Don prepares for stage role at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

99-year-old Don Sutherland EMN-180508-104500001
99-year-old Don Sutherland EMN-180508-104500001

You are never too old to have face a new challenge or have a new experience, as one 99-year-old has discovered.

Don Sutherland is the sole survivor of the pacifist communitites based in Holton cum Beckering and Bleasby during World War II.

Next week, he will be appering at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of ‘Conchies’, a play telling the story of these communities in the words of those who lived there.

Conchies tells the story of World War II conscientious objectors who refused to fight. Instead they strove to create a community where they could put into practice their beliefs in co-operation and nonviolence while the rest of humanity was smashing itself to bits.

Conchies is written by playwright and Legsby resident Ian Sharp and has already had sell-out performances at the Broadbent Theatre.

Don said: “As perhaps the sole survivor of pacifist farming communities in Lincolnshire in the last war I’m grateful that Ian has drawn the strings together in the performance ‘Conchies!”

“I say this with great sorrow for those who fought and never came back.”

Don will be travelling with the members of ‘ A Certain Demographic’ to be part of the Edinburgh experience next week.

He said: “I don’t really have a part in the play, but at the point when Ian (Ian Rushby, who plays Don in the production) starts to talk about my experiences and my early work in insurance, I am sitting at the front and the spotlight comes on me and I say ‘I was a young man who was a bit sort of feeble looking probably and as if a stiff wind would blow me over’.

“Nobody would have guessed that in a few months’ time I’d be doing heavy physical work with the cold winds from the Russian steps blowing me to pieces.”

After attending a tribunal in Newcastle, and having been given full exemption on religious grounds, Don arrived to live and work in the Holton Beckering community.

Don said: “The community was set up as a sort of training scheme for young men usually, who got a conditional exemption that they went into farm work.

“The idea was that they then move on and get a job on an ordinary commercial farm.

“In point of fact, both of them ended up being more communities although I think there was much more of an idea of community in the Bleasby one, which I went to afterwards.”

Like many other members of the communities, Don stayed in the area.

He spent more than 20 years in the community.

Don added: “It was the best thing I ever did and of course I met my wife there.

“It was one of the chaps at Holton, a teacher from Birmingham; his sister came to stay for a few days and we fell in love and got married.

“That changed my life quite a lot.

“She was interested in swimming and dancing, and I followed that as well.

“She was a horticulturist and got bombed out from the women’s college in Kent during the war – she lost her friend.”

Don and Betty went on to have three sons and two daughters.

Now, Don is looking forward to the story of the communities being told to a wider audience.

He said: “I think Ian has done a very good job with the play.

“The Broadbent Theatre, which started out as the Holton Players, was started by the communities, but there has never been any attempt to tell the story of the communities themselves.

“Now it has been done and it has caused a lot of interest.”

Conchies will be playing in Edinburgh for six nights – and Don will be appearing at two of the performances.

Performance dates are: Monday August 13, Tuesday August 14, Wednesday, August 15, Thursday, August 16, Friday, August 17, and Saturday, August 18.

A Certain Demographic contains one member who is the son of two of the conscientious objectors, and still lives on the site of the pacifist community, inherited from his father.

Performances will be at Venue 40, The Quaker Meeting House, in Victoria Street.

Tickets are still available for all six shows.

Click here to book.