AFTER three years of fighting in some of World War One’s fiercest battles, a soldier from Great Lever was put on trial for his life by his own men.

Early One Morning, the moving and compelling true story of 26-year-old James Smith, launched at the Octagon Theatre last night.

Jessica Baglow plays Lizzie Cartwright, a nurse at Townleys hospital, now the Royal Bolton, which became the largest military hospital in the town in 1916.

A total of 307 British soldiers were shot at dawn for desertion during the war and it was not until 2006 they were granted a pardon that recognised them to be as much victims of war as those who died in battle.

In 1998 Harwood-based playwright Les, who also co-wrote the popular Bolton Wanderers play And Did Those Feet, began writing Early One Morning, which was key in the campaign to pardon deserters.

Jessica, who went to Rivington and Blackrod High School and grew up in Adlington, said: “He tells it so passionately. You can see Les really feeling for these guys through his writing.

“Often I’m in rehearsals watching Mike (Michael Shelford who plays Private James Smith) and all the boys and it’s heart-breaking.

“The fact that all these men were pardoned after it was first put on, it has such gravitas for what it achieved.

“Post traumatic stress disorder was unrecognised as anything other than shell shock.

“Nobody knew what it was.

“Nobody knew how to explain it other than cowardice.”

The play was commissioned and first produced by the Octagon in 1998, starring Iain Jones and Maxine Peake, staged to coincide with the 80th anniversary of Armistice Day.

It has been revised for the Octagon’s 2014/15 season, continuing the theatre’s commemoration of the anniversary of the outbreak of the war, following the season opener, Journey’s End.

Watching Early One Morning tonight will be 16 members of Private Smith’s family, which Jessica calls an “honour”, and hopes the cast will do the story of the deep and personal impact of the war justice.

She said: “Journey’s End was very story-based and about men in that environment, the story about men together and hiding your true self from people.

“This is probably a bit more about what humans do to each other.

“This is more raw and open and exposed.”

It was at the age of seven that Jessica started acting and she has fond memories of visiting the Octagon as a youngster, where she has appeared in recent productions of An Inspector Calls, Long Day's Journey into Night, Hobson’s Choice and Twelfth Night.

The 25-year-old, who played a pupil with autism in BBC school-based drama Waterloo Road for three years, said: “It’s amazing, I watched things here when I was a kid and came on school trips.”

Early One Morning also features John Branwell, Tristan Brooke, Colin Connor, James Dutton and Ciaran Kellgren.

Artistic director David Thacker said: “This was something experienced by ordinary men and women, our parents, grandparents and great grand-parents, and we can think of no better way to honour those Boltonians, and all 307 of the men who were shot at dawn, than by presenting this play with honesty and compassion.”

Early One Morning is at the Octagon from tonight until Saturday, November 1. Call 01204 520661 or visit for tickets.