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In 1915 As In 2007, Boy Soldiers Didn’t Always Come Home

by ClaireAug 1, 2008
By Sylvia Patterson for Sunday Herald, 11th November 2007

THE IMPERIAL War Museum in London is one of the very best museums in the country, as you can tell from the jib of its millions of visitors, from bewitched and boggle-eyed five-year-old kids to solemn German tourists to veterans spinning around in their wheelchairs, to anyone else who has a connection to any war, which is to say, pretty much everyone else on Earth.

For me, personally, it’s the second world war, the war my dad served in and was a prisoner of war of the Japanese in, for three and a half years, in Burma, Bridge Over The River Kwai territory with none of the cinematography. Mum took her gas mask to school for years.

Her brother, meanwhile, the uncle I never knew, was killed on duty in the Black Watch, aged 21. As bald facts go, these unleash lifetimes of profound effect, and in the Imperial War Museum you can see, touch, imagine and hear the most minuscule echo of what some of that might have felt like: from original letters home from the PoWs of the Japanese to wandering the mocked-up ravines of the terrifying trenches; from shuffling through the reconstruction of a 1940s house to the sight of a ballistic missile, standing on end, as colossal and imposing as a rocket ship off to the moon.

You know it was all real, of course, but suddenly, it’s really real. This week a press conference was held in the Imperial War Museum for the ITV drama My Boy Jack, which airs tonight, starring Daniel Radcliffe in the true story of Rudyard Kipling’s teenage son, who was killed in the first world war, aged 18, in 1915.

Perched up on stage in the museum’s cinema, Radcliffe sat alongside the scriptwriter and actor David Haig (Rudyard Kipling), Sex And The City’s Kim Cattrall (Jack’s mum, Carrie) and Bleak House actress Carey Mulligan (Jack’s sister, Elsie). Here, then, as some kind of Remembrance Day tribute, are the selected conference highlights from the year in which, as an introductory big-wig from ITV had it, “there are 18-year-olds going to Iraq and still not coming back”.

On the parallels between the troops in the first world war and the troops in Iraq today: Radcliffe: “I think it would be kind of arrogant of me to comment.”

Haig: “I was especially interested in the individual devastation that a single loss in a war creates. The peripheral damage to families and friends, for generations to come. One single loss. On the morning of Jack’s death, 7500 soldiers set off equal chain reactions of destruction.”

Cattrall: “All of us, in some ways, have a connection. My grandfather served, he was gassed and I wish my father had known his father. And that maybe would’ve made him a different kind of dad.”

On Radcliffe’s great-uncle Ernie, who served at Loos, which means theoretically that Jack Kipling and great-uncle Ernie could have passed each other in the trenches: Radcliffe: “Yes, and that would be a rather remarkable coincidence. But he was one of three talismans that I had during filming. A picture of Uncle Ernie, two medals I was given as a present and a copy of Kipling’s study of the Irish Guards The Irish Guards In The Great War.

“It was a pretty bizarre moment when I was told the medals had been presented to a William French, and then looked in the index in the back of Kipling’s book and his name was there. You think: This man died then, at war, I don’t know anything about him but he’s entered my consciousness in 2007 and he entered Rudyard’s 90 years ago’. And I thought that moment of shared experience was quite important.”

On having a brother serve in Iraq while the character you’re playing is the main family voice of dissent: Mulligan: “Yes, my brother was in the Territorial Army in Iraq for seven months, so I wasn’t really acting. Funnily enough, there was a man on the news this morning, a lance-corporal, and he said he’d just come back and it was very hard because everyone was talking about The X Factor. And Emmerdale. Not that I’m blaming ITV “

On Radcliffe’s interesting moustache: Radcliffe: “We filmed out of sequence, so I would’ve had to grow it back overnight, so it wasn’t real, no. Another week and it would never have survived, it was seriously disintegrating “

As, indeed, did the rest of the press conference, which ended with The Sun wondering if Radcliffe was a Sex And The City fan (he’d never seen it) and the phenomenally successful weekly gossip bugle Grazia magazine wondering if Cattrall preferred her saucy Sex And The City outfits to the rather more austere garb of 1915. “Well,” she said, “I’ve never been a big fan of the corset.” Then the cast left, leaving us to contemplate exactly where we are nearly 100 years after the outbreak of the first world war.

“We are living in fast times,” trumpets the official Grazia website, helpfully. “Life-changing news stories can gallop past us, delicious gossip can flutter and die, and fashion trends that are hot today are gone tomorrow.

“We will investigate the big issues of the week. You want to read the kind of interviews and reports that make you think seriously about your own life. There is no spin, no fluff, just straight-shooting information. Grazia: A Lot Can Happen In A Week!”

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