On July 21, 1967, the great Basil Rathbone died. When a man named William Roberts learned of Rathbone’s death, he wrote a letter to the editor of the Liverpool Echo. It was published in the July 24 edition of the newspaper. Mr. Roberts wrote:
To the Editor of the Echo
Sir, —I had some little association with the late Basil Rathbone when he served with the Liverpool Scottish in the first world war. At that time I was the N.C.O. in charge of the 55 division theatre—then called “The Roses Theatre Co”—and for some little time he was attached to that unit. His charm of manner and unfailing cheerful disposition made it a pleasure to have him in our little band of barn-stormers. As a Shakespearean actor he was a delight to see and listen to and at all times. His audience of weary mud-stained troops, were assured of a finished performance. He was a great actor and his passing has robbed the stage and screen of one of its greatest stalwarts and as one of his comrades-in-arms I join, with the others, in paying a tribute to this grand performer.
I was a little surprised when I read this letter. I had not imagined that Rathbone did any acting while he was serving in the war. I thought he spent the entire time in the trenches. But of course that’s not true.
The British soldiers typically spent about a week or two living in the trenches, and fighting on the front line. Then another unit would replace them on the front line, and the first unit would go “out of the line” to spend a week or so resting in a nearby village. This brief rest period gave the soldiers an opportunity to eat regular meals and get regular sleep so they’d be ready for another round of fighting.
Apparently, Rathbone spent some of this “out of the line” time entertaining his comrades in-arms with Shakespearean performances. How nice to know that they appreciated the performances.