by Verity Laughton

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by Verity Laughton

The Red Cross Letters is a verbatim theatre piece. The source material is correspondence (11 out of 8,000 packets held at the State Library of South Australia) between the Australian Red Cross Information Bureau and relatives of wounded or killed soldiers, reporting on young men killed, wounded or missing in action during World War 1.

The play follows deaths from the Battle of Lone Pine at Gallipoli in 1915; an accidental drowning of a Light Horseman in Egypt; three out of four brothers of the one family killed in the one day in 1917; a sapper, trapped in an underground explosion for 42 hours, who survives, but dies later of ‘shock’; a soldier whose story starts with a failure to write home to his brother and sister in law, but ends when killed by friendly fire; a stretcher bearer sniped by the Germans while carrying a white flag. These stories are told in chronological order.

There follows a separate section, which covers the deaths of four soldiers within the same ten days in October, 1917, at Passchendaele: a machine gunner whose mother’s letters are particularly affecting; two more young men killed in gruesome circumstances in the trenches; and an Aboriginal soldier Missing in Action, who dies at the age of 19 in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

The last story is that of a soldier dangerously wounded earlier that year who survives against the odds (although paralysed) to be sent home to Australia.

SA Theatre education resource

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