Haunting Writing from Brune Park Community School

I’ve been working with Year 10 students at Brune Park Community School in Gosport. Today we wrote ghost stories and poems inspired by the Artists’ Rifles Exhibition. I was deeply impressed and inspired by the quality of the writing produced by the students. Not only did they have incredibly vivid imaginations, they approached the subject of World War I with great sensitivity and understanding. Their work showed a depth of insight into the sufferings of those killed in the war that was very moving. They also wrote with an originality and flair that was really exciting to listen to. Some of their ghosts were so disturbing that I may not sleep very well tonight!

Here’s an example of their work.

The General’s Ghost

by Nicola Vince

His eyes lay icy blue, sunken back into their sockets, surrounded by his muddy brow. Blood that had frozen in time stood dry upon his face, blood that had previously dripped from the wounds that remain open. His face still set in its final lost expression, split by the mouth that still parted slightly from the last stolen breath.

Drowned in his own guilt as he watched his men be shot down over his shoulder, feeling every blow as his friends took their last breath. Watching his friends charge over the top on his command, only to tumble limply back down. The grime of what he had done stuck upon his hands. He held his gun and pressed the cold metal to his temple, letting off a blow that shattered his very soul. He fell to the ground and his body finally relaxed.

His crisp uniform still stands tidy, topped with five once gleaming medals that do not glisten anymore but instead are smeared with dirt, hiding his achievements that matter no more. Blood soaks his hat that rests slightly tilted on his head and his boots splattered with mud with the laces pulled tightly.

Echoing down each hall, the tough march thuds from his heavy wear boots but comes to a halt by a reliving of his falling friends. Feet picked up in every step, never a scuff to be heard, as he had been taught in his younger years.

Freezing in front of me with a lost expression on his face, he snatched my wrist with his leathery hands. Still moist from the guilt he once felt, his weakness hid behind what seemed a snake’s hold.

The intense smell of cigarettes hit my face and rolled past my cheeks as though it was stained upon his lips. The strong smell of medicine hung around him although failing to hide the smell of the guns’ smoke indented in his uniform.

Before he spoke, he cleared his throat from the long years of smoking. Speaking in a husky tone, his once authoritative voice had faded, replaced by what seemed not a man but a confused boy’s lost cry for help.

Dear Roslyn and Benjamin,

I am afraid that I will not be returning. Although I believe my absence will not be noticed. I know now that when I was home, I locked myself away from others, consumed by my work and my demons. I have always had an icy personality, cold and bitter to others around me. But when I met you, Roslyn, there is no possible way I could put into words how much I loved you. I suppose the only way I could come close is to say that you warmed me. I know it’s a preposterous thing to say but that is exactly what you did. You broke down my high wall that I surrounded myself with to push others out and you melted the cold blanket that lay upon my heart and for that I am forever indebted to you. Although I fear my actions are too late.

Benjamin, to you I believe I owe the deepest apology. I wish I could be a father that deserved to have a son like you. I hope when you are older you understand my cold ways were not intended to inflict pain on you and I will forever pay for my cruelty in my own mind, it will drive me crazy. The best thing I can wish upon you is to not grow into a man like me. You are the man of the house now and remember what I taught you about your laces, you must make the loop otherwise it will not work. You will be forever in my mind but engraved in my heart.

I must go; the guilt of what I have done is unforgivable. Oh Roslyn, if only you would have seen them. They fell down from the rapid gunfire like rag dolls hitting the floor one by one, each fall tearing my heart slightly more. I thought we had taken the machine guns out, I was sure of it. Even though so many of my soldiers told me they didn’t feel it was safe to go over the top, I did not care. I was once again cold hearted and oh how I will pay the price for my actions.

Goodbye my love and my boy.

I can confirm that I have indeed been defeated by my demons.

Forever yours,

William

 

 

Anthem

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This poem was inspired by Wilfred Owen, who served in the Artists Rifles and received the Military Cross for bravery as well as writing some of the most famous poems about World War I including ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth.’  He was killed in 1918 in the final week of the war.

Anthem

i.m Wilfred Owen

You cared not for heroes,

the pump and pomposity

of the general by his fire,

but the boy shivering

under the rain of shells.

The rats showing more pity

than those who sacrificed

children in their game of pawns.

Each mother’s son raised

with all the love and care

of the centre of the universe,

only to be tossed casually

into the storm of the machine guns.

Those statistics we will never

be able to swallow

without hearing the bells

you rang and rang for those

who are now forever silenced.

After Adlestrop

I wrote this poem about the poet Edward Thomas who joined the Artists Rifles in 1915 and was killed at the Battle of Arras in 1917. I was inspired by an autobiographical extract written by his wife, Helen Thomas, that Sebastian Faulks included in his book ‘A Broken World – Letters, Diaries and Memories of the Great War.’

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After Adlestrop
i.m. Edward Thomas

You did not have to join the great departed

but felt the pull of the road not taken,

that track through mud and broken rock,

over grown with weeds taller than your children.

Your son who shared your love of maps,

abandoned railway stations. You were a man

who paused in love, whose bird call

echoed over the mountain, and she ran

to catch your name that final night

you both knew you’d never be home again.

Sketch for Spring In The Trenches

A sonnet inspired by Paul Nash

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Sketch for Spring In The Trenches
Watercolour, Chalk, Ink, Paul Nash
by Aoife Mannix

The trees are grown hungry and broken bones
snap summer’s love as you write your swan song
on canvas dipped in mocking blue tones
that say God has no leaves to hide this wrong.
It is the waste of blooming red blood lips
that haunts the trenches’ gash across the earth.
The wound still deep, still raw as stripped wood,
in paper torment of what life is worth.
Yet this landscape questions feather fodder
with its white guns that blaze under black fire
as if you’re paint, hardly worth the bother
of searching for your soul caught on the wire.
Your buttons small seeds in a Flanders field
sprout green with dreams that we can still be healed.

The Mine Crater, Hill 60, Ypres Salient, 1917

The following poem was inspired by Paul Nash’s lithograph at the Gosport Gallery

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The Mine Crater, Hill 60, Ypres Salient, 1917
Lithograph, Paul Nash
by Aoife Mannix

You could lose yourself

in the folds of earth.

The way their mouths open up,

shadows on the verge of speaking.

The water reflecting

a world of sudden mountains.

Mud as malleable as flesh.

The open wound that bleeds

such dark spaces, a battle

going neither forwards nor backwards

but deep down into gravity itself,

where the numbers

only add up to zero.

An apocalypse explosion,

a gap in time, a grave

as silent as the rain.

 

 

Armistice Day Drop In Session

Tuesday 11th November, 11am to 1pm

Gosport Gallery (just across from the Discovery Centre)
Walpole Road, Gosport PO12 1NS
Tel: 0845 603 5631

A poignant day to visit the Artist Rifles exhibitions in Gosport Gallery.  Writer in Residence Aoife Mannix will be there to collect your responses and memories. Have you got a story about World War One? Did members of your family fight in the trenches? If so, she would love to hear from you.

Shot At Dawn

The following poem was inspired by a visitor to the exhibition telling me how moved he was by visiting the Shot At Dawn memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire 

Shot At Dawn – sculptor, Andy De Comyn

by Aoife Mannix 

Picking your way through the forest,

you suddenly see him standing there.

A wooden hole in his wooden heart.

All badges stripped away, his name

refused for the memorials.

You hold your breath in the eerie quiet

of that morning when the blindfold

was tightened, when he found himself

betrayed by the shell shock of his fellow inmates,

the lunacy of so little forgiveness.

A boy in a clearing, more alone

than even the Flanders trees.

No hope of green, just grey rain,

a slit of sunlight, a shot ringing out,

its echo in your ears.

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