Archives for the month of: September, 2013

fire-police-ambulance logo

Since I started working with Hopscotch Theatre in Glasgow I have been invited to dress rehearsals of all their new school productions. Recently I went to see my brilliant mother penguin Louise Montgomery performing as a police officer in Fire! Police! Ambulance! There was a big audience of parents and children, and we sat around four sides of a raised black-and-white platform stage. As the actors did a lot of singing and dancing, I was nervous that someone would fall off! Luckily nobody did.

999 song

The main character is a teenage boy called Peter who tends to panic at the slightest problem. Jason Park plays this role with plenty of energy, running at full tilt in one direction and then another at each new “crisis.” His father, who is played by Wullie Brennan, is very patient with his over-excited son as he tries to explain the difference between a real emergency and something less important.

Police caution

Through the course of the performance (about 55 minutes in all), young Peter learns all about the three emergency services. First is the police, and the constable teaches him the first lesson about what to do in an emergency: the number to call. All three actors break into a brilliant performance of the 999 Song, and they teach the audience to sing the chorus.

Peter and fireman

Next Peter spends some time with a firefighter and an ambulance driver (also played by Wullie Brennan) and learns what kind of emergencies require their help. Peter’s father has a new job answering the phones at the Emergency Services call centre, so Peter also learns how important it is NOT to dial 999 for a joke.

lifesaving dummy

The production was written by Raymond Burke (both words and music) and it’s full of action, great songs and silly humour to keep a young audience fully engaged. The actors interact often with the audience, and the valuable information the children learn is conveyed brilliantly through rhyme and repetition in a fun way.

In addition, teacher Mark McLaughlin has produced some excellent Classroom Resources for schools which can be downloaded free from the Hopscotch website. This way teachers can reinforce the main points of the show later in the classroom. All in all, a brilliant show!


As a child I used to walk past a little stone house with a white picket fence every day on my way to school. It had been built in 1858, and was known as the John McCrae birthplace. My school, which was just a few blocks along Water Street, was also called John McCrae School, and every November we would troupe along to the memorial garden next to the house for our Remembrance Day ceremony.

Inside, the house has been restored with simple pine furniture and painted wooden floors to look as it did when John McCrae was born there in 1872. I remember looking round its sparse rooms and thinking how boring it must have been with no TV! We learned that John McCrae studied to become a doctor, but he also became a soldier, first serving in the Boer War in South Africa, and then in Europe during World War I.


The picture above shows John McCrae in about 1914 in his soldier’s uniform. While serving as a field surgeon trying to save the lives of injured soldiers on the front lines at Ypres in 1915, a close friend of his was killed. There was no pastor available to conduct a funeral, so McCrae performed the ceremony himself. The next day he wrote a poem as he sat overlooking the poppy-filled cemetery.

In Flanders Fields

After scribbling the poem in a notebook, he discarded it, thinking it was not worth saving. Another military officer retrieved the poem and sent it to several newspapers in England. On 8 December 1915 it was published in Punch magazine, and it became hugely popular, being reprinted in America and translated into several languages.


Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae continued to serve as a medic during the remainder of the war. Now famous as a war poet, he continued to write poetry for another three years until his early death from pneumonia in January 1918. A collection of his poetry, In Flanders Fields and Other Poems, was published that same year.

There are memorials to McCrae in Belgium, England and Canada, and because of his Scottish ancestry his poem In Flanders Fields features prominently on the memorial for the war dead of Clan MacRae at Eilean Donan castle in the western Highlands.


As a direct result of McCrae’s most famous poem, the poppy was adopted in 1921 by the Royal British Legion as a symbol of the sacrifice made by the fallen soldiers of World War I and since then of subsequent conflicts.

Image ©Suzanne Carter-Jackson/iStockphoto.

Image ©Suzanne Carter-Jackson/iStockphoto.

This year marks a century since the end of World War I, and in the current climate of conflict and disunity, we all hope that today’s act of remembrance will bring perspective and peace.

Image © Carolyn McDowall,

Image © Carolyn McDowall,