In 1918, my Great Uncle, Private William 'Billy' Stevenson (1894-1973) was on patrol in a sector of No Man's Land, in the Bassée Canal Region of France. His patrol decided to investigate a brewery, not knowing that a German patrol had already occupied the building. When the Germans opened fire, Billy dived into a shallow shell hole, leaving his head and legs exposed - or as he put it "like a fish in a bowl." A German soldier, inside the brewery, shot him in the knee.

That was the end of Billy's war. He spent several months in hospital and received an honourable discharged from the army with a disability pension. He married, became a postman, and lived a long and happy life with his wife and daughter.
Every so often, he would buy something special with his pension, a chicken perhaps, or a turkey. He would return home, lay it on the table and say, “there's a present from Jerry.”

Billy believed that his life had been saved by a compassionate German soldier; a man who had actively chosen to wound rather than kill. When he said, “there's a present from Jerry”, Jerry referred to the man who'd saved him and the present wasn't just a chicken or turkey, it was Billy's life.

A Present from Tommy (2018-19) is an essay-film concerning war, compassion, those who fire high, gift giving and personal histories.

Developed during Hospitalfield Interdisciplinary Residency 2018

With thanks to:
Maurice Graham