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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:


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"

In addition, we ran a competition for the whole school inviting pupils to submit poems based on the lives of Portsmouth men who fought at Paaschendaele

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 Isaac Butler and Jessica Needham with Josh Brown & Liz Weston of Portsmouth Poetry, Sarah Giles & Bex Milner of Big Ideas and Penny Mordaunt MP

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.

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,

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


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.

Highly Commended poems

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 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,