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)
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
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