One of the techniques employed by the County of London Territorial Force Association in preparation for the First World War was to use the power of the theatre to encourage recruitment.
In 1909, the Adjutant of the London Cyclist Battalion, Captain A. H. Trapman attended the first performance of a new play which pictured the plight of England in the event of a surprise invasion.
The play prominently featured a cyclist and this spurred the recruiting spirit of the Adjutant.
Captain Trapman immediately negotiated for, and bought, the rights for advertising on the programme and filled the space with recruiting advertisements of all Territorial units in the London District, giving a whole page to the claims of the London Cyclist Battalion.
The results were instantaneous. Territorial Recruiting sergeants were given free access to the theatre and gained recruits in the intervals between the acts.
The 25th staged displays at the Fulham and Granville Theatres and, within a week was able to proclaim itself at full strength.
This was the first unit in the whole Territorial Force to attain its establishment, followed twenty minutes later by the London Scottish.
You may well recall the film ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’. This contained a theatre recruiting scene which may well have been based on Captain Trapman’s efforts. As an interesting aside, this musical film was based on a stage play which premiered on 19 March 1963. In June, the play transferred to Wyndham’s Theatre – I wonder how many people at the time recognised the coincidence. Some of ‘The Londons’ must have been theatregoers and I am sure that the synchronism would not have beeen lost on them.
A copy of the programme recently came up at auction, but sadly I was outbid. Despite contacting the seller, the archivist of Wyndham’s Theatre, as well as the University of Exeter (which holds the Du Maurier Archive) I have so far been unable to locate another copy or a reprint. All I have for the time being is a digital copy of the front page and this is shown below.
This video clip from ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’ shows the scene I referred to above – Click on the triangle in the centre of the image to play.