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Beccles First World War veteran’s story told at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

PUBLISHED: 14:40 07 August 2017 | UPDATED: 14:47 07 August 2017

'Toll' will be showing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until August 15. Photo: Samuel C Kirkman

'Toll' will be showing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until August 15. Photo: Samuel C Kirkman

© Samuel C Kirkman 2017

A man who disregarded his age to fight in the First World War is the subject of a new drama at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The play focusses on the experiences of a boy who disregarded his age to fight in the First World War. Photo: Samuel C Kirkman The play focusses on the experiences of a boy who disregarded his age to fight in the First World War. Photo: Samuel C Kirkman

Oliver Clement Soanes, or ‘Toll’ to his friends, grew up in Aldeby, near Beccles.

When war broke out in 1914, he was one of thousands of boy soldiers who signed up to fight despite being underage.

Government policy said you had to be 18 to sign up for the army and 19 to fight oversees, but it was easy for youngsters to lie because most people didn’t possess birth certificates.

A century later, Toll’s great-grandson Charlie Keable, a budding young director who has directed several musicals, decided to dramatise the former soldier’s wartime experiences.

Toll is the great-grandfather of the show's director, Charlie Keable. Photo: Samuel C Kirkman Toll is the great-grandfather of the show's director, Charlie Keable. Photo: Samuel C Kirkman

“Toll’s tale is remarkable; it’s all about lucky escapes and overcoming incredible odds,” said Charlie.

“A few years ago my father and I thought it was such a good story that it’s worth telling.

“The final product follows the structure of a traditional First World War play, but also looks at the less-than-heroic things Toll did in order to save his own life.”

After his brother died on his very first day of combat once war began, Toll went against his parents’ wishes and signed up, operating as a sniper and runner during the conflict.

Despite being wounded on numerous occasions, he survived the bloodshed and returned to Aldeby at war’s end.

Kevin Keable, Charlie’s father and Toll’s grandson, explained how it wasn’t until a conversation with his granddaughter a number of years later that Toll gave an in-depth account of his tribulations.

“My sister interviewed Toll as part of a school project when she was 11-years-old, so much of the information needed for Charlie to write the play has come from the recordings,” said Kevin.

“In a funny sort of way he was lucky because he was wounded so many times, which kept him off the frontline.”

Toll passed away in 1992, but now audiences at the Fringe have the opportunity to hear his fascinating story.

The drama will continue showing at the festival until August 15.

Tickets for ‘Toll’ are still available at tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/toll.

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