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Editor's Note: Ian McMillan explains how the story of his parents romance during World War II inspired his afternoon drama. Listen to Love, War and Trains from 1 May 2013.

Love, War and Trains

The tale that I tell in Love, War and Trains has been a family story of ours for as long as I can remember; in fact we told it to each other across kitchen tables and in back rooms with murmuring TVs in the background for so long that in the end it stopped being remarkable, it became ordinary, like the fact that I had four uncles called Uncle Blood, Uncle Terror, Uncle Passion and Uncle Thunder wasn’t too unusual. I’ll come back to the uncles later, perhaps.

The facts are these: my dad was from a place called Carnwath in Lanarkshire and my mother was from Great Houghton near Barnsley. My dad joined the Royal Navy in 1937 and my mother was called up to the WAAFs at the start of the war and they wrote to each other as pen pals in a scheme organised for the services at the time. They wrote for a while as my dad sailed the world and my mother worked in signals at RAF Blackbrooke near Wigan. They met a few times and the letters got more and more passionate. Eventually they got married on a 48-hour pass: my dad got a 48-hour pass, anyway, and sent a telegram to my mother saying GET LEAVE NOW. She couldn’t get leave but he chugged up to Peebles, where the wedding was, on a slow train, not knowing this. She eventually decided to go AWOL and climbed the fence and got on a train and just got to her wedding in time. They had one night together in the Tontine Hotel on the High Street in Peebles, my dad went back to the war, my mother went back to base and got arrested and chucked in the glasshouse for two weeks. Arrested for love: the height of romance.

Ian McMillan tells the tale of how his mother and father fell in love.

When I told Gary Brown this story he said I should write it as a play and not only that, I should write it as a rhyming play. I wasn’t sure how that would work but I had a go; he also said that I should be in it as a narrator, with a different kind of rhyme-scheme. So I narrated in rhyming couplets, my dad spoke in quatrains, and my mother spoke in a special way that I invented for her, a six-line stanza that rhymed abc/abc, reflecting the more reflective (!) way she spoke.

After lots of drafts during which Gary and I wrestled with the dilemma that we all knew the ending (or I wouldn’t be here) and we tried to get some jeopardy in and I tried all kinds of new rhymes I’d never thought of before, we recorded the play at Media City in March. Billy Boy and Verity May Henry were fantastic as my parents, and I did a passable job of being me, although I don’t normally talk in rhyme that much.

And the Uncles? One was passionate, one was loud, one liked a scrap and one was scary. That was Terror. His real name was Norman. Of course.

Listen to Afternoon Drama: Love, War and Trains

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  • Comment number 7. Posted by wordstar

    on 10 May 2013 09:13

    Compelling drama. I listen to the majority of BBC radio drama output. When I realised that Love, War and Trains was written by an eminent poet, I wasn't sure if it would hold my attention. I'm not into poetry. Though I appreciate that great poets (Shakespeare) write great plays. Still, I decided to give the play a chance and found myself thoroughly engaged from beginning to end. I have heard hundreds of plays and this was one of the more memorable plays. I do hope that Mr McMillan will use this approach again, maybe to tell his own love story. Smile.

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by DvaidMax

    on 7 May 2013 19:27

    Wonderful stuff - and a welcome change from some of the relevant-but-dismal plays we hear of an afternoon. Uplifting, personal and moving. Well done!

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by Scotch Get

    on 3 May 2013 21:12

     
    Outstanding!

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by Piesfortea

    on 3 May 2013 18:14

    This was just wonderful. Many congratulations to everyone involves and especially Ian.

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by willick

    on 1 May 2013 18:47

    Congratulations to Ian McMillan. This was a wonderfully evocative and moving play. The ending was fantastic, not knowing if John survived the war but hoping that he did.

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by Constables

    on 1 May 2013 17:45

    This was one of the most moving and delightful poems and presentations I have heard. Thank Thank you so much to all involved in today's poem. It brought back wonderful memories of my parents...who had their wedding postponed by the war. In the end they got married without my Grandfather being present: My Mother had to choose between getting married without her husband-to-be or without her Father! The country needed them at the time, as both were in the Royal Navy.
    We also ahd a wonderful experiebce with trains in their courtship

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by Angh

    on 1 May 2013 14:00

    Absolutely fantastic, had me in tears. Beautiful.

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