City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

My Grandfather's Great War

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 06 August 2008

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James Seabright for Festival Highlights
Running time: 
Cameron Stewart

Historians will tell you what we know of
the past comes largely from lucky finds; Cameron Stewart's re-discovery of his
grandfather's diaries from the First World War and his publication of them in "real time" on the web and on BBC Radio 4 in
the Today programme have made an invaluable contribution to people's
understanding of that conflict and the motives of those who fought in it. No great
surprise, then, to find Baby Belly 1 a nearly full house for Stewart's
presentation of Captain Stewart and his experiences.

Cameron Stewart is a fine
actor with an engaging personal presence; his ability to breathe life into
words written almost a century ago is considerable, and his engagement with his
audience equally so. What comes across strongly is the phlegmatic understated
tenacity of those who quite clearly wished they could be somewhere else, but (mostly)
saw it as their duty to carry on, obey orders and hope to hell they didn't get
shot, or if they did, that it would be a non-fatal "blighty one" which would literally
take them out of the firing line.

In Cameron Stewart's shrewd hands, his grandfather
emerges as an essentially sympathetic character caught up, as so many others
were, in a war neither of their making or choice, but in which they felt they
had no alternative but "do their bit" and hope, without great expectation, to
remain alive.

Every so often the Fringe throws up something unexpectedly special,
and My Grandfather's Great War is among these. Strewn amid the tales of being
trapped armpit high in mud and rats licking "Brilliantine" from Captain
Stewart's hair, of horrific attacks and horrendous casualties, the humanity of
Cameron Stewart's grandfather and the men he served with shine through. Their heroism
is as much that of the survivor as the soldier, their hopes and dreams simple
as pleasures taken among family and friends.

To regard the "lost generations"
as naive or ludicrously optimistic is to ignore voices as shrewd and aware as Captain

Times: August 2-24, 14:45

Copyright Bill Dunlop August 2008

Published on August 2008