Save Money in this Sunday's paper

comments

Charlotte’s Rachel Jeffreys pays tribute to the Great War

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/30/15/26/YdTSX.Em.138.jpeg|496
    -
    The World War I experiences of Welsh sailor Tom Jeffreys inspired granddaughter Rachel Jeffreys to write “Stories of the Great War.”
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/30/15/26/12mLb1.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - PHOTO BY JIM ESPOSITO
    The cast of “Stories From the Great War:” Jack Wilson (from left), Jim Esposito, Curtis Kriner (in sailor suit) and Alan England.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/30/15/26/1hqWLK.Em.138.jpeg|237
    -
    The cast of “Stories From the Great War:” From left to right, Curtis Kriner, Jack Wilson, Jim Esposito, writer-producer Rachel Jeffreys and Alan England.

More Information

  • ‘Tales From the Great War’

    8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. 9216-A Westmoreland Road, Cornelius. $21 ($16 students/seniors, $11 veterans). 704-619-0429 or warehousepac.com.



Before the Greatest Generation came the Great War.

Long before the Red Army stopped the Nazis on the Eastern Front, the red tide of trench warfare drowned a generation on the Western Front.

We hear more about World War II nowadays because living veterans testify to its horrors. But it was World War I, which began 100 years ago Monday, that first pulled Europe and the United States into a mass slaughter.

The world pays homage to their sacrifice on Nov. 11. (Our own Veterans Day celebrates the armistice that ended the war.) And a few people, writer-actress Rachel Jeffreys among them, still think about the “war to end all wars,” as it was described at the time. Her new show, “Tales From the Great War,” runs this week at Warehouse PAC in Cornelius.

Jeffreys has a personal connection: Grandfather Tom Jeffreys left Llanelli, Wales, to sign up on the day Great Britain entered the war, hoping to do his part in France. Luckily, that didn’t happen, or both Rachel Jeffreys and the show might never have come about. Instead, he served on the HMS Suffolk, an armored cruiser patrolling the seas for U-boats (as German submarines were called).

“At one point, they were guarding the U.S. coast, trying to keep German ships from going back and forth to Bremen with supplies,” she says. “The Deutschland slipped past them into Baltimore harbor. America was still neutral at that point, and Baltimore had plenty of Germans in it, so the mayor gave them a big welcome.”

Jeffreys and her cast of four men tell stories like that one in “Great War,” mingling those with period songs, photographs, snippets of video, poems and other narratives. The audience will be encouraged to speak up or sing along with the likes of “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag” and “Over There.” The play’s neither pro- nor anti-war, though it inevitably asks whether 20 million people died needlessly. (The conflict was triggered by the killing of an Austrian archduke and duchess; Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, and alliances sucked in other nations.)

“This gives a sense of history, but it’s not comprehensive: It’s about daily life during the war,” she says. “Back in Wales, a ‘deserter-catcher’ got five pounds for every person he found running away (from the armed services). That’s what people were talking about.”

You could say this project has been 30 years in the making. Jeffreys interviewed her granddad in 1981, when he was 86, to get his “marvelous tales” on tape.

She turned that chat into a Veterans Day radio show in 1994. Two years later, the BBC Wales TV show “The Pursuit of Happiness” profiled Welsh immigrants in the U.S. Tom Jeffreys’ episode, “Last of the Tough Welshmen,” followed him to his adopted hometown of Baltimore, the place he had once tried to blockade.

His story ended well: The Suffolk sailed east, protecting British territories and eventually getting British sailors out of Vladivostok, Russia. But he returned to Llanelli in 1919 to work in a tinplate mill and learned 627 of its 33,000 inhabitants had died in the war.

Rachel Jeffreys’ most telling statistic may be a financial one. According to her research, the billions spent on the war would have bought a $2,500 house on a $500 acre of land with $1,000 left over for furniture – for every family from the combatant nations of Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Russia, Canada, Australia and the United States.

Toppman: 704-358-5232
Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more



Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more


Quick Job Search
Salary Databases
Your 2 Cents
Share your opinion with our Partners
Learn More
CharlotteObserver.com