BIOGRAPHY, general biography, WW1
Comments 4

A Soldier Recalls Serving with Rathbone

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.
Yours faithfully,
Wm. Roberts

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.

Basil is in the back row, standing in front of the awning that reads “Freeman, Hardy & Willis” (his head blocking the LI in Willis.



  1. GRETCHEN says

    DANG!! I should’ve posted my July 21st memorial poem & message for Basil on THIS page, instead! Oh, well. If anyone wants to read it, you can find it on the “Rathbone’s Flower Bill” page.

    I’ve already told you guys most of this story before, but here it is AGAIN:

    My dad’s father was an infantry soldier in WWI….my dad was ALSO an infantry soldier, but in WWII.
    Grandpa was in the German Army & daddy was in the US Army (my dad & his family emigrated here in the mid-1920s). I have albums FILLED with those old picture-postcards that were popular back then. There’s this one postcard grandpa sent grandma while he was in the war. He spent ALL 4 YEARS (from the 2nd to the last day!) on The Front Line & didn’t have periodic ‘time-outs’ to bathe, change clothes, eat tasty food & drink alcohol, like the British did. He thought they were spoiled & had it GOOD compared to the Germans! Amazingly, grandpa was NEVER injured–although one of his brothers was killed in a bayonet attack & his other brother (who was a stage actor like Basil) died from TB he’d acquired, while they were both soldiers.

    A little SIDE-story:

    Basil once mentioned how he’d wondered if there was a German soldier somewhere who felt the SAME way he did about the uselessness of fighting & killing one another for NOTHING, in WWI….well, my grandpa was that German soldier. He thought the war was DUMB & a waste of time + had no animosity toward the ‘enemy’ or anyone else. For the rest of his life, he suffered with EXTREME PTSD & was DEEPLY affected by being forced to take young lives + seeing them ended around him. (Before & during WWII, my German grandparents also thought the Nazis were a bunch of STUPID jerks & that Hitler was an IDIOT!! Sure must’ve been AWKWARD for my dad to return to his birthplace to fight against his OWN countrymen in WWII + he wasn’t treated well by some of his fellow US soldiers, understandably. But, he spoke fluently to German POWs & translated what they said for his commanding officers–how HANDY!)

    Back to the MAIN story:

    Anyhow, so grandpa sent grandma this NEAT picture-postcard of himself & his buddies standing in a muddy foxhole/trench with their guns, looking up at the camera WHILE in battle, proudly SMILING–like they were all pretending to have a GREAT time. I always thought that was pretty FUNNY. Wonder WHO took the pic & how they dodged gunfire to get it printed, so grandpa could write to grandma about his ‘exciting adventures’ on The Front! Could’ve been taken the day the war (& shooting) ended–haven’t seen it in awhile & don’t remember the date. Guess grandpa didn’t want her & the kids to WORRY too much about him, so he tried to appear happy in the photo & probably wrote uplifting stuff on the back (I can’t read German). Of course, it if WAS taken the day the war ended, he’d have a REASON to smile!!! 🙂


    I was just thinking how BOTH sets of my European grandparents + my dad’s siblings somehow miraculously SURVIVED the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920, which killed tens of MILLIONS of people–especially the soldiers in Europe! They sure were LUCKY….if they’d died, my dad & mom + her siblings & my cousins wouldn’t have been BORN & neither would I (or my 2 bros)!! Also, my dad’s parents were old enough to be my mom’s parents’ PARENTS! That’s how different in age my family is + my dad & me were both born really LATE to our parents, so it’s kinda weird. Even STRANGER–I still look like I’m 13 & act like a little KID, but I’ll be 45 on July 29th–people can’t BELIEVE my 2 sets of grandparents were born in the mid-1880s & mid-1900s!!! Then, they can’t believe how OLD I am when I tell them….before they FAINT! (HEE-HEE.) 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • marciajessen says

      Great story, Gretchen! Thanks for sharing. And Happy Birthday! (45 is still young!)


      • GRETCHEN says

        Glad you liked my story, Marcia!
        Figured the ‘newbies’ on this blog might find it entertaining/interesting.

        Also, THANKS for the Birthday wishes!!! 😀 ❤

        Yeah, 45 IS pretty young….but to those who assume I'm an actual CHILD, it's not! (Beginning in my early 20s, strangers have reacted with dismay & bewilderment after thinking I'm a KID–then discovering my true age. The older I get, the more creeped-out they become.) This odd 'condition' is probably hereditary. My dad was 83 when he died (in 2008) & looked the SAME as he did in his early 50s! My mom's going to be 85 soon & she's hardly aged in over 25 YEARS!

        Ever since I was 11 (I'm kinda TALL with a 'baby-face'), I've been mistaken for a 13-15 year old by both kids & adults. If you look at photos of me now & those from 30+ YEARS ago, you can't tell the difference. Besides my appearance, I also NEVER turned into a 'real grownup'–I goof-around a LOT, still have the same hobbies, my personality hasn't changed, I LOVE toys & continue to wear the clothing/shoe/hair styles I've worn since middle/high school! My boyfriend Daniel also looks MUCH younger & could pass for his late 40s, but is actually 64–when we go out somewhere together, everybody thinks he's my DAD & I'm his 'teen' daughter–YIKES!! (At least they don't think he's my GRANDPA!)

        The BEST part of being a 'perpetual kid' is that I can secretly remain a total WEIRDO without any risk of public shame or embarrassment–SCORE!!! But, I DO occasionally embarrass Daniel. *LOL* 😉


  2. ticobasiljd says

    Hey, thanks for this great discovery! Imagine, Shakespeare in (or near) the trenches! What will they have next, Bob Hope? Let’s see if my reply will work this time–the Flower Bill got done in by the Gravatar sign-in maze, and then I got done in by the heat wave. I think Ouida is responsible for the flower bill–she seemed to love having flowers around (why; they’re dying the minute they’re picked!)–trying to bribe reviewers and others for good reports on his plays, or trying to restart her failed representation business.


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