STAFF and students at Harlow College gathered in the Glass Box Theatre on Thursday (November 9) afternoon to commemorate all those who have served and died representing Britain and the Commonwealth since World War One.
Our first-year creative writing students were inspired by reading real life reports from soldiers fighting on the front line, in the trenches during the First World War, to write their own pieces reflecting the emotions of those directly or indirectly experiencing war.
Below are some examples of their work, plus a photograph of John Patrick Waylett who served in World War Two and is the great grandfather of student Olivia Baker.
Poppies- Olivia Baker
And I could hear them marching:
Over the hills,
Down and over barbed wire
The sound of cloth tearing like paper.
And I could almost hear the blood
Colour of poppies,
They called me a coward.
That’s what they said
When I huddled in a ball in the rotten trenches
And thought of home.
Thought of my daughter:
So little and bright.
The one I left at home—
The one I am fighting for.
And I hear them as they come closer,
Drawing their guns and marching
Oh, how they March so loud.
Why did this all have to happen.?
Could God not have given me some more time?
I think of getting up: being a hero,
Less of a martyr.
But it aches in my bones,
I know what is right, and this is not it.
I let it embrace me.
The gunfire, the feeling like falling rain.
I wish I could have done more.
But there’s nothing now but poppies.
Until we meet again – Ella Dewing:
They have assigned me to the tunnels again
I fear this may be the last letter you receive
The last time I barely made it out
We lost three men when it collapsed
We were ambushed by the enemy in the tunnels
They knew we were coming
I have killed, my love
I am not the man you once knew
There is blood on my hands
My conscience is no longer clear
If I return home, will it be me returning?
Will you even recognise me, my love?
I fear you will not, for I do not even recognise myself anymore
I do not dream at night
I do not even sleep
I close my eyes, but I am always awake, alert, aware
I never switch off
I am no longer a man, but a machine
I am a killer
But my love, I do it for you
I want to come home
I would die for you
I would kill for you
I have killed for you, for us
And though it weighs on my conscience, I would do it again in a heartbeat
To spend one more day with you
In the fields behind the house
In the living room, in front of the fire
In the kitchen, dancing to the radio
I see your face everywhere I go
In the blank canvas of land I fight on
In the tunnels where it goes dark, I imagine I am lying at home with you
As long as I am with you, my love
I see you in the poppies
In the clouds
In the clear blue skies
In the lakes, the rivers, the sea
I see you in the trees, and in the leaves when they fall
I see you in the stars at night
And I imagine you were here with me, you looking up at the stars in awe, me looking at you
My love, I must go
In case I do not return I need you to promise me some things
Remember I was happy with you, so happy
Remember you were the best thing to ever happen to me
God, I wish I was with you right now
And please God, never forget me my love, for my heart will break even after it stops beating
We vowed til death do us part my love
But I fear that may come too soon
Death will not tear us apart, for I will not let it
I will be with you always
And if I don’t make it back, do not fear
I will find you in the next life, and the one after
I never want to be apart
We will have our fairytale ending my love
Maybe just not in this lifetime
Until we meet again
My love will stay strong to you – Holly Weafer-Kemp
Tic. Toc. Tic. Toc.
I can’t sleep. Even if I could I would get no rest from it. The continuous booms from above my head give no rest, stealing mine away. I feel the pounding of my head directly behind my eyes, flaring up into an unbearable agony for a moment every time a new bomb rattles the bunker. Dropping my head into my hands I sigh, I want to cry but resist. The baby lays by my side, asleep. How he hasn’t woken up from the ruckus is beyond me but I’m counting it as a small prayer that has been answered. I just hope God answers the rest of my prayers. However, for now there is nothing I can do, nothing but sit and watch the clock, waiting for this torment to be over.
The relentless thoughts about what my husband might be doing right now wrack my brain, driving me into insanity. Is he okay? I haven’t heard from him in two weeks now. He’d promise to send a letter at the very least once a week. I refuse to think the unthinkable though. Our love keeps me going, is what gives me hope in my life. Without it I will be nothing. He is fine. He has to be.
Still I refuse to read the new letters that come for me, instead I have piled them all up in the corner of the bunker. If its not his handwriting on the front, I won’t open it. I can’t find it in me to do so. But the want to know what has happened is in me, slowly creeping over my body, but I know the pain of knowing while destroy me, leaving me broken. I must stay strong, for the baby.
Instead I reach towards the open letters from the past, that my love has sent me. My hands shake as I pick the last one I received up, in time with another echo of a boom above my head. I let out a small scream but clamp my hand over my mouth at the escaped sound. The baby stays asleep. I read the letter.
I miss you. I wish I could be at home with you right now, I don’t know how much longer this will last and how much longer I will last. Despite this I will stay strong for you and our boy, I promise. I’m not going anywhere. We are said to be pushing further forward into the combat tomorrow, wish me luck. There’s not much else to say so I’ll end this here. I love you. My love will stay strong to you.
Silent tears fall down my face. I can feel my resolve giving in. I need to know he’s okay, reading this letter was a bad idea.
I’m giving in.
I reach towards the unopen letters and tear them open one by one.
My heart begins to race at every word I see, waiting for what I know deep down I will find. My breathing picks up as my throat squeezes shut, my head screaming at me to stop.
I find it.
The telegram reporting me of his death.
Mine, Ours, Yours – Holly Weafer-Kemp
My love I lay here still tonight,
Lay and wait for the light,
My love I only think of you,
Only you stuck in this doom,
My love I cannot reach you,
Don’t have an arm to lift,
My love, where are you?
Safe and sound in a bliss,
You can’t be.
Our love was the loudest thing,
Louder then these hellish screams,
Our love inspired the young,
“Their soulmates!” They sung,
Our love could beat everything,
But not this ice encasing my limbs,
Our love kept me going, was my only hope,
Hope is gone. I’ve got nowhere to go.
Your love is void of this place,
Where’s your warmth? Your Laugh? Your face?
Your love is all I think of now,
As I take my final bow,
Your love was so precious to me,
I’m sorry. Maybe we weren’t meant to be?
That can’t be, God help me!
Your love must stay strong to me,
I’ll see you in another life Mary.
Shell by Bobby Halls
Even now as I walked across the beach, I couldn’t help but notice waves washing over the pebbles. There must have been hundreds, no, thousands of pebbles.
Each with an individual story, each with an individual beginning. Though, their stories, their beginnings, it all lead to the shore.
A tide had swept them up, it brought them far away to the beach; their resting place. I fell to my knees, encompassed by the murky waters. Yet, amongst those pebbles, a shell did lay.
I dug through the pebbles, the cold and coarse pebbles, desperate for that shell. My shell. I held it in my hand, its surface glistening like a medal; a medal in my hand.
Though, those pebbles, each and every pebble…I see it now. I threw that shell. I threw it far, far away. Go home, my shell, swim through the waters and weave through the pebbles; leave them to rest.
I never deserved you, shell. I never wanted you. When I looked upon the water, when I found you, my reflection eclipsed your colourful exterior. When the water gifted me you, when I was swept up by the endless tide, when I had once again returned home; I looked you in the eyes, and saw only myself. A shell, like you, I have become.
Lost and Found by Bobby Halls
Lost, the man ran around helplessly, his Pickelhaube chipped from the crossfire and his uniform with a fresh red ribbon tied neatly around his abdomen. Fog steamed his mask, the stench of a nauseating gas in his nose; He didn’t dare look down at the ground, lest he saw the manifestation of regret. A pale hand, attached to a pale arm, attached to a pale body. Much like its body, its thoughts had gone pale. Muddied, bloodied, in a mess of suffering he pursued the enemy.
The red ribbon grew restless, his uniform made great haste to embrace the dirt beneath his feet. The young man dreamt of schooldays, when the bell rung like a whistle blowing for him to march forward; march home to his mother. Sometimes, he would pretend he was a soldier, the people in the markets would decorate him with flowers and medals and all sorts of rewards for his courage. Though, the only thing that covered him now was a blanket of smoke.
His father had told stories of when he faced the dreaded Frenchman, and how his grandfather did too. The blasted enemy, horned devils with wings of shrapnel…though, he noticed, that his men were the only ones with horns upon their heads. Each other boy, caught in a war of the wicked, was yet another cobblestone in a path to nowhere; Tired, he lied down wrapped in the motherly embrace of the red ribbon.
And with the ribbon’s arms of crimson, her hands gently closed his eyelids. She thought to herself, how many more stones should be paved on the Emperor’s road?
Trust me, I’m a soldier, by Noah Springthorpe
I’m Sebastian Pennyfarthingworth and I’m a soldier. Just let me have a spot of brekkie first; Beans, eggs, and tea. Here, I’ll show all of my training, brilliant and bold. I can explain this war to you, all I need is a cheeky biscuit. I have killed so many people, well some of them have lived. I had to leave my barracks so through the field I travelled.
Trust me, I’m a soldier. I think we aim just right there, oh no his mate has seen me. I have cracking skills and jolly good gear. Oh dear, it seems I must egress.
I spy on lots of men, some of them even practice their aim right where I’m hiding. My recon is very reliable, the enemy stands no chance. You want to rush into the fray? I can aid you with that. No firearm, no helmet, no problem. Those are kit I never even miss. My good training gives me duties, although I never trained. I simply got this rank from a friend as a birthday gift from matey. Since then, I travel everywhere and sometimes help around the premises. You say I’m doing bad? But, I’m a genius. I innovate like an expert.
I am a soldier and I’m having a mirthful time right now. Actual training? What does that mean? I haven’t the foggiest. You know learning by doing? Well I act and you’ll learn. Let me run out first, then you will have your turn. I feel much better than you, I get more privileges than you as I’m a higher-ranking soldier, and who are you? Clean up crew.
I handle my equipment like a master. See that shot I just made!? You are saying it is impossible? Like a care an ounce. My gas mask now has better breathing holes and my grenades have been pre-pulled. My machine gun has been shortened and my revolver has been fully loaded in my pocket. I once tried to disguise myself as opposing forces and ran the opposite way for confusion tactics. Now I think my work is done, what a great time of using my great strategies to cause enemies stress.
Trust me, I’m a soldier. I think I head in this direction over there. Trust me, I’m a great tactician. I think I have stepped on a mine. Worry not, I’ll escape with my great skill and amazing gear. Oh no, I think I mucked up now.
Get out of War free’ by A A Hassan
“This is bloody ridiculous,” he said to me with a frown, brows furrowed with his frustration.
I chuckled at his expression of emotion and let my head hit the dirt wall of the trench, placing my arms on top of my knees as I looked up.
“Unless you’re planning on getting shot, there’s no way out of here,” I replied with a chuff, glancing at him.
The look on his face told me everything he was thinking. That glint in his eyes, that small twitch in his lips, it gave everything away.
My expression changed to one of concern, leaning forward slightly and keeping my eyes on him on the off chance he did something rash as soon as I looked away.
“Jesus, I was kidding, Johnny,” I clarified, tempted to reach for his gun myself when I saw the way his eyes flickered to it.
“That’s not a bad idea actually,” he muttered before clocking onto the way I looked at him, “I’m not gonna kick the bucket! The reason I want out of here is to keep myself alive, not off myself.”
“What the hell else am I meant to think when you start spouting nonsense like that?!” I questioned angrily.
This time it was him who laughed at me, the sound bouncing off the walls that encased us.
“I mean, say I shot myself in the foot or something. That’d heal easy enough, and I’d be back in time for the missus’ birthday,” he explained.
I could see the way he fleshed out the idea in his head. He was picturing it.
“You’re a madman,” I said to him, covering my ears as he cocked his gun and pointed it at his foot.
Johnny laughed again, that same damn smug laugh as before, and braced himself. He didn’t try to say anything else to me before he pulled the trigger.
The blood spilled out onto the floor through the newly made hole, followed by a cry of pain.
I took my hands away from my ears and went to aid him in keeping upright. I saw his smug look he had, that look of accomplishment before he stood up straight. Before he went to gloat about what a good idea he had. Before his brains were splattered all over me from a keen snipper on the opposing side.
Palm By Lily Wiltshire
The lonely line on the palm of my hand
Has become weaker; it is crossed out with broken lines
And my palm is bitten raw, brittle at the edges
It’s fingers freezing on the trigger–
But then it fires.
Now my hands are stained, crusted red
Rolled over the line of my hand, not hiding
An embellishment, somehow lonelier than
I taste ash in my mouth, and the mud
It cakes my face, my feet, everywhere
And this stolid stench never wavers
It’s bone deep in these trenches
It’s on my clothes, our men, the enemy
The black will bring us all under
To my dear, Annie , by Monika Grigaite
As I write this I am currently sitting in the trenches, you wouldn’t believe how cold it is, I’m freezing and remembering your warm roast dinners we used to have every Sunday together. I miss home. I can’t stand it here in this trench with red-eyed rodents crawling around, eating boots, stealing food, causing trench foot. It’s ghastly. I wish I could come home to see you again, I think that’d make this all worth the while, knowing that I’m fighting for the country we’re in. I’m waiting for orders from the Captain but we all know it’ll be two options, run into No Man’s Land like you don’t have a care in the world or put your head over the top and get it blown off. I’ve seen both scenarios played out constantly. Nothings new about how you die here, its one or the other. I just hope to make it out of here so I can get home and hold you in my arms. Even If I were to die, I want you to promise me something, when I die please throw away the ring I gave you before I left. You have a long life ahead of you and I want you to live that long life, even if it’s without me and someone else completely. I don’t want you to grief or mourn me, I died serving my country and I don’t need any pity or dignity for any of it. I lived my life, even if I had more ahead of me. I will have left this earth with just one regret. It was that I didn’t get to marry you Annie, but I can live with that and I can die with it as well. Captain’s just received orders to go over the top. If this is my last letter to you Annie, I love you.