Poem a Month – July 2016

Over the last 12 months young people aged 16-30 have taken part in the Courage of Conscience project to research the lives of Derbyshire’s World War One conscientious objectors.  Working with River Wolton they have created fictional pieces of creative writing in the ‘imagined voices’ of these individuals, their communities and families.

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Somme these voices present a different perspective on war, from the point of view of those who resisted conscription.  Conscription came into force in March 1916, the first time there had been compulsory military service in Britain.

Richard Barry (1890-1949) a lace maker from Long Eaton, refused to be conscripted and was imprisoned at Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire in July 1916. Three lines that he wrote on the cell walls inspired the young writers’ poem below. After Richmond he was moved to several other prisons before his eventual release in April 1919. - Ali

After Richard Barry

It was called ‘the war to end wars’ but –
you might as well dig a hole by chucking dirt in it
stop a fire by shovelling wood on it
get clean by bedding down with swine
stay sober by swigging jugs of wine
black your boots by coating them in mud
stay alive by losing all your blood
learn maths by going for a swim
wrap parcels by cutting up the string
cook your tea by throwing it down pit
clean dishes by smashing them to bits –
and …
you might just as well try to
dry a floor by throwing water on it
as try to end this war by fighting.

by Sara Moon, Katherine Robinson and Matthew Knighton

Courage of Conscience is a project of Pro Peace Chesterfield, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to discover the stories of Derbyshire conscientious objectors. To find out more about the project visit the Courage of Conscience website.  The Courage of Conscience exhibition gives more information about conscientious objectors in Derbyshire, and features some individual stories. The exhibition is currently on display at Chesterfield Library, on the upper level next to the Local Studies section, until 27th July.

The pieces written by the young writers have also been published as an anthology, Courage of Conscience: Imagined Voices of Derbyshire’s WW1 Conscientious Objectors, edited by River Wolton.  The book will soon be available to borrow from Derbyshire Libraries.

Several of the young writers who took part in the project are members of the Chesterfield Write Here group for 16-40 year olds, which meets fortnightly at Chesterfield Library. If you are interested in joining the group visit their website for more information.

Richmond Castle recently received Heritage Lottery funding to preserve the graffiti written by conscientious objectors who were imprisoned there.  Visit their website for further information.

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