Here are some of the pieces created in the writers’ workshops. We started by using WW1 recruitment propaganda as inspiration.
Selfish? by Matthew Knighton
Every wall is covered in them. They’re like a plague; posters of square-jawed soldiers, distinguished generals and proud eyed-women telling us to join up and fight. Fight the Germans for honour, glory, and for Britain and her Empire. The papers are full of it; tales of German atrocities and how, right now our brave boys are off to Europe to throwback the Teutonic menace. We’re the heroes and they’re the monsters. Simple. Only I don’t think it is.
See I’ve met Germans, they seem pretty much like us. Anita, the German lass I met up in Sheffield wasn’t a monster. Was she? She’d been at the socialist meeting. Anita made it feel like a proper international gathering, rather than just a bunch of people from round here. We ended up talking all night and sat on the hill watching a flame-red sunrise. Would I have sat like that with a monster? I told her I’d just started working down the pit, but I would one day love to paint.
‘How did a miner learn to paint?’ she asked.
‘Old Mr Jones, who lives at the end of our row, knows about art and painting and he’s been teaching me. He’s says I’ve been getting good.’ I told her with some pride.
‘I want to be a writer,’ she said, ‘and I’d love to travel the world.’
I was shocked she was talking to me, why would a posh girl like her want anything to do with me? Still she seemed nice enough. We’ve been writing to each other since; swapping stories of our lives. She tells me about her dreams, ideas for stories and about the places she wants to go. ‘Would we still be friends,’ her last letter asked, ‘even though we are at war?’ I said of course we would. I wonder if she ever got the letter?
The leaves are turning golden-brown and peeling away in the cold wind that’s sweeping through town. It’s getting dark and I’m stumbling across the churchyard, under the shadow of the Crooked Spire. I’m numb with weariness and what bits aren’t numb ache. We’re putting in double shifts.
Every day I stagger home and collapse. Half the time I’m too tired to even eat tea. I certainly don’t have time to paint. One thing I was good at and the war took it. Still we all have to make sacrifices don’t we? Tonight though I’m going to The Royal Oak to meet our Jim for a drink. Now our Jim will be blathering on about Marx and how we shouldn’t be fighting the Imperialist war, how we, the workers of the world should unite and fight against it. I agree but I wish he’d just keep quiet. I told him it would break our Mam’s heart if he got in trouble. I don’t want to lose anyone else. Our Billy and half my friends have gone off to the front and I’ve not heard anything from Anita since the war broke out. Have the Germans been saying the same thing? That the British are monsters? Does Anita believe I’m a monster? I can’t see it myself, but the thought still makes my stomach churn. I pull up my collar against the bitter wind and duck down the jennel, quickest way to the Royal Oak that.
Then I see it. Another poster. This one catches my eye. It’s a silhouette of almost herculean soldiers loading one of those big artillery guns. Underneath are the words of Lord Kitchener: “Be certain that your so-called reason is not a selfish excuse”.
My hands curl into fists, I pull myself up straight and stare at the poster. The word ‘selfish’ burns bright and vulgar in my mind. It’s a hot fire that chases the bone-numbing weariness out of me. How dare he? How am I selfish for not wanting to kill Germans? What is more selfish than taking a life? I work bloody hard. Never once complain. Sleep and work. I don’t paint. I gave up the one thing I’m good at for the war and I’m still selfish. Good men are dying for their war, others are working themselves half to death or worse. I spit and bound towards the Oak. I see it now, sign battering in the wind. I think I owe our Jim an apology. I think it’s time to take a stand.
Women of Britain by Katherine Robinson
“Happy Christmas, John.
Look what Daddy sent you from the Front.”
“No, Daddy can’t come home yet.”
“I’ve told you not to play soldiers, John.
Now you’ve cut yourself.
There’s so much blood.”
“That was the telegraph boy, John.
Daddy isn’t coming home.”
Doubts by Katherine Robinson
“Have you seen this?” Robert said, slapping the poster down on the counter.
George, halfway up a ladder stacking shelves, turned and frowned down at it.
“Yes. What of it?”
“What are we going to do?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, are we cowards?”
“Of course not. It’s just a poster, Bob.”
“But everyone’s seen it. Everyone’ll think we’re the Enemy.”
“That’s absurd, of course we’re not the Enemy. We’ve lived here all our lives, know most of our customers by name.” George climbed back down the ladder and realised that Bob was genuinely worried. His forehead was as wrinkled as an old man’s, and he wouldn’t meet his eyes. “What’s up?”
“Lucy…” Bob said, and stopped. He swallowed. “What if Lucy thinks that I am a coward?”
“Then she’s an idiot. I don’t know why you’re worried about that, it’s the hat that’s putting her off anyway!”
Cycling for the King by River Wolton
Are you fond of cycling by meadows and through lanes?
Are you fond of summer air that soothes away your pains?
Are you fond of rolling through the country on two wheels?
Come cycle for the King, my friend, and fight for all that’s real.
Cycles are provided and bad teeth are no bar,
your brand new khaki uniform will make you look a star.
There’s hardly any danger and your family will be proud,
come cycle for the King, my friend, and stand out from the crowd.
While men are busy dying in the trenches and the fields
you’ll be cycling to the colonels, son, on your trusty wheels,
bringing vital messages of evil German plans.
Come – cycle for the King, my friend, and be a real man.
Do not heed the stories of the casualties and blood,
on your trusty bike we’re sure you’ll get through all that mud.
Don’t listen to the songs they sing, that glory is a lie,
come – cycle for the King, my friend, we promise you won’t die.
Who can catch a cyclist as he whizzes down the lanes
that are not broken, no, nor smashed to bits by planes.
You’ll out-speed mustard gas, good lad, you will not choke or fall,
come cycle for the King, my friend, and you’ll outlive us all.