I don’t know much about James Isherwood Bolton. I don’t know the names of his parents, how well he did at school, his dreams and ambitions, or if there was a special person whose very presence made his heart sing.
But I do know that he lived in Belmont Road, Astley Bridge and that he was killed in action on Armistice Day-11th November 1918. His was the final death of any soldier from the Greater Manchester area. He may well have evaded salvation, safety and home in the final minutes or seconds before the guns fell silent.
I often wonder about the un-lived lives of the likes of James Bolton and his 20 million contemporaries whose ‘brief candles’ were snuffed out at places like Messines Ridge, Hellfire Corner, Beaumont-Hamel and Polygon Wood. How many scientists, engineers, lovers, drummers, sportsmen, dreamers and Prime Ministers that could have shaped the 1920s and 30s never did. And their children who were never to be born…who would they have become we will never know. Those babies born in the 1890s could never have envisaged the dreadful fate of their generation, and one of those babies, James Bolton became one of the 2738 men to die on the very last day of The First World War.
The human cost of that conflagration is staggering. Anyone who witnessed the brilliant installation outside the Tower Of London in 2014 where 888,000 ceramic poppies (each representing the lost life of a British and Commonwealth soldier) sprawled from the battlements and around the moat like a great bright red river, cannot have failed to be reminded of the enormity of the losses which to this day remain as a scar in our collective national psyche.
In 2013 researchers finally concluded there were a total of only 53 towns and villages in the country where every servicemen came home. This number of “Thankful Villages” drops to just 14 when you include The Second World War.
Amongst other things, Birdsong is about loss. The loss of family, friends and the loss of love.
This is the first time I’ve ever decided to reprise a role. I played the sapper Jack Firebrace in 2013 and chose to do so again partly inspired by the incredible story and characters, but also by my profound respect for those on all sides who fought and died in the mud. Eyewitnesses and writers have chronicled the stoicism and fortitude of the British Tommy, their steadfast nature, “they grumbled but still stuck it.” I find this so extremely moving and feel a responsibility to try to bring some of that in my portrayal of Jack. Funnily enough, in my early 20s I briefly served as a sapper in the reserves, but I was rubbish at it.
As a company we are delighted to bring Birdsong to The Lowry and hope that in this centenary year we can, in a very tiny way, do something to preserve the memory of the likes of James Isherwood Bolton and all his comrades from the Greater Manchester area.