Bill Massey’s Tourists: A 50-minute version for schools

Bill Massey’s Tourists is the story of my grandfather’s experiences on the Western Front in World War One. I play myself as an adolescent doing a school project on the war. At first my grandfather is reluctant to talk about the war, but gradually I coax him to reveal what actually happened to him and his mates in the trenches of France and Flanders.

The title? Bill Massey was the Prime Minister of New Zealand during WW1. With typical Kiwi humour, the soldiers called themselves ‘Bill Massey’s Tourists.’ Bill Massey’s Tourists is peppered with movement sequences set to amusing and original WW1 soldiers’ ditties, songs and First World War poems. These songs & poems give an instant flavour of the time and sum up the feelings and attitudes of the soldiers.
Army training at Sling Camp in England and at Étaples in France is a challenge for Arthur and his mates and I set up some amusing confrontations as the Kiwis resist army discipline. I make the terrible tragedy of Passchendaele a central focus of the play as the battle is depicted in movement, imagery and storytelling.

I use projected images of Arthur and his war mates and general scenes of war as an intrinsic part of the play that also deals with opposition to the war and propaganda that was used to get young men to fight for the Empire. For example Lord Kitchener visited New Zealand in 1910, and one scene in the play shows schoolboys like Arthur being urged to become soldiers for the Empire.

Bill Massey’s Tourists is a play designed for general audiences, both young and old. I am enjoying taking my play into secondary schools, and I have been impressed by the student interest in World War One. Young people today are much more knowledgeable about New Zealand’s war history than we were, and they ask excellent questions after the play.

“Bill Massey’s Tourists will be a great resource for history teachers who wish to use the First World War as the basis for exploring different perspectives on the past.  It presents a powerful narrative of one family’s wartime experience, allowing teachers to ask deep questions about the intersection of personal memory and national identity.”

Gregor Fountain

Principal, Paraparaumu College

Jan, you were amazing. So professional and real. I teared up at the image and dialogue about the soldiers sticking to the barbed wire. Such a very honouring piece, and PERFECT for teens. The few I’ve seen since told me they enjoyed it and thought you were great.

Nicola Easthope

English teacher, Kapiti College

Thank you so much the performance. The girls were certainly impressed with how the play came about and learned a lot about the importance of the process of research and rewrite in devising a drama. This war play will be a significant one for 2015 and hopefully inspire more family stories to the stage.

Rachel Steele

Drama teacher, Wellington Girls College

Critics Response


Jan Bolwell tells her grandfather’s tales of World War One with a remarkable vision and perception.  Her versatility is admirable.  A terrific script.  A great performance.  A tale well told.  Knocked me for six.


Raymond Hawthorne

New Zealand Theatre Director


If you can survive Passchendaele, you can survive anything,’ says Jan Bolwell’s grandfather in her third and most poignant solo play about her family. Tough part fiction and part family stories, it conveys with a compelling simplicity what it was like for a 20 year-old New Zealander to be thrown into the maelstrom of bloody war.  ……..  At the heart of the play is a short dance that highlights the physical and mental agony of war with an emotional impact that is overpowering ….. while slides of men in the trenches show us the reality.


Laurie Atkinson

Theatre reviewer, DomPost


In a world where wars continue to dominate our news, Arthur’s experiences as a soldier, Jan’s quest as his teenage granddaughter then her point of view as a university student protesting the Vietnam War, combine with our collective memories and differing perceptions to make Bill Massey’s Tourists a profoundly insightful and mutually personal shared experience.


John Smythe

Reviewer, Theatreview


  • Launched: 2014
  • Writer: Jan Bolwell
  • Choreographer: Jan Bolwell
  • Length: 50 minutes
  • Performer: Jan Bolwell


  • Paraparaumu College
  • Kapiti College
  • Tawa Primary School
  • Maidstone Intermediate School
  • Wellington Girls High school
  • Wellington East Girls College
  • Marsden Collegiate School
  • John McGlashan College

Production team

  • Directed by Kerryn Palmer
  • Dramturge Ralph McAllister
  • Audiovisual designer, Andrew Simpson
  • Set: Nicole Cosgrove
  • Lighting: Janis Cheng