Writing Inspired by the Painting ‘Over the Top’ (John Nash)

What has really struck me about the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with on this residency is the depth of personal feeling and family connections that they have with World War One. I think these beautiful pieces of writing by one of my workshop participants perfectly illustrates this –

Writing Inspired by the Painting ‘Over the Top’ (John Nash)

 by Lizzie Chittleboro (November 2014)

IWM ART 3908 John Nash study for oer the top crop

Dear Grandpa

I never knew you, but you have always been missing in my life. Since I have begun to discover my creativity, my search for you has intensified. How I wish I had been able to spend time in your studio at your side, watching you as you painted your stained glass window designs.

So to find you amongst the stark uniformed figures in the snow was wonderful. Despite your body being rigid with cold and fear you were unmistakable, the bone structure of your face, the set of your shoulders, the shape of your hands. Although I have never met you, as soon as I saw you I knew that you were part of my family.

There was so much I wanted to ask you, so much that I wanted to tell you. I wanted you to step out of the snow, to step out of the picture and take me in your arms and hold me. I wanted to feel the rough serge of your uniform, the stubble of your unshaven face on my cheek and drink in the smell of your unwashed flesh.

I wanted to tell you about how you have been missed and all the years of sadness since your death. I wanted to tell you that even though we have never met you that you have lived on in your Grandchildren and Great- grandchildren.

For many years your pictures lay abandoned in a drawer, your stained glass windows unvisited by your family. At last your paintings have been framed and are hanging on the wall. We have begun to visit the churches where your stained glass windows are displayed and through them we are getting to know you. I have noticed how many of your designs were for memorial windows; as if you were compelled to ensure that those who had fallen would never be forgotten.

I have come to understand how misunderstood you were, how wrongly you were labelled as the black sheep of the family. That you could never talk about the horrors that you saw, never forget or accept that they died and you survived. Forever haunted by their cries of terror and their crimson blood against the pure white snow.

At last your important place in our family constellation is being restored.

With my love always

Lizzie your Grandchild

Over the Top (John Nash)

The silence of bated breath

Waiting for the command

Fear suspended in icicles

Pure white cold cracking the icy air

In the distant woods a lone buck roars


The air is filled with the stench of fear

of dirt

of horror

of shit

of blood


Death and dying hang heavily in the air

Against a back drop of pure white snow

I see the last remnants of human life seeping out

These vestiges leaving their indelible mark

as the red, brown and yellow stain the pure white snow


The bitter taste of bile

The taste of fear of death and of dying

The bitter taste of regret, of things unsaid, unspoken

The taste of fear, the taste of fear, the taste of fear

The taste of death and of dying

The taste of pure white snow melting on my parched tongue


I feel the rough serge of your uniform against my cheek

I feel the strength of your wiry, sinuous body holding me tight

The beat of your heart in time with mine

Your blood flowing through your veins

My blood flowing through mine

Your cells encased with flesh

My cells inherited from you


We are joined

Over the years

We are joined by our heart beat

joined by our blood

joined by the shape of our hands


For a long, long time you held me and I held you

There was no need for words

With our hearts, our blood and cells entwined

Breathing as one

I did not need to hear your voice

I could feel it in my flesh, my bones, my blood and my cells


When at last you spoke

Clearing your throat

Your voice gruff, hesitant

“Lizzie” was all you said

I knew with those six sparse letters, what you were saying

It was all you needed to say to span those missing years


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