‘Into Battle’: The True Story of the Balliol Feud by Hugh Salmon (Hn 74)

04 October 2022

Into Battle by Hugh Salmon (Hn 74) uncovers the true story of the notorious Oxford ‘Balliol Feud’, which poignantly encapsulates the political and social divisions that were tearing Britain apart prior to WW1. The Greenwich Theatre premier has recently been picked up by Broadway on Demand, a theatre streaming service.

In 1906, of the fifty-three freshers who went up to Balliol, eighteen had been to Eton. By 1910, they had formed an exclusive group, including the future war poets Hon. Julian Grenfell and Patrick Shaw Stewart. Standing up to the behaviour of the Etonians were the socially aware Keith Rae and England rugby international Ronald Poulton, who were dedicated to improving the lives of the poor and hungry in the back streets of Oxford.

By 1912, the feud had evolved into a deep personal dispute between to Keith Rae and Hon. Billy Grenfell. After an incident between them, Billy is sent down for a year, disgracing his aristocratic mother Lady Ettie Desborough. Finally, Into Battle reveals that the differences between Keith and Billy, and their destinies, are resolved in the face of a far greater adversity – the battlefields of the First World War.

Salmon first encountered the Balliol Feud while reading ‘For Poulton and England’ by James Corsan (2009). Hoping to find a reference to his grandfather’s rugby team, he instead found his first reference to the feud. Souring a reprinted copy of ‘The Life of Ronald Poulton’ , written by Poulton’s distraught father (1919),  Salmon was moved by this quote:

‘All Keith Rae’s last year, it was a nightmare to him. One can’t exaggerate the harm it did… Although the feud between the leaders of the two sides was so bitter, a beautiful and touching end was brought to it by the stress and strain of the war.’

Inspired to find out more, he commenced research into the truth behind the feud. Now, after years of extensive research, including over 50 books, time spent at Balliol archive in Oxford and meetings with the living relatives of the real life characters of the play, the full truth behind the issues, personalities and extraordinary incidents within the Balliol Feud are revealed on stage, for the first time in history.

To find out more or watch Into Battle, visit the play’s official website here.