Sunday, April 28, 2019


Edmund Golding (1891-1959) was an actor playing in My Lady’s Dress by Edward Knoblauch (1874-1945) when England declared war on Germany (August 4, 1914). London’s West End theatres were temporarily closed, so Golding spent his time writing a one-act “play of the moment.” This one-act drama depicts a family in London during the initial days of war. God Save the King opened at the London Palladium on August 17, 1914.  It was the first playscript dealing with this war that was submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s Censor. It was approved for staging to allow the censor to learn if London audiences would attend theatre presentations dealing with the current war.

The play is set in the kitchen of the Murray’s home located in South London. Mr. and Mrs. Murray live there with their two grown sons Harry and Edmund. The Murray’s have recently taken in a lodger named Heinrich Schultz, who is obviously German. The reason for having a lodger is that the family needs the money. Mr. Murray was without work and business conditions were unsettled during the initial days of the war. Most businesses were closed and banks were not allowing people to withdraw their money.  The play is set during an August 1914 evening.

Many young British men were anxious to join the armed services. Harry had previously joined the Territorial Force, a part-time volunteer unit of the British Army.  His unit has been called to serve and he is ready to leave for duty abroad.  Edmund had tried to join the army earlier that morning, but he was rejected. Edmund was told he was unfit for service since he has a “weak heart” and any exertion could kill him.

After Harry and his parents leave for the train station, Edmund and Heinrich have a conversation about war prior to Heinrich commenting on Mrs. Murray’s failing health. Heinrich offers Edmund money to send his Mother on a restful vacation if he will spy for Germany.  Edmund, who is desperate to save his mother from death, agrees to take the assignment. However, Edmund’s love of country saves him from committing a treasonous act and the play has a surprise ending.

This play illustrates the immediate fears held by the public that were related to the war, but it does not display the “grin and bear it” attitude expected of the British citizens. It clearly presents the London population’s sense of dislocation as well as the growing awareness of personal inconveniences that were quickly multiplying.  Since the play portrays a dose of patriotism, the Lord Chamberlain’s Censor allowed this play to be presented to the public.

God Save the King was also the first drama that depicted the presence of Germans living and working in England, while serving as spies for Germany. The German spy embedded in British life reflected one of the major national anxieties throughout the entire course of the war and was frequently a situation depicted on stage. 

Berte Thomas (1867-19??) an actor and playwright who faded from the London stage after the early 1920’s, wrote the one-act play titled For My Country. His wife, the well-known London actress, Frances Ivor (1860-1937) starred in Thomas’s 1917 patriotic drama.  It illustrates how an older woman living on the home-front and on the sidelines of the war effort could be faced with a difficult choice that places duty to country over family

For My Country takes place in Mrs. Ford’s flat.  It is evening.  Her son Arthur, a Captain in the British army, arrives home for a three week leave. She has not seen him in nearly nineteen months. Arthur is on leave since he had been wounded and is still recovering. Mrs. Ford quickly notices and comments on the fact that Arthur has changed. Mrs. Ford picks up on changes in his use of language as well as his increased height.  After he plays the piano and sings to her, she tells him that her son could never play the piano and sing.  She eventually gets her guest to confess he is a German spy impersonating her son. He is Captain Hartymann of the Imperial Guard.

Mrs. Ford quickly learns that while Hartymann is posing as her son, Arthur is safe from execution. Arthur is being held hostage in Germany. Mrs. Ford is placed in the position of either being a traitor to her country or causing the death of her son.

While she moves back and forth between her two options, she presses Hartymann to learn about his assignment.  When she finally gleans that the major outcome of his mission could cause the death of numerous British soldiers, she makes her phone call to the authorities.  Hartymann’s last line in the play: “Well I give my life for my Country.”  Mrs. Ford: “I sacrifice my son’s life - for mine.”

This play reminded the audience that war affects more than those serving in the armed services.  It also strongly plays upon mothers and wives contributions to the war effort even if they are not actively involved in providing some type of official work or services.

Frances Ivor received positive reviews for her role as Mrs. Ford as did C. M. Hallard (1865-1942) who played the role of Captain Hartymann.  For My Country opened on May 28, 1917 at London’s Shoreditch Empire. It returned there for a week of performances on August 27th. This production seems to have had a limited tour outside of London. It was noted in the Hampshire Advertiser on 22 September 1917 that Frances Ivor would be appearing in For My Country at the Hampshire’s Palace Theatre during the following week. These two plays illustrate that war impacts every citizen.  Very few individuals may escape the ravages war creates.

  The scripts for these two plays are available in British Literature of World War I,
         Drama.  Volume 5.  Editor: Maunder, Andrew. London & New York: Routledge, 2016.

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