When Frank Watts picks up a war image from his homeland of England, he stares at the faces of the women and children.
There are usually no men in the photos, many of which portray block party scenes or other neighbourhood gatherings.
“I can’t help but feeling they never got enough recognition for what they did,” the Coquitlam playwright said of the moms. “The men in uniform got their medals but the mothers didn’t get any credit for living day to day, not knowing if they’ll see the next, and having little food to feed the kids.”
Watts honours the unsung heroes in his new play Down the Tube, which Expect Exceptional Theatre premiered last weekend at the Gallery Bistro and runs again this weekend at the Port Moody Station Museum.
Watts’ earliest memories are having to scramble with his mother and brother in the subway station during the London Blitz or in the air raid shelters, where up to 40 people were packed in (his father served with the Royal Marines for a total of 27 years while his brother was with the Marines for 21 years).
It’s in these below- and above-ground places where Watts believes his mother contracted tuberculosis; she died of the disease in 1947, at the age of 37, despite receiving treatments in sanatoriums and hospitals.
Watts escaped the war aftermath by trying his hand at theatre. At 12, he won a spot at St. Marylebone Grammar School, where he picked up parts in its productions of Julius Caesar and She Stoops to Conquer.
He immigrated to Canada at the age of 21 and continued to act in — and direct — plays in Oakville, Ont. Over the years, Watts penned children’s plays and stayed active in the theatre scene until he moved to the West Coast in 1977.
Five years ago, Watts returned to community theatre and joined Expect Exceptional Theatre, a Port Moody company for seniors, writing for it The Christmas Truce — a WWI play performed at the Port Moody Station Museum.
Watts hopes the troupe will showcase his third play, The Trial of Oliver Twist, about the 2007 recession, in 2020; he’s now working on his fourth production, which will have another WWII theme.
His aim is to entertain and educate. “That’s what I try to do in all my stuff,” he said. “I don’t want the information to get lost. I want to give the audience an idea what war was like. It was a very scary time and we need to remember that.”
For tickets to Down the Tube at the Port Moody Station Museum (2734 Murray St.) on May 10, 11 and 12, visit expecttheatre.ca.
Expect Exceptional Theatre actors Linda MacLean and Taylor Stutchbury in Down the Tube. Catherine Mateo photo