Welcome to the Charles Laughton section of the Hunts Cyclist
Charles Laughton as a raw recruit, wearing the round General
Service cap badge donned by those in the Training Reserve Battalions (picture as
seen in the 1987 Yorkshire TV documentary about Laughton, based in the book by
Simon Callow, who also hosted the programme, which was directed by
name of this young soldier wearing the Huntingdonshire Regiment cap badge
is Charles Laughton. Laughton (Born Scarborough, Yorkshire, July 2nd 1899 -
Died Hollywood, California, December 15th 1962) is remembered worldwide as an
outstanding stage and film actor and director. Out of his distinguished acting
output, we could mention his characterizations as Doctor Moreau in "Island of
Lost Souls", the much-married Tudor king in "The Private Life of Henry
VIII", Javert in "Les Miserables", Captain Bligh in "Mutiny on
the Bounty", the Dutch painter in "Rembrandt", Quasimodo in "The
Hunchback of Notre-Dame", the timid schoolteacher in "This Land is Mine",
or barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts in "Witness for the prosecution", just
to name a few among his many accomplished, and still unsurpassed, film roles.
Laughton is also celebrated for his only film as a director "The Night of the
Hunter", a haunting and genuinely poetic fable which stands out as one of
the most unique films in the story of world cinema. But back in 1917, when
Charles Laughton left his work at Claridges Hotel to join the army, little did
that young, stage-struck conscript imagine that what lied in store for him would
far surpass his youthful dreams of becoming an actor some day.
|A bit of
Laughton's parents owned the Pavilion hotel in Scarborough which, according to a
friend of the family (an officer posted to the headquarters of Yorkshire Coast
Defences during the Great War), was a place which military officers "(...)
made our house of call and none other than 'brass hats' frequented it"
It is quite possible that some officers of the Huntingdonshire Cyclists took
lodgings there as well. Scarborough had been the target of enemy fire in
December 16th 1914, when it was shelled, along with Whitby and Hartlepool, by
German battle cruisers. This prompted many soldiers being sent to the East coast
to reinforce the defences already there, like the 1/1st Bn. Huntingdonshire
When Laughton left Stonyhurst College in 1915, his parents considered that, as
the eldest of their children, he was someday to take over the lead of the
business, and sent him to Claridges Hotel (London) to learn the trade from the
bottom up. Claridges, as many hotels during the war, had been depleted of a
sensible part of its personnel, as both foreign and British workers went to join
the armies of their respective countries (foreign personnel belonging to enemy
countries which did not leave at the beginning of the war eventually being
interned). Therefore, in a luxury hotel like Claridges, which badly needed
trained workers, the chance of employing a boy, still under military age, and
with sound hotel background must have been welcome. We should deduce that young
Charles was reasonably good in his work, as he eventually got a rise in his
salary. Still, it was not hoteldom he was passionate about, but theatre, and
accordingly, he spent his spare time and every available penny on what really
mattered to him: watching London shows from the pit and gallery, some of them
more than once (in fact, more than twice!). He would fondly remember plays like
Barrie's "A Kiss for Cinderella", and revues like "Razzle-Dazzle" and "Chu-Chin-Chow".
He idolized the West End stars, and particularly Gerald du Maurier, whose acting
greatly impressed him and who became his hero for the rest of his life.
Into the Army
joined the army in 1917, presumably shortly after his 18th birthday (one source
actually mentioning him joining in "summer 1917")
and it would seem that, at first, the release from hotel work was not unwelcome:
Laughton's mother would later state "His (hotel) training was interrupted by
the Great War. I think he was glad of thishappy not to have to be a waiter at
(though we consider that he probably wasn't as happy about leaving
the West End theatre galleries behind).
Most recruits at the time received their early training in Training Reserve
Battalions. Charles' first steps, before joining the Huntingdonshire Cyclists,
were in the 87th Training Reserve Battalion at Catterick Camp, Yorkshire, where
L. Brayshaw was one of the training staff in the 87th T R B, and who would recall Laughton many years later: "I remember the
future film star visiting Catterick Camp as a recruit in 1917 or 1918 (...).
Laughton did not seem to be interested much in soldiering. We tried to show him
how to put on his puttees, but he never seemed able to manage to look smart in
them. After a few weeks infantry training, he was transferred to another unit.
That was the last I saw of him except, years later, in pictures"
Incidentally, by 1917, Catterick had a theatre run by the NACB (Navy and Army
Link - Charles Laughton - HCB
We can tell that by February 1918 he was already in the Huntingdonshire
Cyclists, or, at least, this is the date mentioned in the 'Stonyhurst War
Record'. Laughton served in the 2/1st Battalion, D Company. At the beginning of
1917 the battalion was stationed in Sutton-le-Marsh, near Mablethorpe, moving to
Alford in March 1917, and then to Chapel St. Leonards in July 1917. In May 1918
the 2/1st Battalion would settle near Skegness.
The grandson of Sergeant William Mould,
shared with us his family recollections: Mould was watching "Carry on Sergeant"
on TV (6),
and the film reminded him of the time when he had Laughton under his orders. We
believe that Laughton is the young soldier sitting by Sergeant Mould's side in a
group picture of the 13th Platoon, D Company 2/1st Battalion, Huntingdonshire
Cyclists (however, we can't be 100% sure of it as the soldiers appearing in the
photograph are not identified)
Photograph of the 13th Platoon 2/1st Hunts. Cyclist Battalion.
Date unknown - in print in photo is 'Nainby Alford'
It is curious that these reminiscences seem to describe Laughton as the
archetypical clumsy soldier, as he was not inexperienced in military training:
he had been in the OTC of Stonyhurst College. Hence we dare to speculate if he
was not deliberately playing the part, and unknowingly rehearsing the part of
Good Soldier Schweick that many years later he would play in a riotous reading
of Bertolt Brecht's "Schweick in Second World War" for the author himself and a
In the Stonyhurst OTC, which Charles would attend for two terms during his stay
at the school, his record as a cadet, if not outstanding, can safely be
described as average
(8). This begs the question why having had a Public School education
and OTC training, he enlisted as a private instead of joining an Officer Cadet
Battalion in order to try to obtain a commission as a junior officer. He would
explain the reasons years later: "Something told me I might not be the kind
of fellow to take command of men under fire, and so I stubbornly stood against
having a commission and was conscripted into the ranks"
This photo is of Charles
Laughton aged twelve, as he appeared in a 1912 photograph of a
group of Stonyhurst pupils. Laughton is wearing the Roman
Imperator medal he was awarded for Latin verse (This photo
appeared in the 2005 issue of "The Stonyhurst Magazine" by
courtesy of film historian Mr. Michael Burrows
Please follow this link to another Charles Laughton page where
this photograph can be compared to other group photos of people
who are thought possible to be Charles.
follow this link to
photograph can be compared to other group photos of people who
are thought possible to be Charles.
the Western Front
(10) mention that Laughton was in France by March 1918. However, while
trying to find evidence which might confirm this further, we will stick to the
notion that by this time he was employed in coastguard duties in Lincolnshire,
where he would remain until his nineteenth birthday, when he reached the minimal
to be sent to the front. Along with 65 more men, he was struck off the strength
of the 2/1st Bn. Hunts Cyclists, and posted to France on August 9th, 1918.
Before being sent to the front, he was given a few days' leave (From 29th July
to 3rd August 1918 inclusive). The draft was conducted to France by Second
Lieutenants Cassidy and Cosgrave, who were back to Skegness on August 12th and
[See 'Drafts of
Hunts Cyclists to France']
Laughton's entry in the WWI Medal Rolls, while not mentioning the
Huntingdonshire Cyclists (but then soldier's units in the UK were not
always mentioned there), names two units which were in France: the 4th
Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment (where he had the same regimental number
he had in the Huntingdonshire Regiment: 48603), and the 7th Bn.
Northamptonshire Regt. (with number 42603). He received both the Victory
Medal and the British War Medal, which were campaign medals generally
awarded to all those British soldiers who served overseas from 1916
onwards (only in some cases these medals would be forfeited, i.e. those
charged for desertion or cowardice)
Laughton's wife, Elsa Lanchester, would record in 1938 her husband's
reminiscences about having been sent "straight to the front"
which could suggest that his draft might have lost little time in base camps in
France, and was instead sorted quickly to units in need of reinforcements.
Whether he was initially meant to be posted to the 4th Bedford's, but eventually
redirected to the 7th Northants, or served with the 4th Bedford's for some time,
and then was transferred to the 7th Northants is still to be disclosed. However,
the war diaries of the battalions state that their brigades were in close touch
at the beginning of October 1918.
[See '4th (Reserve) Battalion
[See7th Service Bat.
At any event, it seems that he was in the 7th Northamptonshires for most
of his service in France: Laughton mentioned the following in a letter
to Mr. Edward Abbot, also a former soldier in the 7th Northants "I
certainly was in the 7th battalion Northamptonshire Regiment, and I do
remember I had to act as an interpreter for some days around
For those who might be surprised at the thought of Laughton being
employed occasionally as an interpreter, we must explain that he had
studied the French language from an early age (in a French nuns convent
in neighbouring Filey) and was known to speak it with a perfect accent,
so it is only logical that he could have put it to good use during the
war. Some years after, he would be the first English actor to act with
the famed Comédie Francaise, playing the part of Sganarelle in Moliere's
"Le Medecin Malgré Lui". As for other languages, at Stonyhurst he
had been a good student of Classics, and got prizes for Latin.
It is mentioned in some biographies that Laughton was at Vimy Ridge (the source
being his widow). For the data we have on Laughton's war service, we believe
this doesn't refer to the action in which the Ridge was taken, during the Battle
of Arras in Easter 1917, but to his being at, or near the place at some
undetermined point in 1918. From more general sources, we can only add that from
August 1918 to the armistice, the diary of the 4th Bedfords doesn't mention the
place, yet the 63rd Division (to which the 4th Bedfords belonged) was involved
in the Second Battles of Arras (which took place from the end of August to the
beginning of October 1918). It is also interesting to find that the 7th
Northants' diary states that the battalion was in and out of the Lens sector, a
few miles north of Vimy, from the end of August to the end of September
(incidentally, the 7th Northants had been involved in the battle of Vimy Ridge
assisting the Canadians the year before).
On his experiences at the front, he would state: "Being a 'softie' at the
time, I was naturally extremely frightened of what I was about to experience.
However, it did not take me very long to learn to do what I was told. Sometimes
it is a good thing for young people to have a complete change of environment at
an impressionable age. The War was more of an upheaval than a change. One
experience, which I would rather not talk about, took away my sleep
intermittently for two years afterwards, though looking back I admit the War
probably had a toughening effect on me" (15)
discover more contemporary accounts of Laughton's experience in his own words,
Further sources indicate that it was more than merely "a toughening
experience". His widow reported private comments of his guilt about having
made deadly use of the bayonet
(16), and even though this might have been done
either under orders or in the pressure of a "kill or get killed" situation, this
did not ease his feelings about it. At any event, the war experience was
instrumental in severing the Catholic faith in which he had been brought up.
There is a story reflecting this, repeated in different sources, of which we are
giving here the version reported by a good friend of Laughton, Davis Grubb
(17): "He had been a Catholic, an he told me about the time when he
was facing one of the bloodiest engagements of World War I. Laughton was in the
trenches, prepared to go over the top. It was some bridge, I think. (...) The
chaplain came through to give the Catholic soldiers absolution, and when he came
to Laughton, Laughton said, 'No thanks, father, I think I can take it from here
alone'. 'And' Laughton told me 'I never went back to church'"
Grubb also said that Laughton was disheartened about yet another World War
taking place. Probably, like many of the soldiers who fought in World War One,
he may have somehow have expected that his "big push" was the last ("The war to
end all wars", they called it). According to Davis Grubb, in Charles' opinion,
the Second World War "was a war we didn't really win. Nor, what's more, ever
shall (...) (and, as an ex-WW1 serviceman)...looked with a jaundiced eye
upon the 30,000,000 dead of his big show re-run. He didn't think we won either
war. He didn't think anybody ever wins a war"
Laughton would rarely speak about his experience, and never with much
detail. The following is an example of this: in 1940 Norman Corwin (the
outstanding writer and director, and also a friend of Laughton) wrote
and directed a radio play, "To Tim at Twenty"
about a soldier -played by Laughton- who writes a last letter to his son
as he departs for a doomed mission. Even though it was only a
fifteen-minute show, Laughton conscientiously rehearsed the part...
Corwin, with whom he worked hard to get the play right, was quite
surprised when I mentioned to him the fact that Laughton had fought in
the Western front: "(...) the remarkable thing to me about that phase
of his life, is that never once in all the years I knew him and worked
with him, did he ever mention the subject. Which is all the more
impressive when one considers that To Tim At Twenty is squarely on the
subject of war, and that the character he plays in it is a man about to
go on a mission from which he knows he will never return" (21)
After the defeat
suffered by the German army in August 8th 1918 (during the Battle of
Amiens) it became clear to the German High Command that the war couldn't
be won by military means, yet while diplomatic contacts may have been
conducted in high places, the war would go on for three more months.
Up to the very
last moment, soldiers fought, were wounded and died, and Laughton was
among these casualties, being gassed shortly before the armistice
He would later give the account to his friend and biographer Bruce
Zortman, of how he remembered "being gassed till my trachea bled and
my back oozed puss"
which describes well the caustic, burning effects of mustard gas, which
provoked large blisters on the exposed skin.
(More details about
One of the consequences of his being gassed were allergic skin reactions all
through his life. The other was the characteristic husky voice for which he was
known in his early days on stage. In these early years he suffered from sore
throats quite often, and this almost put an end to his acting career until, in
1930, a specialist suggested that he should have throat surgery (tonsillectomy)
or else... This eventually worked well and, thankfully, Laughton's frequent
throat ailments became a thing of the past.
Stage-struck at Lille
still convalescing from the effects of gas
(24) Laughton had, "a month or so after the war
(25) an experience that in a way made up for the rough experience of
the fighting: "I saw Leslie Henson play in a pantomime in Lille- it was
'Aladdin'. He was damned funny as usual"
(26). The pantomime did more than merely cheer up the
wounded soldier: its effect was most inspiring as "the performance kept alive
my latent ambition (to become an actor)"
We don't know the exact date when he saw the performance, but you will
of "Aladdin" being played in Christmas 1918. Also, an entry dated December 31st
1918 in the War Diary of the 73rd brigade
(28) (to which the 7th Northants belonged), states
that the "BGC (Brigade General Commanding) attended a Pantomime in
Lille"... It's possible that the BGC went to see the show accompanied by
some members of his staff (and one speculates whether a certain private with
French language skills, as an occasional interpreter, might have managed to slip
into the expedition).
Laughton produced a film in 1938, "St. Martin's Lane", whose story deals
with the street entertainers (buskers) performing in the streets of the West
End. The film opens with documentary shots of the facades of some London
theatres: one of the light signs above the marquees advertises a show starring
Leslie Henson... Mere documentary coincidence? or the heartfelt homage of one
entertainer to another?
Laughton left the army
in February 14th 1919, Along with other 7 rankers of the 7th Bn.
Norhamptonshire Regt. He was demobilized in the "Class Z" Reserve, which
meant that, had the hostilities been resumed after the armistice, he
would have been called up to rejoin the army. However, this did not
happen, and Laughton went back to work in the family business.
Re-adjustment to civilian life was not easy, though: Simon Callow's
biography states that, for over six months after his return from France,
" the boy that was remembered by everyone at home as being lively and
fun would lock himself in his room for hours on end. He said 'I'm no use
to anyone like this' "
. Anyway, at
his father's somewhat blunt prompting, he took his place as manager of
the hotel, while spending his spare time in amateur theatrical groups in
Scarborough. Tom Laughton would write that, after the war, the only
thing that made his brother Charles really come back to life was his
work in the amateur stage.(30)
No doubt Charles Laughton paid his dues to the theatre. Ten years later after
his demobilization, he would be wearing the uniform again... onstage: he was
playing Harry Heegan (31) in Sean O'Casey's world premiere of his war play "The Silver
Tassie", in the West End. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
You can read
letters sent home by Laughton in 1917 and 1918 here
(link to letters
You can read the
whereabouts of the 4th Bn. Bedfordshire Regt. here
(link to 4th
You can read the
whereabouts of the 7th Bn. Northamptonshire Regt. here
(link to 7th
You can read a text
about Leslie Henson and the Lille Theatre here, taken from the
book "Theatre at War 1914-18" by L. J. Collins, plus further bibliography and
links on Henson (link to Leslie Henson Page)
Learn here about
John Dermot MacSherry, Laughton's class-mate in Stonyhurst, who showed great
promise as an actor in the school's plays.
(link to MacSherry's Page)
Here you will find
more information and links about chemical warfare, and see a diagram of a
centre to deal with poison gas casualties for the Field Ambulance behind
(link to gas centre Page)
You can read more
information on Class Z demobilization
Mr. Crossley St. J. Broadbent,
quoted by Elsa Lanchester (Laughton's wife) in her 1938 book "Charles Laughton
And I". Faber and Faber, London. All Rights Reserved.
Mr. Arthur Knight, in his profile
of Laughton (programme for the Charles Laughton film season at the Boston Museum
of Fine Arts, Fall 1972) gives this date, stating that he was gassed "the
following March (1918) during a German attack". The source is most
probably Elsa Lanchester (whom Mr. Deac Rossell interviews in another section of
the programme), so her memories could be inaccurate... Still it is interesting
to know that in another article about Laughton (published in 1949) it is
mentioned that he "served during the German breakthrough", though we
would prefer this to be further substantiated by primary sources. It is worth
noting that a letter -dated 19th September 1917- sent by Laughton to Miss
Thompson, the Pavilion's receptionist, described circumstances which suggest
outdoor life and frequent moves
(check Laughton's wartime letters
"Charles Laughton, a man of many parts": texts written by William Lillys,
Arthur Knight and Deac Rossell, plus an interview with Elsa Lanchester. Boston
Museum of Fine arts, Fall 1972. Article in "The Leader" magazine, January
26th 1949. Both publications in the British Film Institute's Library. Letters
from Charles Laughton to Hepsebiah Thompson, copies of which are kept by Mr.
Stefan Lorant with Eliza Laughton in "To-day" June 4th, 1938 (Mander and
Mitchenson Collection, Jerwood Library).
From Mr. L.
Brayshaw's letter published in "The Dalesman", October 1973, page 529.
(Scarborough Public Library)
Mentioned by L. J. Collins in his
book "Theatre at War 1914-18" Jade Publishing Ltd., 2004 © L. J. Collins 2004
"Carry On Sergeant"
was one of the first British comedies of the
"Carry On" series (not to be confused with the 1928 film of the same
title directed by Bruce Bairnsfather). It tells the story of a sergeant
desperately trying to make good soldiers out of a group of reluctant National
Service recruits, so Mould may have found a parallel with his own experience of
drilling conscripts like young Laughton.
The character of Good Soldier
Schweick was created by Jaroslaw Hasek in 1911, and would be the central figure
of many short stories, later published in book form. It is the humorous story of
a Czech soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army, apparently an garrulous idiot,
whose naiveté and simplicity put to the test the military and bureaucratic
establishments of the Empire. Schweick exemplifies the little man who gets
caught in big circumstances, and somehow manages to get out of the grind.
Bertolt Brecht would re-take the character in his play "Schweick in the
Second World War", a wild satire against the Third Reich. Concerning the
occasion in which Laughton read the play to him, Brecht wrote " We laughed
uproariously. He got all the jokes", however, this play was discarded
and both actor and writer would finally settle for a production of "Life of
Galileo" (in whose translation-adaptation they worked together), which was
staged in Los Angeles and New York in 1947. Sources: "Charles Laughton. A difficult Actor" By Simon
Callow. Methuen London Ltd., 1987 © Simon Callow 1987. "Bertolt Brecht in
America" By James K. Lyon . Methuen London Ltd., 1982 © 1980 by Princeton
While remaining a humble cadet throughout his stay at the
Stonyhurst OTC, this was not unusual among most other students there. If we take
the other twelve students which appear in his page at the OTC book as a sample,
we can see that his "efficiency" is described as good and his musketry "Second
Class", as six other cadets; the rest comprising five First Class shots, one
third class, and one who didn't practice musketry). Only one cadet out of the
thirteen in the page attended camp, though it must be said that he was a pre-war
cadet. As other cadets at the time, Charles got an OTC Discharge Certificate
upon leaving Stonyhurst.
In peacetime, an OTC cadet had to pass his examination for the "A" Certificate
("B" certificate if in an University OTC) to be a suitable candidate for a
commission. None of the cadets in Charles' page are noted as having an "A"
Certificate, however, As Mr. Charles Messenger states in the very thorough
chapter his book "Call to Arms" devoted to officer selection and training
"In November 1914, under War Office Instruction No. 22, Examinations for
Certificates A and B were suspended for the duration of war". This was due
to the growing need for subalterns as the the British army was steadily
expanding its size.
After February 1916 it was established that only men over the age of eighteen
and a half years with either OTC training or fighting experience in the ranks
would be admitted in Officer Cadet Battalions. Only those who had passed through
an OCB would be granted temporary commissions (excepting those who had already
served as officers).
Sources: Stonyhurst College's Archives. The background
information about OTCs and Commissions during First World War comes from Charles
Messenger's "Call To Arms. The British Army 1914-18" published in 2005 by
Cassell, a division of The Orion Publishing Group (London), ©Charles Messenger
2005, and "British Regiments 1914-18" By E. A. James © 2001 Naval And
Military Press Ltd
by Elsa Lanchester. Lanchester, op. cit.
See note 2
regulations prevented men from being sent to the front under the age of
nineteen, however this was not to be always the case: at the beginning of the
war, cases where boys joined after lying about their ages were not uncommon.
With the advent of conscription in 1916, this was more controlled. Yet, on
occasions of lack of manpower at the front, such as the one caused by the German
Spring attack of 1918, boys under this age were sent to the front as well... So
the rule was not strictly kept.
Orders of the 2/1st Battalion, Huntingdonshire Cyclist Regiment from June 30th
to September 28th 1918.
Lanchester, op. cit.
the letters sent by Laughton to Edward Abbot. These were published in an article
in the Northamptonshire Regt. Newsletter no. 26 (May 1982). The letters were at
the time of publication in possession of Mr. Abbott's son, C. W. Abbot, whom we
are trying to locate.
Elsa Lanchester, op.cit.
Mentioned by Miss Lanchester in
her autobiography "Elsa Lanchester, Herself" (Michael Joseph Limited,
London, 1983. © Elsa Lanchester 1983), written after Laughton's death.
writer, was the author of the novel "The Night of the Hunter", whose film
adaptation Laughton directed in 1954.
Davis Grubb as
quoted in Preston Neal Jones' book "Heaven And Hell To Play With"
(Limelight Editions, New York, 2002. © Preston Neal Jones 2002)
Davis Grubb as
quoted in Jones, op. cit.
The show was broadcasted on August 26th,
1940. Corwin's is a poignant story about the turmoil of war and how it disturbs
the lives of ordinary people, i.e.: keeping a father from seeing his son growing
also played a part in the play (as the soldier's wife), and they both rehearsed
at their home, as Corwin, who was writing for a film studio, was staying with
them as a guest. Mr. Corwin reported to me that they were both "conscientious
in rehearsal" even though "that particular programme (...)was short, very
short. It was only fifteen minutes". About the background which prompted him
to write it, he said:" This particular programme was written at a time when
the Luftwaffe was bombing London by the hundreds, and even the invasion of
England looked as though it might occur. And the Laughtons were almost daily
receiving news of casualties among their friends and relatives at home, and it
was no easy task for them to undertake a script of this kind, and they gave a
superb performance, unlikely to be equalled very often within so short a compass
of acting time" . Mr. Corwin defines the protagonist, Eric Marshall, as
"a thinking man" who "relishes neither the 'special work' he has to do,
nor the idea of being 'gone quite some time' which is euphemism for forever"
and who has a "slightly uncomfortable feeling that he and all the other
people who must die for the blunders of stupid and reckless statesmen are idiots
themselves for not getting together and putting, as he says 'a quick stop to the
nonsense' ", and that he wanted to convey to the listeners a message of
"Hope, not Triumph"
Sources: "Thirteen by Corwin" Radio Plays of Norman Corwin,
with preface of Carl Van Doren. Henry Holt and Company, New York and San
Francisco, 1942 © Norman Corwin, 1942. Interview with Mr Norman Corwin
(Gloria Porta, August 2004) and further correspondence.
The statement comes from the 1938
book by Elsa Lanchester's 1938 book (op. cit.), written while Laughton was
alive, so this comes straight from him, and that's why we stick to this period
over the one mentioned in the source mentioned in note 2 (unless he had been
gassed twice, poor chap). Some other sources give the reference "one week
before armistice"... though these personal -or family- remembrances are not
always accurate, it is interesting to point that one week before armistice, in
November 4th 1918, the 7th Northamptonshires were involved in heavy fighting
over the terrain of the villages of Wargniers-le-Grand and Wargniers-le-Petit,
one of the actions consisting in crossing a bridge over the River Aunelle which
carried the Enlain-Bavay road which separated both Wargniers. The bridge was
defended by German machine guns.
As recalled by
Mr. Bruce Zortman and mentioned to me. Mr. Zortman had previously collaborated
with Laughton in the preparation of the literary anthology "The Fabulous
Country" (McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1962), doing the extensive literary
research required. Being very satisfied with Zortman's work, Laughton asked him
to assist him in writing his autobiography. Laughton's final illness and death
in 1962 sadly kept the work from being finished.
On these dates,
the 7th Bn. Northamptonshire Regt. was in Bachy, and later in Tournai. The war
diary of the Battalion doesn't mention the unit, or any of its personnel being
at Lille or attending a show around these dates, so if Laughton was in Lille it
must have been on some sort of leave (or on an errand?), convalescing or
otherwise. Still, see further comment in the paragraph from the Brigade diary.
Charles Laughton by Patrick Murphy, Sunday Express, p. 9, London November 19th
1933. British Library Newspapers.
Charles Laughton by Patrick Murphy, Sunday Express, p. 9, London November 19th
1933. British Library Newspapers.
War diary of
the 73rd Brigade, Ref. WO 95/2217. National Archives, London
Mentioned by Tom Laughton in his
book "Pavilions By The Sea", Chatto and Windus Ltd. 1977 © Tom Laughton 1977
Harry Heegan is the tragic hero of "The Silver Tassie", an Irish
footballer maimed in the war, confined to a wheelchair, and subsequently left
aside by those who had previously cheered him. Sean O'Casey modelled Heegan
after a real-life character. Contemporary reviews more or less agreed that,
while Laughton seemed physically unsuited to play the athlete of Act I, he
harrowingly captured the essence of the tragedy of war as he played the crippled
Harry in Acts III and IV. Laughton also played the First Soldier in the second
anyone who has done research on Great War subjects will tell you, tracing the
whereabouts of a ranker during that period can prove a difficult task, therefore
we are extremely grateful to all the people who have helped us along the way. We
are grateful to the authors, publishers and archives who have allowed use of
material for the elaboration of this article. Every effort has been made to
trace copyright owners for the use of materials. If any errors or omissions have
accidentally occurred they will be corrected in subsequent updates of this
The following individuals and institutions have been instrumental in helping us
find information about Charles Laughton during that period of his life: The
British Library, Simon Callow, Norman Corwin, Oliver Furnell, Mr. David Knight
(Stonyhurst College archivist), The Mander and Mitchenson Collection (Jerwood
Library), Preston Neal Jones, Scarborough Public Library, Theatre Museum, Bruce
I'd like to thank further Mr. David Knight for his English corrections of
earlier drafts of these articles.
We have not been able to trace the whereabouts of the relatives of Mr. Edward
Abbot, Mr. L. Brayshaw, Major Geoffrey Moore and Ms. Hepzebiah Thompson, but
they are to be thanked as well as their remembrances, written articles and
personal letters have helped in shedding light on Charles Laughton's war
Of course, when researching any individual, it is important to place him/her
within his/her historical circumstances, so we would like to thank Col. Terry
Cave and Mr. Norman Holding for their help and information about the British
army during First World War (and how to research it), and also many members of
the Great War Forum who have given helpful hints and bits of information. We
would also like to thank the Huntingdon Record Office, The Peterborough Record
Office and the Peterborough Library for their assistance in our research of
sources relating the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Regiment. We would also like to
thank Ms. Susan Scott, Archivist of The Savoy Group, for her background
information on Claridges Hotel during wartime; Mr. Steve Fuller, Mr. Nigel Lutt
and the Bedfordshire County Record Office, Mr. Barry Stephenson and the Bedford
Central Library, and Mr. John Wainwright for their help and information about
the 4th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment; Mr. Doug Lewis for his information of
casualties of the 7th battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, Dr Larry J. Collins
for allowing us to quote paragraphs of his book "Theatre at War 1914-18". The
National Archives, for keeping War Diaries, Divisional diaries, Medal Rolls and
other documents which have been of primal importance for this research
(unfortunately, they don't keep Laughton's War Record as it was one of the 70%
or so Great War records lost by fire causes by Luftwaffe bombings during Second
World War). The Library and Archives Canada for
kindly allowing use of an image in their collections
At some points, we have added links to external websites in order to give
further information on some of the issues dealt with in these articles. We would
like to thank the webmasters and/or owners of these sites for giving us
permission to do so: Mr. Chris Baker, Mr. Michael D'Alessandro, Mr. Steve
Fuller, the Imperial War Museum, Mr. A Langley, Ms. Esther MacCallum-Stewart,
Mr. Geoffrey Miller, Mr. Joe Sweeney and Mr. Johan Somers.
Mr. Rob Ruggenberg (from "The Great War heritage"), Ms. Natasha Wallace (from
jssgallery.org), Mr. Howard Anderson (of the Western Front Association Website),
Michael Duffy (from firstworldwar.com), the BBC History Website.
|Most of the data on this page has very kindly been provided by Gloria
Porta - many thanks to her and to all those mentioned for permission to
use their information and research. Where possible all credit has
been given to them and the original source quoted.