Decades after soldier's death, the truth is told
He was the Hull soldier who was shot for desertion. But it is only now – close to a century after his death – that the true story of Charles Frederick McColl is being told.
Jim Dunn, 61, a prison instructor from west Hull, has uncovered the transcripts from McColl's trial for a play that explores the circumstances of his execution.
Shot At Dawn, which will be performed "script in hand" at Hull Truck Theatre on Wednesday, sees McColl trapped in limbo, pleading for a fair hearing from beyond the grave.
"It will be down to the audience to make up their own minds about him," said Jim, who began work on the drama in 2007.
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Jim first learnt of McColl while on a trip to Reservoir Cemetery, a burial site for the fallen in Ypres, Belgium.
He had visited the site with his wife, Ann, to pay his respects to a neighbour's grandfather
While there, Ann spotted another gravestone bearing the insignia of the "Hull Pals" East Yorkshire Regiment.
It was McColl's gravestone.
"When I saw that stone I was quite moved," Jim said.
"I wanted to find out more about him."
Jim, who has previously published a novel, began the process of researching the history of the case with the intention of writing a play.
He found there was a wealth of false information and rumour surrounding McColl's story – including the claim in one book that the soldier had lived with a woman during his desertion.
Jim's play sets out the truth behind McColl's desertion and trial, which draws the transcripts from the solider's court martial.
The information, sourced from the military archives at Kew, saw Jim painstakingly transcribe the information from tiny hand-written notes.
Jim said: "Although the play was written as a piece of theatre, the whole of the testimony and witness statements at the court martial are taken word for word from the original transcripts."
McColl, who had been a shipyard plater, joined up in 1914 and served in Egypt.
Recalled to fight on the Western Front, he suffered heart failure and severe nervousness after being wounded by a shell.
Jim said: "He was sent back to Blighty, but as they were short of men he was declared 'A3' – fit to fight – and was sent back to the front."
He absconded twice and had no representation for the court martial at which his fate was sealed. In December, 1917, he was shot.
"As regards his trial, some might think 'fair enough' on the verdict," said Jim. "But this lad was all alone and it seems like they just went through the motions."