audience we could feel the concentration in every move.  We were not aware of the  age range of the participants, only of the way they used their imagination and worked together to illustrate the tragic events. Congratulations to everyone who took part in this extremely moving piece of ‘work in progress’ whether as actor, director or crew.

New World Theatre Club Luxembourg