The Military Army Blog

Award-winning tribute to WW II veterans comes to Hudson

Playwright and actor Julia Mackey, pictured, plays both a 10-year-old girl and a World War II veteran in the award-winning play Jake’s Gift. Photo courtesy of Hudson Village Theatre. Entered by Kathryn Greenaway, Sept. 10, 2015. unknown

Jake s Gift is a play for all those touched by the horrors of war. Written and performed by West Island native Julia Mackey and directed by Dirk Van Stralen, the play is about a Second World War veteran named Jake who returns to Normandy on the 60th anniversary of D-Day. He and his brother Chester were both part of the Allied invasion of Western Europe on June 6, 1944. Chester didn t make it. Jake crosses paths with Isabelle, a precocious 10-year-old who lives in a stone house near the B ny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery where Chester is buried.

At its core, it is a play about forgiveness, friendship and remembrance, Mackey said.

Mackey, who grew up in Beaconsfield, has been touring the one-woman, one-hour, one-act play since 2007. The production has played at more than 200 Legion halls, community centres and theatres across the country, including Centaur Theatre in 2008, and has won multiple awards. During its run at the Hudson Village Theatre, it will reach the 800th-performance milestone. Mackey was inspired to write the play after attending the 60th anniversary of the invasion in Normandy in 2004. She d been working on a story about three brothers and their experiences during the Second World War and wanted to connect with the subject on a deeper level.

What struck me was how well-informed the children over there were about the war, she said. Their families had done a good job passing on the stories about the sacrifices the soldiers made on D-Day. Of the nearly 150,000 Allied troops that invaded Western Europe that day, 14,000 were Canadian. Canadians suffered 1,074 casualties.

Mackey interviewed veterans, walked the beaches and visited the cemeteries and described the visit as the most moving experience of my life. During her visit to the B ny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery she came across a gravestone with the name Chester Hebner engraved on it. He was a gunner with the Royal Canadian Artillery. When she began writing the play, she named Jake s brother Chester. Not long ago, Mackey made contact with Hebner s niece who then attended a performance in Alberta and brought Mackey a photograph of Uncle Chester. Last summer, Mackey made contact with one of Hebner s great-great nephews, a trumpet player, who is planning to record a version of the Last Post to be played during performances.

For the 70th anniversary of D-Day Mackey learned the play in French and returned to Normandy to perform it on Juno Beach, mere metres away from the Queen s Own Rifles House named after the regiment that liberated the stone house June 6, 1944. They were the first Canadians to land on the beach that day. More than 100 soldiers from the regiment were killed in the first minutes of battle.

The house has been owned by the same family since the Second World War and they attended the performance, Mackey said.

Mackey keeps in touch with around two dozen Second World War veterans from across the country who have seen the play. She calls them her band of 90-year-old boyfriends.

The play is very much a love letter to the veterans, she said. They ve told me the play brings up both good and bad memories. I m telling their story and I wanted to get it right.

Hudson Village Theatre, 28 Wharf Rd., presents Jake s Gift, Sept. 16-20. Tickets cost $29 for evening shows and $27 for matinees. Admission is free for veterans. For show times and reservations, call 450-458-5361, email

To view an excerpt of a performance, www.dropbox.com/s/sq4mrbdswrkepo0/Jake s%20Gift%20for%20Natalie%20Fringe%20Doc..mov?dl=0[3]

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