Wales

World War One play inspired by 'lost choir' from Rhosllanerchrugog

British troops climb from their trench on the Somme Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption British troops climb from their trench on the Somme 1 July 1916

The story of a choir that lost all but one of its members in World War One is to be told in a new play.

Shortly after competing at the National Eisteddfod in 1915, the entire choir of the 17th battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers from Wrexham headed to the trenches to fight.

Two years later, when they were invited to sing again, only the conductor was still alive to take the stage.

The "lost choir" has inspired the production Dinner With Otto.

Almost the entire choir was from the village of Rhosllanerchrugog but within two years had been virtually wiped out.

Conductor Lance-Corporal Samuel Evans was the only surviving member when the choir returned to the eisteddfod in Birkenhead in 1917.

Image copyright Graham Lloyd (WMR-17894)
Image caption There are 100 names inscribed on Rhos's war memorial to people who died in WW1 alone

At the same eisteddfod, the poet Hedd Wyn, from Trawsfynydd, Gwynedd, was honoured posthumously and the bardic chair was draped in black, after he was killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele.

Newspapers at the time, the Amman Valley Chronicle and East Carmarthenshire News of 13 September 1917, which reported on the chairing ceremony, wrote: "Even more tragic and pathetic was the second scene when the conductor called to the platform was a wounded Welsh soldier, Lance-Corporal Samuel Evans, Rhos.

"Every one of these gallant fellows, musical sons of Wales, with the single exception of the conductor, had rendered the supreme sacrifice for his country."

The men, who came to be known as the Lost Choir, inspired local playwright Tom George Caroll, from Holywell.

He said: "It was important to me to make my play as realistic as possible, so I undertook extensive research on events of the time, the lives of soldiers returning to north Wales, the expectations made of them and experiences they went through.

"It's a tough watch but compelling."

He added while the story is based on real life, it is fictional, and about a rugby team where only one player came back to a small village in Wales.

Image caption The play is based around soldier Ben Davies (played by Simon Neil) whose mental health has been affected by the war

The character, Ben Davies, has "shell shock" and his mother finds him completely changed, alcoholic and traumatised on his return. His rugby coach cannot understand why he cannot pick up where he left off.

Dinner with Otto opens at the Little Theatre in Rhyl on 13 and 14 September and then at the Stiwt Theatre in Rhosllanerchrugog on 27 September.

All proceeds go to The Royal British Legion North Wales and Woody's Lodge in Colwyn Bay.

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