Balliol feud becomes subject of London play

Friday 28 February 2020

A play about a bitter feud at Balliol in the early 1900s is to be premièred at the Greenwich Theatre in London.

Into Battle by Hugh Salmon tells the poignant story of a student feud which reflected the political and social divisions that were tearing Britain apart in the years leading up to the First World War. 

On one side were war poets the Hon. Julian Grenfell (Balliol 1906) and Patrick Shaw Stewart (1907), and Julian’s brother the Hon. Billy Grenfell (1909), all brilliant, privileged Etonians whom Evelyn Waugh later described as ‘arrogant, rowdy, and exclusive’. On the other were the socially conscious and home-educated Keith Rae (1907), who established the Balliol Boys’ Club to help impoverished boys from the underprivileged areas of Oxford, and his friend the rugby international Ronald Poulton-Palmer (1908). Caught between the two sides was Balliol’s Chaplain and Junior Dean, the Revd Neville Talbot (Fellow 1909-1920). 

Billy Grenfell and Keith Rae fought alongside each other in the same regiment in the First World War. They resolved their feud before they were killed in the same action on the same day in 1915. The other three Balliol students also gave their lives.

Into Battle brings this true story, its issues and its characters to life. Based on research that included time in the Balliol Archives, the script was checked for basic historical accuracy by Emeritus Fellow and former Archivist John Jones (although of course there is some licence for dramatic purposes). 

The Balliol Boys’ Club was consolidated in 1921 as a memorial to Keith Rae and continued until the 1970s; the endowment survives today as the Keith Rae Trust, which supports youth clubs and similar organisations, and has two Balliol Fellows among its trustees.  

Into Battle will run at the Greenwich Theatre, London SE10 8ES, from 27 April to 21 May 2020. There will be a Balliol celebration performance on Monday 4 May, which Current Members, staff and Old Members of Balliol are warmly invited to attend. The writer and the production team are keen for all generations to see the play, especially the young (over 16). Early booking is advised, as seats will be released to the general public in due course. Tickets are £32.50 and there is no restriction as to the number of tickets that any one Balliol member can buy.

You can book tickets via the Greenwich Theatre website (where there will be further details about the play in due course).

Below, left to right: Julian Grenfell, Patrick Shaw Stewart, Billy Grenfell, Neville Talbot, Keith Rae, Robin Poulton-Palmer (photos: Balliol Archives)

Julian Grenfell, Patrick Shaw Stewart, Billy Grenfell, Neville Talbot, Keith Rae, Robin Poulton-Palmer (photos: Balliol Archives)