portsmouth poetry  From A Borrowed Biro

From A Borrowed Biro



Portsmouth WW1 Cenotaph Guildhall Square

By kind permission of the Imperial War Museum
© IWM E(AUS) 1220

In January 2017, Portsmouth Poetry was awarded £10,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to complete a dynamic project to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele.  The project involved research to discover men and women from Portsmouth who were involved in the battle, a month long exhibition in Porstsmouth Cathedral with biographies of 12 people from the city who participated, a video outline broadcast hourly  for one month on the Big Screen in Guildhall Square, a schools project and a permanent archive of the research. Following the successful exhibition, we are outlining and explaining the battle and the shortened biographies of the men during the three months of the battle centenary. 

Short biographies of the 12 men whose stories were told in the exhibition are provided here. PDF access to the more detailed accounts of these 12 men and all the preliminary information of Portsmouth men and women and Passchendaele uncovered during our research can be accessed at the end of this page. You are welcome to copy and use for your own research

The Passchendaele Project Biographies:













John Frederick White RAMC

Pte Frederick W J Farr

Pte John D Cherrett MM

Pte Albert G Haskett MM

Pte David Craven

John Henry Ficken BQMS

Pte Harry R Squires MM

2nd Lt Dudley Hugo Heynes

Pte John H Fletcher

Sapper George R Stebbens

Charles W Greentree

Pte Percy Eastland 

Stetcher Bearer   Died 1st Day of Passchendaele

Boy Soldier    Brought home before Passchendaele

Wounded at Passchendaele     Military Medal

Military Medal    Killed 1918 three days before the cease fire

Ex Borstal Boy    Fought the Loos, Somme, Arras,& Passchendaele

German father  Fought Somme, Vimy Ridge, Messines, Passchendaele, the Retreat and Advance of 1918

Military Medal   Killed Passchendaele

Popular Officer  Wounded Passchendaele  Killed 1918

Killed Battle of Menin Road Ridge Passchendaele

Telegraphist   Prisoner of War

Emigrated to Canada as child    Returned to Portsmouth in Canadian Division

Fought Somme & Passchendaele. Seriously wounded


Albert Victor Webb  1898 - 1917   A 'Pompey Pal' Died Passchendaele

                                                        [from the Pompey Pals Project]

James Okenden  A Portsmouth Passchendaele Victoria Cross

Frederick Arthur Jeffery Corporal 28653


Rupert Brooke  Famous 'War Poet' served in Portsmouth before embarkation

Admiral Lord Nelson School Project

In addition to the research, exhibition and archive, Portsmouth Poetry undertook to work with a local school to assist in their teaching about Passchendaele and WW1. We supplied the biographies listed above and teaching materials to help pupils understand the nature of life in the trenches.

Material was also supplied from the project tailored to help pupils understand some of the war related poems included in the AQA GCSE English syllabus entitled "Poetry of Conflict"

Poetry Competition

The Big Ideas Community Interest Company generously provided funding under their "Passchendaele At Home" Project to provide prizes for the best poems.

Building on the teaching, we organised a whole school Poetry Competition for pupils from Year 7 to Year 11 (Key Stage 3 & 4). Pupils were invited to submit a poem about life in the trenches based on the life of Frederick Arthur Jeffery (a Portsmouth soldier who fought at Passchendaele and is buried in Milton Cemetery) 

The poetry submitted by Admiral Lord Nelson pupils was of an exemplary quality. Judging was a very difficult task and, had funding allowed, we would have wished to award more prizes than we were able.

Highly Commended prize winning poems displayed interesting and inventive subject matter or approach, evidence of lines of good poetry and use of language and a strong understanding of the nature of trench warfare and empathy with those who endured it.


A total of 79 poems were entered (72 at KS3 & 7 at KS4)

The prize for each Highly Commended poem was a £10 Book Token 

An outstanding poem in each Key Stage was given a £20 Book Token

Prizes were awarded by 

Josh Brown Chair of Portsmouth Poetry


Penny Mordaunt MP Secretary of State for International Development

Prize winning young poets

Pupils receive prizes from Penny Mordaunt MP & Josh Brown Chair of Portsmouth Poetry

The Outstanding winning poets ### and ### with Josh Brown & Liz Weston of Portsmouth Poetry,  Sarah Giles & Bex Milner of Big Ideas and Penny Mordaunt 

The Winning Poems

KS3 Isaac Butler Year 8

"Frederick Arthur"

I once believed it an honour to fight, to die for one’s country,
My love, I dare to admit,
My life lost, nevermore found.

I once believed it noble to lie about my age, to benefit one’s country,
My love, my biggest regret,
15 years, too soon to end.

I once believed it wise to leave my city, to fight for one’s country,
My love, I no longer recollect my home
Heartbroken, I fear never to return.

I once believed the sea breeze would linger, to remember ones   

My love, the stench of the dead,
A graveyard, now my rotten lodgings.

I once believed in the seductiveness of fighting, to save ones

My love, I miss my queen’s street,
Passchendaele, with its brutality consuming.

I once believed it a chore to grow old, to burden one’s country,
My love, I wish for such a privilege,
Portsmouth, my love, keep my seaside home warm for one day I

                                                                       dream to return to you

KS4 Jessica Needham Year 10


The light shone down as if it were God reaching out to me,
Wrapping mellowness and delight around my green and purple shoulders,
Birds and soldiers sung as the clouds danced in the harsh blue sky.


Screams pierce the beautiful peace of the joyful soldiers,
The joyful soldiers now worried and frightened scurry in the mud like mice,
My mind races, my heart pounds, my legs freeze.


Surrounding soldiers shake while pulling back the cocking handle to prepare for fire,
Shouts ring and run in my ear, blocking out the thuds and yells of other men in despair,

Thunder and lightning awakens on the horizon of the filth.

What lies between me and surviving?

What will happen to our men?

Will this be the end?

Silent shafts of bright sunlight penetrates the smoke,
Men moan and sob in the foul contamination of the dirt.
Fighters lay in agony among others.

Roars continue to spread, infectious howls reflect emotion,
The thought of being out of this nightmare swims in my head,
Doubts flood and swallow my aspiration.

I try to reach for help but God is no longer between my arms,
What feels like forever may have come to an end.


I thought wrong.


Year 7 - Molly Pettifer 

Lying on the ground of the demolished markets;
Stalls harassed from the irate missiles;
Melancholic soldiers bleeding incessantly,
As they see their last sight: billowing bombs.

Creeping up behind me,
The gas full with poison,
Was a sea of an eerie haze,
As it took the lives of fighters.

A rumbling grunt-- ravenous for lives,
Fills the air with a feeling of contamination,
As the victims run for aid,
Some win the fight for their lives . . . Some don’t.

Within a split second,
All was quiet,
As the traumatic news spread.

Year 8  Elowen Wescott

Life of a soldier

I trudge out of the trenches into the sludge,
Facing the derelict warzone,
Holding no grudge,
With my friends, never alone,
I charge screaming into the fight,
The faint noise of bullets whistling,
Creeping out in the dead of night,
My fragile mind ever so brittle,

The familiar noise of bombs dropping,
A cloud of gas emerging,
People with lost limbs always hopping,
The candle of hope always burning,
From the menacing enemy trench,
I fumble with my gas mask,
Guarding my nose from the stench,
My friends arm in a cast,
I strap it on just in time,
A cloud of green gas smothered my eyes,
Wiping off the dirt and grime,
Yelping out little cries,

The choking and stuttering,
Ringing in my ears,
Dead bodies still guttering,
My friend plunged at me gasping for air,
Letting out little tears,
Sending out sacred prayers,
His white eyes writhing in their sockets,
Spluttering up toxic blood,
Clasping the relics in our pockets
Trudging back through the mud,

We trudged back tired, defeated,
Carrying my friend dead and lifeless,
Our mission to win wasn't completed,
Struggling through the crisis,
His whole soul had left his body,
He wasn't a person any more,
Going back, hungry, groggy,
Laying his corpse on the floor,
Just a body… limp and lifeless.

Indigo Sayer

My Dearest William

To my dearest William,
I have been in the factory.
It’s been tough working 10 hours a day,
But then I think and actually,
I remember it’s all for you.

I hope you are doing well,
I’ve been worried sick.
I hear that out in the trenches it’s hell,
Having rats scurrying around with tics.

How’s Richard doing?
You two were so excited to be going off together.
You were looking over as everyone was wooing,
Then again I think you boys were looking at the weather.

I hope these are getting through to you,
I miss you so much right now.
I’ve still got the picture of you I drew,

Of when you were pulling that plough.

I love you so much,
I cannot wait for when you come back.
I can still remember your elegant touch,
While you held onto me when it was pitch black.
I will write every week for you,
I will be waiting for you my dearest.


Year 7 Maleesa Ceesay


Help in the shadows,
That's what we do.
Making clothes,
For all of you.
Growing vegetables,
For us all to eat.
Sharing is key,
When the war is ripe.

Bombs fall,
But we can't fight back,
As we are all women and children.
All I can do is pray.
Pray for my brother,
And pray for all anywhere and everywhere.

We hide in our shelters,
Knitting and sewing,
For our soldiers in the trenches,
Who are dying everyday.

With all of our hearts,
We will remember them,
And honour them highly.
They will never be forgotten,
Because with all of our hearts,
They are with us forever.
And in the poppy,
That lies on your chest,
There souls lay proud with dignity,
Knowing that the world is like this,
Because of them.

Year 8 - Matthew Hague

Pause for Thought

They like me, a father, A son,
And a soldier.

Breaking silence in the fields
The echoes of man-made devils ring out
The mayhem had started again
Don’t Pause For Thought.

The start of night
Air full of fear
Destruction all around
Bodies sweating at the thought of death.
But Don’t Pause For Thought.

More gun shots
Louder gun shots
Louder still
Someone screams
Alarms blast
Not Pausing For Thought.

Hurrying back to shelter
Enemies closing
Someone falls
Worse than hell
Soldiers thinking of families at home
No. Don’t Pause For Thought.

Death approaches, remember
This is for our country
This is for our land
Someone will always think about the ones
Who died for the millions
They will pause for thought.

Lucie-Lou Stanley

Never again will those blood painted fields be green,
For the stain has set too deep,
By enemy forces,
Raging attacks,
And their army generals calling the shots,
And instructing death upon others,
And the cacophony of gunshots filling survivors ears,
As they are gunned down,
One by one,
By the platoon of invaders,
As their tanks roll through the destroyed streets,
And small pieces of rubble are crushed under their feet,
As millions were murdered…

Year 9 - Beth Rolfe

Last Moments

Vision blurred and sense dulled,
Private Rolfe laid face down,
Gasping for breath in a hole like hell.
Crimson droplets trickled down the cracks of his face
And seeped into his swollen mouth.
The metallic tang buried itself deep into his dry tongue.

The inky black sky was moonless.
Repugnant remains of mustard gas filled him with nausea.
Young souls screeching, screaming, withering,

Images of happier days swept into his mind.
As they wrapped around him
He briefly embraced some respite from his obvious fate.
Days spent sailing on the Solent
And the days spent on the pebbled beach flashed before him.
Tranquillity and peacefulness blanketed the coast.

A warm and comforting hand reassured him.
He turned and her love radiated.
It captivated him.
Optimism and contentment permeated every part of him.

Overwhelmed with confusion, reality washed over him
And cherished memories slowly faded.
His breathing was shallow and his pulse weakened.
The pain eased and he slipped away.

Year 10  Tom Spanner

The Bard Of Passchendaele

We cower, bayonets fixed and shaking in their nerve,
Our visions of destitution are deafening,
The men scream, alive with belief and verve
In their coarse lungs, though hid from reckoning.

‘The left division yields, lads! Keep going, success
Is almost upon us!’ the valiant cry sounds, and echoes,
Fears of loss, of humanity and of anger, coalesce,
As hundreds of shrill, harsh bullets streak by; a falsetto.

Coarse in their unfathomable determination,
The obstreperous Hun march forth, halted seldom,
For their fight is for a dying, fatigued machine, the nation
Of Germany, her armies forging on through the fields of Belgium.

‘Bloody hell, the lewis gun’s rattling laughter shan’t be our final lullaby,
Over the top, Tommy!’ a lion’s final chant among the cries of sheep,
This sonorous noise among wintery winds, a worthy battle-cry,
Perhaps a soldier’s cracked, persistent hope is his most faithful leap.

Year 11  Kirsty Powell

The guns they scold eleven times,
Into the air, a viscous chime,
Over the hills of mass they go,
Creep across the corpse in row,
They cry and leap and pierce the sky,
Into the gleam of heaven’s eye,
But heaven is not a hand that holds,
The view of bright or light or gold,
For blood, it seeps, into the soil,
And rots the roots of nature’s foil,
Blood red is the ground and the earth and the floor,
From which boys and their brothers and their fathers downpour,

A cross is indented in the thick of my skin,
And the soars of the blue of my city within,
Collide in my veins with a crash that is harder,
Than the crashes of waves that crash on the harbour,
Though the stench of the sea is not one like this,
Nor is home, nor is Portsmouth, nor are friends, but a hiss,
A hiss of the sly, sadist screech of the war,
That sends boys in the air, and their souls to the floor,

And there faintly, a voice, a man’s it must be,
Ricochets in the air, amidst weapons, it is free,
It calls the name which I believe to be mine,
And I clutch the cold gun in my arms the last time,
The heavens above are a blue drenched in grey,
That marks the bloody chapter of this bloody day,
A surge is within me, one of blue gold and white,
As I throw myself forward with all of my might,
Into earth and the soil that is drowned with thick blood,
And the dirt and the rain and the cold and the mud,
I am over the edge of the safety I have known,
I am away from the place that I know to be home,

But the guns, they scold eleven times,
Into the air, a viscous chime,
Blood red is the ground and the earth and the floor,
So are hands, so are brothers, so are boys, so is war.

Year 9  Jay Morris

The Price of Passchendaele

I have become the walking dead
Soaked to my death
Covered nose to foot in mud
A sea of clay and mud to navigate
I would give all things to wash away
The horrors of this human sacrifice
And for the quantities who fought and died
And walked the rotten planks of this filth-ridden quagmire
The price of their lives is our cost of living

Year 10 - Lucy Cobb

So cold.
Standing in the trenches,
I realise how much I miss home.
My family.
My friends.
My life.

So long.
We left in July.
It feels like it's been years,
Though it's probably only been weeks.
I remember the pubs back in Portsmouth and the nights spent with mates
Here there's just mud.

So hard.
Seeing new mates die,
And not seeing old mates at all.
Knowing it's only a matter of time before... before it all ends for me, like it has for so many others.
But I just hope it doesn't come to that.

So much rain.
You're no stranger to rain when you live in Portsmouth,
But it's never as heavy as this.
It's like the sea is being dropped on us.
And that's an understatement.

So much mud.
It's getting thicker every day.
It won't be long before we drown in it.
It gets in our boots, in our shirts and in our trousers.
There's no escaping the mud.
Even if we tried, we couldn't.

So much waiting.
I may've been able to tolerate it if we were doing something.
All day we're sat in the blisteringly cold trenches.
Left to our own thoughts.
Thoughts can be dangerous when left for too long.

Too many thoughts.
Bad, bad thoughts.
I push them away, cover them with thoughts of my family, my job at the docks, all my mates.
But they tear through.
It's hard to forget the people you've seen die in front of you.
Whole lives whisked away in a matter of seconds.
I often wonder why we're still here.
Why we aren't dead yet.

So cold.
My hands are frozen stiff.
We are freezing.
Slowly, but surely.
The distant sounds of occasional gunshots drill into my brain
And I remember home.
My family.
My friends.
My life.