Alice D. Cooper, Writer & Director
A Small Dot On The Western Front
Screens April 5, 2017 – First Unitarian Society
A D Cooper, Director, 2014, 8m, United Kingdom
In World War 1, two sappers mine under the German lines laying mines. One of them causes explosions of a very different kind.
In the autumn of 1915, General Sir Charles Munroe faces an unprecedented threat to morale and discipline on the Western Front. A woman has disguised herself as a soldier and somehow she has joined the sappers tunneling under No Man’s Lane and laying mines below the German trenches. He and his fellow generals must find a way to manage this extraordinary event discreetly without losing their authority or harming their reputations.
Denis is not like your usual sapper laying mines underneath No Man’s Land in 1915. It’s suffocating, dangerous work designed to blow up the enemy trenches. But Denis tells his chum Tommy that he’s had enough and turns himself into the sergeant.
Above ground, the sergeant doesn’t seem that bothered and Denis returns to mine laying. Suddenly he’s arrested by two burly military policemen (MPs) who march him in front of a tribunal presided over by three glowering generals. Denis is confident and unconcerned, supplying his name, rank and number – information that is immediately rejected by the generals as false.
That’s because Denis Smith is in fact Dorothy Lawrence, an endlessly cheerful adventuress with ambitions of being a war correspondent. She’s been at
the front for 10 days, dressed as a solider but passing patrols and sentries unchallenged. She taunts the generals that she’s exposed the holes in their security but denies she is a spy, German or a camp follower. The generals withdraw, furious at her attitude but daren’t admit to being a bit impressed. She must be sent home so they ask her sign the Defence of the Realm Act. She signs this unwittingly, but it ensures that she is unable to write or speak about her unique experiences until 1919.
Writer & Director’s Statement
Dorothy Lawrence’s story is unique. Despite the rumours, no other woman is known to have served on the Western Front in the British Army. Another British woman Flora Sandes did, however, serve as an officer in the Serbian Army.
How Dorothy got to the Front is a story in itself. She cycled from London to Paris on a bike with no gears around the back of a world war, without an escort or chaperone, and then back to the Front. Wearing a hat and a corset of course.
Was she foolhardy or just an adventuress? She was certainly impressible in her ambition to be a war correspondent, and she survived at the Front for 10 days when it was too much for most men.
All too often, the stories from the period focus on the patriotism, carnage, mechanised warfare, the loss of lives, and the terrible waste. And more than anything the stories talk about the camaraderie of the men, fighting for each other.
What appealed to me about Dorothy’s story is that it’s a woman’s experience as an adventuress at a time where women are portrayed as the loyal wife/mother/sister/daughter or as a nurse. In these times, a single woman never went out of the house with a hat and a chaperone let alone put on men’s clothes.
It’s impossible to know what irrepressible foolhardiness led Dorothy to cycle off to the Western Front, nor how enraged the generals were by her surprise appearance.
In Dorothy’s story, no one dies, and there is no loss or tears.