A timely piece about the strong ties between some First Wold War soldiers and an orphanage in northern Scotland will debut in
Coldingham on Saturday
New Strides Theatre’s ‘Letters from Aberlour’ arrives at Coldingham Hall from the pen of local writer James Urquhart and in a year when we’ll mark 100 years since the start of WW1 he’s hoping it will resonate with anyone who’s ever had a relative on the frontline.
At the centre of the story is a former orphanage in Aberlour in Moray. Although only a small village the orphanage housed around 500, making it a real focal point.
And it certainly never strayed far from the hearts of those who were looked after there, even when they had plenty of other things on their minds.
“There was in excess of 250 boys from Arbelour called up to fight in the First World War and not just on the Western Front but in India, Egypt and many other places.
“They saw the orphanage as their home and you get a real sense of that in the letters they wrote when they were away.
“The sentiment is very much like a soldier writing home to his loved ones.
“The boys from Aberlour were like brothers and they were like children to the people who cared for them.”
James was contacted about writing a play about the orphanage and the soldiers by the AberlourTrust who pointed him towards the letters i n the orphanage newsletters which were housed in the British Library.
“I spent days sitting there reading them and transcribing them. It was an extraordinary experience as there was a juxtaposition of the letters alongside accounts of Christmases at the orphanage.
“There was very little censorship at the start of the war so the letters were very open to begin with but as the years went on the letters to Aberlour became less and less frequent which suggests that rules came into play.”
Tragically, 62 of the young soldiers from Aberlour lost their lives in combat and the orphanage made sure that tribute was paid to every single one of them.
“Unlike other institutions who would do a collective memorial, the memorial for the fallen soldiers at Aberlour featured every one of the deceased by name.
“And the grief at their deaths was very clear in the orphanage newsletters.”
James started work on ‘Letters to Aberlour’ earlier this year and said it was important that he didn’t let his own views or any existing wartime plays to dictate his treatment of the letters.
“I feel a powerful sense of duty towards the letters.
“I wanted to be true to what was written. As a play obviously my piece has to have a dramatic context but I wouldn’t use the letters as a vehicle for my own views.”
James gathered his cast for the shows at 7.30pm on Saturday and 3pm on Sunday, from both England and Scotland to reflect that fact that it wasn’t only Scottish children who were looked after in Aberlour’s orphanage.
And they and him are hoping that the two Coldingham performances will be a springboard to a possible tour.
“I really wanted to get it on its feet and the Hall theatre is a great venue.
“But this is a piece that I think is ideal for a tour.
“Many people have a grandad or great grandad who served in the First World War so the story should resonate with them and appeal to communities all over.”
Tickets for the Coldingham shows are £7 from.coldingham.info.