Peter Terry is a friend from my acting days.
What blows my mind is that Sue Kirby, a close friend in George where I now live, knows Peter. Dave, her husband, met Peter in his primary school days, they went to St Andrew’s, were discharged from the army together and then Pete went to Rhodes and Dave went to Cape Town University. They remained close friends throughout.
Much to my delight, Peter spent the night at Sue’s before going to Knysna to perform his one man show. Sue kindly invited me to lunch. It was incredible seeing my friend of forty years again.
“He’s grown so much older,” was my initial thought.
‘And so have you’, a voice inside me laughed.
Peter still has a wry sense of humour which I discovered with delight. He recounted the last time he had seen me before my stage fall.
“We were at Anne Curteis’s place in the country. For some reason, my young two year old daughter was infatuated with you and spent much of the time sitting on your lap on the lawn.”
He showed me a photograph of this little bundle of mischief who had played on my lap all those years ago. This beautiful woman in her thirties laughed into the camera.
Over lunch I asked him about his production.
“Janice Honeyman said to me: ‘You are a wonderful writer. Write about something that moves you and I will direct your production.’
How could I fail to begin writing immediately?”
Janice Honeyman is an actress, writer and director extrodinaire!!!
I remembered Janice directing me in: Isn’t It Romantic. Janice directs like a dream. I could well understand the relish with which he began to write. He wrote about something that has alway fascinated him, the First World War.
And that was how At All Costs came into being.
The following evening, Sue and I drove to Knysna to see Peter’s production.
We took our seats and I waited eagerly for the performance to begin. The lights brightened and Peter strode through the audience to front of house. Facing us, he began to speak.
The play takes place in the 1970’s. Peter addressed us as a character, David Wells, who is a survivor of the Battle of Delville Wood in 1916. The Battle of Delville Wood was the first major engagement entered into by South Africans on the Western Front during the First World War. For six days and five nights a soldier was killed every minute, with one South African soldier dying every three minutes. David Wells had returned to the wood fifty years later in an attempt to lay his ghosts to rest.
“It has taken me fifty years to face my fears.”
Peter is a brilliant writer and this is clearly evident in his descriptive use of words in his play. He paints scenes so horrifying in their bleak, guttural truth.
He is also breathtaking as an actor. I don’t think I have seen Peter act before. What I saw that night was heart wrenching. David Wells reached out and took me with him down through the corridors of time so that I too felt the gunfire, smelled the stench of war, the loss, the inhumanity of man. I saw it all there reflected on the face and in the voice of David Wells. At one point, I had to close my eyes because it hurt to be a witness to such pain, anguish and suffering. I had tears running down my face at David’s final words.
“We held the Wood.
At all costs.”
In the First World War, there were 17 million deaths and 25 million casualties. I am enraged at leaders who declare war. Are they sitting in icy cold muddy trenches attempting to shoot someone in an opposite trench? Of course not! They sit comfortably in their offices and order young men to carry out their war for them. And what an unendurable time those young men had to endure between 1914-1918. When the Great War ended in 1918, they swore that was the war to end all wars. Twenty years later, the Second World War began! While Peter and Janice were rehearsing their production, Russia attacked Ukraine. Ukraine was forced to defend herself.
I wonder what would happen if more women were Presidents or Prime Ministers? I think maybe there would be far fewer wars. Women are more empathetic than men and they are also more far seeing. They consider the consequences of their actions.
Watching Peter Terry playing David Wells was actually a cry out to the world to stop wars. Wars have gone on from time immemorial.
And I fear they will continue to do so!
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. – Laurence Binyon