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

Stetcher Bearer Died 1st Day of Passchendaele


Pte Frederick W J Farr

Boy Soldier Brought home before Passchendaele


Pte John D Cherrett MM

Wounded at Passchendaele Military Medal


Pte Albert G Haskett MM

Military Medal Killed 1918 three days before the cease fire


Pte David Craven

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


John Henry Ficken BQMS

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


Pte Harry R Squires MM

Military Medal Killed Passchendaele


2nd Lt Dudley Hugo Heynes

Popular Officer Wounded Passchendaele Killed 1918


Pte John H Fletcher

Killed Battle of Menin Road Ridge Passchendaele


Sapper George R Stebbens

Telegraphist Prisoner of War


Charles W Greentree

Emigrated to Canada as child Returned to Portsmouth in Canadian Division


Pte Percy Eastland 

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"

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,

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 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 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.

Susan Owen c 1930

Wilfred Owen died exactly one week before the cease fire that ended WW1.

At 11.00 am on November 11th the church bells in Shrewsbury had just started to ring to announce the war had ended when there was a knock at the door of the Owen family home in Monkmoor Road. Mrs Owen answered, the postman handed her the telegram announcing Wilfred was dead. She fell to floor weeping.

The double tragedy, obscene in its cruelty, experienced by Susan Owen on the day peace was declared was not unique. Many mothers, sisters and wives endured the same loss at the very time they thought their prayers had been answered! Our work and the research by the late Tim Backhouse has uncovered the following men from Portsmouth whose families suffered this same tragedy.

ARTHUR ROBERT NICHOLS 23rd October 1918 (2 weeks before the Armistice means notification of his death will either have reached his family after peace was declared or shortly before

ALBERT GEORGE HASKETT 4th or 6th November 1918 (either 7 days or 5 days before). His relatives will not have received the notification until after the Armistice was declared. Albert was one of the 12 Passchendaele Exhibition biographies

FREDERICK CHARLES THICK 9th November 1918 (2 days before means his family will have received the notification some days after the war ended)

ALFRED ERNEST TILLEY 11th November 1918 Armistice Day. Germany signed the declaration of surrender at but British decided to make the actual cease fire 11.00 am on the 11th of November (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month} for dramatic effect. Fighting continued until the very second. Many men died needlessly. Alfred Tilley died within a few hours of the end!

Men continued to died in the months after the Armistice from injuries and illnesses suffered in the war. In the weeks immediately after the end of WW1 SYDNEY GEORGE DAY RN (November 24th), ARTHUR CHARLES HALL (November 28th), ALFRED NIXON (November 30th) and HENRY CHARLES MOORE (December 27th), all men of Portsmouth died as a result of the war!

Men continued to die in the years immediately after the war. Few of these casualties are listed on memorials or written in accounts of the war.

Rain: The Battle of Mud

By kind permission of the Imperial War Museum

© IWM (Q 5941)

The lasting images of Passchendaele are of a hellish mire. Broken remnants of trees pointing out of a sea of slime. Men and horses struggling through a clinging morass. We remember the 3rd Battle of Ypres as ‘Passchendale’, to the men who endured it it was known as the “Battle of Mud”

Flanders is a flat landscape. Much farmland is reclaimed. The water table is very high. Even when the surface appears dry it can be sodden below; even a shallow dig reaches water. Farming the land required extensive drainage systems.

"When the clouds shake their hyssops, and the rain

Like holy water falls upon the plain,

'Tis sweet to gaze upon the springing grain

And see your harvest born."

Francis Ledwidge

The area has a history of heavy rain in late summer and autumn. The decision to launch a major offensive at that time may be questionable. Despite the evidence to the contrary, for many years Haig claimed that the BEF had little knowledge of this weather pattern.

On August the second, the 3rd day of Passchendaele (Pilckem Ridge), rains start that caused the battle to be halted for 8 days. August and October were the worst recorded precipitation in over 30 years. In August 1917, 127 mm of rain fell in Flanders, double the normal average for the month. In October 30 mm of rain fell in five days ( 4th to the 9th).

But rain alone was not the cause of the hell that made Passchendaele infamous! 

"It was a curious kind of sucking kind of mud. It ‘drew’ at you, not like a quicksand, but a real monster that sucked at you……"

from 'Voices of the First World War: Passchendaele' recordings on the Imperial War Museum website

By kind permission of the Imperial War Museum

© IWM (E(AUS) 1220)

WW1 trench warfare involved heavy preliminary bombardment before the battle proper commenced. This served several purposes.

24 hour bombardment was meant to damage enemy emplacements and reduce numbers, fatigue enemy troops (sleep was brief) and reduce morale. The resulting shell holes also provided important fox holes into which men going ‘over the top’ could seek shelter. But it damaged the Flanders topsoil exposing clay that soon became mire and it damaged the delicate drainage systems so the water remained where it had fallen. Shell craters became deep pools of stagnant water that men seeking shelter from machine gun fire could not escape. The wounded who might normally have survived suffocated in the liquid mud. Running across ‘no-mans land’ in a “push” was slower and more difficult leaving men vulnerable to sniper and machine gun.

More men died of drowning during Paaschendaele than in any other battle in recorded history.

If that was not enough, heavy mist in the days before the battle (themselves an indicator of what was to come) made aerial reconnaissance impossible. The start of the battle was delayed for several days allowing the German army to prepare for an offensive and destroying any benefit of surprise.

September was mostly dry but not enough to begin to resolve the swamp the Ypres Salient had become. The three major pushes in the sector (Menin Road,Polygon Wood and Broodseinde) took place during this period helped by strong supporting artillery fire.

In an interview with war correspondents on 11 October, Field Marshal Haig acknowledged the weather and terrain problems -‘It was simply the mud which defeated us …..The men did splendidly to get through it as they did. But the Flanders mud, as you know, is not a new invention” Despite this, Haig denied knowledge of the Flanders rain for many years after before finally admitting it was a fact his forces should (and could) have known.

If Haig's persistence in continuing the battle seems questionable, there were real dangers in halting the offensive. It would have been difficult and costly in lives to hold the position so there was some tactical necessity. Perhaps it can be argued that the final push to capture Passchendaele through the dreadful mud of October and November was a combination of this tactical necessity, However Haig’s inflexible desire to push on was also a cause.

For the Germany the rain was Heaven-sent. Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, the Field Marshal in command noted in his diary (12 October 1917) – “Sudden change of weather. Most fortunate rain, our most effective ally”


David Craven (1898 – 1977)

Pte. 2nd Hampshire Regiment 23355

The Craven family, house painters, had lived in Portsea since 1740 and were still there in 1939. David was born in in 1 Cottage Lane in 1898 and still there when WW1 started.

In 1913 the Portsmouth Evening News reported that David (then aged 15) had been charged with stealing jewellery from a house in Bramble Road with an accomplice, Charles Jenkins. Placed on probation, he was charged with another offence the following year and sentenced to two years in a Borstal institution. Six months later he was in the army.


David Craven, 15 ½ , an apprentice, of Cottage-lane, and Chas. Jenkins, 15, of Bramble-road, were jointly charged with stealing on the 3rd inst., three gold rings, one brooch, and 15s., valued together at £3, the property of Sarah A. Watson, at 10 Bramble-Road.

Portsmouth Evening News 8th October 1914

David Craven enlisted with the 2nd Hampshire Regiment in January 1915, six months into his two year sentence. It was common practice for young offenders to be recruited in exchange for their release on licence. His service records did not survive the Second World War and the only remaining history of his service in the National Roll of the Great War lists Loos, Ypres, the Somme, Arras, Passchendaele, the German Offensive and Allied Advance of 1918.


He was demobilised February 1919, and awarded the Victory and British War medals. He married Nellie Haswell in Portsmouth in 1929, but is the only person recorded as living at 3 Cottage Lane in the 1939 Census Register.


David Craven’s battalion fought at the front line of the first day of the Battle of Langemarck. The Battalion’s diary entry records


“Night very dark and ground very boggy. Some men had to be pulled out by ropes. Battn experienced some shelling on the march and suffered a few casualties. Men behaved very steadily and there was no noise.”

Battle of Langemarck. British troops moving forward over shell-torn ground near Pilckem, 16th August 1917.

By kind permission of the Imperial War Museum

© IWM (Q 2708)


John Henry Ficken (1880 – 1941)

B.Q.M.S. Royal Garrison Artillery 19343

John Ficken’s story is unusual because his father Johan was a German immigrant who moved to London before 1880.

He was already a soldier 1911 with the Royal Garrison Artillery on Spitbank Fort. He married Amy Ellis daughter of a gunner in the Royal Marine Artillery whose family can be traced to 1732. They had one daughter, Joan, and were living at 7 Hollam Road in 1939 . John worked for Southdown Motor Services.


A serving soldier when the war broke out. John’s Battery mobilised in August 1914 and went to Egypt and then France. The National Roll of the Great War records that he played a “distinguished part” in the Battles of Ypres II, Somme, Vimy Ridge, Messines, Passchendaele, the Retreat and Advance of 1918 and was still serving in 1920. He became Battery Quarter Master Sergeant.


Three of his brothers also served; Frederick a Leading Stoker in the RN, Albert a Sergeant of the Essex Regiment and Henry a Private of the London Regiment and Labour Corps. Frederick was killed in action at the Battle of Jutland, Albert at the Battle Somme in 1st July 1916. This moved John to request that Henry be allowed to transfer to his battalion. The request was granted but Henry had four cases of being AWOL and was finally tried for desertion and sentenced to two years detention in 1917. This was overturned in exchange for returning to the front line.


At Passchendaele John served in the 32nd Siege Battery; the siege battery’s responsibility was to bombard the enemy artillery with heavy explosives and target strongpoints behind enemy lines. 


John Ficken died in Portsmouth on 26th December 1941.

A 15-inch Mark II howitzer of the Royal Garrison Artillery elevated and ready to fire, near Ypres, 27th September 1917, during the Battle of Polygon Wood part of the Battle of Passchendaele.

By kind permission of the Imperial War Museum

© IWM (Q 2907)

“What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

from ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’

Wilfred Owen

(Written between September & October 1917)


Life In The Trenches:


"Imagine being asked to stand in a line in a field with dozens of others for 14 hours (or more) a day for several weeks (7 days a week) without access to a mobile, laptop or any modern communications and unable to contact your loved ones except for an occasional hand written letter. You are woken at dawn. There are no showers and only a few rudimentary toilets. Facilities for sleeping a very poor. You cannot change your clothes and have to wear the same clothes 24 hours a day for the whole period. You will smell awful and everyone around you will smell.


After several weeks you are given a few days off. You get to wash, wash and change your clothes, get drunk, enjoy some entertainment or educational programmes. You still cannot communicate. After these few days respite, you go back to stand in a field for another few weeks. This is your life. There is no foreseeable end and this may last for months or years!


A ditch has been dug several feet deep and you stand, sit and sleep in this ditch. There is no cover. If it rains the ditch fills with water. The water will contain human waste, it smells. There are rats. Every few days you will have to stay up all night to guard those who are sleeping.


Your ditch is four or five foot deep in parts and much deeper in others. About a hundred yards away is a huge, very loud, artillery cannon and it fires a shell every minute sometimes 24 hours a day non stop for several days even when you are trying to sleep. It can be so loud you cannot hear and proper sleep will be impossible. A few hundred yards away is another one but it’s pointed at you and firing shells back at your ditch. There are people like you in another ditch and you have to try and shoot at them with a manual rifle (it gets stuck easily) and they are trying to shoot you. In the parts of the ditch which are low you have to keep bent down so your head is not above the ground and you get shot. Where it’s high you have to climb up and try to shoot at the others while trying not to get hit. The people who die will lie in the ditch by you. They may stay there for a long time before anyone can come and take them away.


You will be in this hell when its baking hot or freezing cold, when it pours with rain and when it snows.


Finally, when you turn away from the people trying to shoot you, in many parts of the line not far behind you are loads of graves. Some already have people buried in them, some of whom would have been your friends or even close relatives. The rest are open waiting for the people who get killed, one of whom might be you! Very heavy rain may wash away the soil on the graves exposing the dead. The dead and the body parts in your trench and on the ground around it encourage the rats which, being well fed, grow to the size of a large cat. The rats often nibble at your ears or nose when you are asleep. You will have lice that bring disease leading to “Trench Fever”. The water in the ditch causes your feet to rot leading to “Trench Foot” which can result in gangrene and amputation. 


Frequently, the enemy will release poison gas or you will release gas on them which often blows back onto you if the wind changes. The gas is choking, acidic and causes breathing problems and blisters on the skin.


Then sometimes your cannons will stop. A person in charge will blow a whistle and you have to climb up out of your ditch and run toward the other ditch to try and take it while they shoot at you with machine guns aimed across each other so you will have to run through two lines of constant machine gun bullets. If you are wounded there is no certainty stretcher bearers will reach you. There is no immunity for them. At Passchendaele you are likely to drown in the deep slimy mud even if your injuries are slight. The only places to hide from the bullets are shell holes and they are full of stagnant water.

This is a rough description of life in the trenches, a hellish mixture of boredom, illness, fear, death and horror"

Wilfred Owen described the combination of fear and boredom and the double threat of death from the enemy and from the elements in a poem "Exposure" finished just days before his death

Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knife us ...

Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent ...

Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient ...

Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,

But nothing happens.


Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire.

Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.

Northward incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,

Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.

What are we doing here?


The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow ...

We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.

Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army

Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of gray,

But nothing happens.


Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.

Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow,

With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause and renew,

We watch them wandering up and down the wind's nonchalance,

But nothing happens.

Pale flakes with lingering stealth come feeling for our faces--

We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,

Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,

Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.

Is it that we are dying?


Slowly our ghosts drag home: glimpsing the sunk fires glozed

With crusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there;

For hours the innocent mice rejoice: the house is theirs;

Shutters and doors all closed: on us the doors are closed--

We turn back to our dying.


Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;

Now ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.

For God's invincible spring our love is made afraid;

Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,

For love of God seems dying.


To-night, His frost will fasten on this mud and us,

Shrivelling many hands and puckering foreheads crisp.

The burying-party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp,

Pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice,

But nothing happens.


Harry R Squires (1888 – 1917)

Pte. Hampshire Regiment 34163

Military Medal

Born in Portsmouth, the fifth of 11 children; five boys and six girls. His parents, John and Ellen Squires, were also born in Portsmouth. In 1901 they are living at 88 Lower Church Path, Fratton.


Harry Squires married Daisy Smith in Portsmouth in 1910,they had two children, Dorothea and Violet. Harry’s army service records have not survived the National Roll has two entries for him, giving some contradictory information and his enlistment as November 1916 and January 1917.


His brothers Albert and Charles also enlisted in 1916; Harry and Albert to the Hampshire Regiment and Charles to the 4th Worcestershire Regiment. Albert, the eldest a Rifleman, was killed in action in the second Battle of Gaza on 19th April 1917. He had been a soldier for six months.


Harry and Charles were both drafted to the Western Front early 1917. Harry Squires was fighting with the 2nd Battalion Hampshire Regiment acting as an unpaid Lance Corporal.

The Battalion’s War Dairy of 24th August records:

Early morning quiet. Some enemy aeroplanes flying low over our lines, his artillery was not so active as usual … 6 killed, 9 wounded, 1 wounded (at duty)

Harry was one of the six killed. He was posthumously awarded the Military Medal for “acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire”.

After Harry’s death Daisy remarried to Walter Gellender who, along with his brother Alexander, also served in the First World War. Walter Gellender was discharged as medically unfit but his brother Alexander was severely wounded in the Battle of Passchendaele which resulted in the amputation of his foot. Walter went on to become the Secretary of Portsmouth Disabled Ex-Servicemen’s Association. 


Dudley Hugo Heynes (1885 – 1918)

Pte. Artists Rifles Regiment 8032

2nd Lt. Royal Field Artillery 20126

Dudley Heynes was born in Bolton where his father was a Baptist minister. He moved to Portsmouth with his wife Helen either late 1914 or early 1915 after graduating as a Solicitor to work for Pink and Marston Solicitors in Hampshire Terrace making their home in 83 Winter Road, Southsea.


Newspaper articles report some of Heynes’ court cases. During the war, Pink and Marston were regular contributors to the War Relief Fund, an act that Dudley refers to with admiration in one of his letters to his wife.


Dudley and Helen had two children, Morris (b. 1915) and Lynette (b. 1917). He spent little time with them, but Helen regularly sent him photos. The 1939 register shows Helen and Morris still living at 83 Winter Road and that Morris has followed his father into practicing law.


In June 1916 Dudley enlisted in the Artists Rifles, a selective regiment whose members included war artist Paul Nash and poet Wilfred Owen. He was gazetted as a 2nd Lieut. with the Royal Field Artillery in December and served in the field from 12th February 1917. His battery was attached to the Royal Horse Artillery, and letters home refer to his horse “good old Polly”.


As an officer Dudley held his soldiers in extremely high esteem. Dudley wrote and received letters frequently. They evidence is love for his family, his admiration and respect for all British soldiers and his anger at the ‘Boche’.


He took hardship in his stride:


“I have not slept away from the various gun positions since Jun 24th [21 days] – longer than any other officer in the whole Brigade, and I only had one night in rest where the others had three weeks. It couldn’t be helped…” (extract of a letter to Helen dated 15th August 1917).


Dudley Heynes‘ battalion was in the field throughout the Battle of Passchendaele. On 27th August he suffered a gunshot wound to his head. His diary entry records:

“Boche 4.2 bursts behind me – splinter hits me back of head under tin hat … Drive by ambulance then to Praven C.C.S. [casualty clearing station]. 5 dressings inoculation and probing.” 30th August; “Head x-rayed – small foreign body.” His letters to Helen (two on the 28th August) were written to curb her fears and refer to a ‘little cut’ on the head

Dudley was sent home for a short period to recuperate, and then returned to the front. His letters became less frequent and not until 6th November, the day the Canadians took Passchendaele does he admit to being ill having stood “in the rain peering through field glasses and taking compass bearings) coupled with the new Boche gas which attacks throat and voice, left me in a pretty rotten condition.”

His last letter to his wife was written the day he was killed in action by a bomb dropped from an enemy

aircraft. He wrote that he hoped “be home while it is still warm enough for her] to wear” her new summer dresses.

Photograph from Obituary of 2nd Lt D H Heynes

Extract from a letter to his wife from Dudley Heynes 24th August 1917, Passchendaele

…”I think the first thing I want to do is to send you a copy of some verses one of our own signallers composed and dedicated to his wife and child. It is a sacred matter, but I was so struck with the beauty of the poetry when I was censoring letters that I could not resist copying them. I wish I could have written them, and I trust I may be forgiven this breach of privilege in repeating them. They are so good I make it my excuse. Don’t make use of them, I can’t very well ask the writer’s permission.!

Though we have reached the Parting Ways,

And hands no longer meet,

Yet we are near in thoughts sincere

To keep old memories sweet.

 At night and morn my prayer ascends

To Him who guides our way

That he will keep the Love Link strong

Until our Meeting Day.

Though I may sigh and long for you

Love keeps sweet memory green,

I will wait the meeting time

While God keeps watch between.

The archive of Dudley Heynes’ personal papers, letters to his wife, diary entries and notes made in training is held by Portsmouth Records Office, Museum Road, Portsmouth, PO1 2

Portsmouth Poetry wishes to thank the records Office for their assistance in researching Dudley Heynes

The quality of the man Dudley Heynes was is also evidenced in this obituary.....

Dudley Heynes is buried at the small Blangy Tronville Communal Cemetery in BLANGY TRONVILLE Communal Cemetery

Somme department, Hauts-de-France .

His grave is No.11 in this row.

There are 42 graves in total.

Rustington Museum Archive

Rustington Museum in West Sussex owns a small archive of material relating to Dudley Heynes and his daughter Lynette. Among the items in the archive are memorial cards, postcards, photographs of him in service and his war grave cross and a photograph of it in situ. The British army employed soldiers as carpenters with the purpose of making war grave markers which were all of the same design as this of Dudley Heynes. These were later replaced by the standard Imperial War Graves Commission headstone. The cross was sent to his widow after it was replaced and is still in its crating addressed to 83 Winter Road, Southsea.  

 Portsmouth Poetry wishes to thank the Rustington Museum for generously supplying us with this material.

Lynette Heynes

Lynette Heynes was born 25 December 1916 (Christmas Day). She was less than 17 months old when her father died! Her brother Morris was not yet three! She was a poet, watercolourist and handmade moving cards. She married twice. Her second marriage, aged 56, was to George Henry Nicholson, a retired clergyman aged 71, in 1973 and they lived in Purley. Lynette won the Parishioner’s Award in 2007 for her work in the arts. These photographs show cards created by her and a collection of poems to which she contributed.

Rustington Museum is located at 

The Samuel Wickens Centre, Broadmark Lane, Rustington, W Sussex, BN16 2NW

For more information visit their website at

Dudley Hugo Heynes -- Missing Memorial, Frome

In the process of researching Dudley Heynes, we discovered that there was a memorial plaque commemorating him in the Memorial Theatre Frome, Somerset.

Opened in 1925 as a memorial hall in memory of those who fell in the 1st World War, it became a theatre and cinema in the 1930's with the installation of seating and traded as "The Grand". The plaque was originally located in Sheppards Barton Baptist Church in the town where his father had been minister and was relocated to the Memorial Theatre when the church closed.

Memorials Online website

Memorial Theatre website

The War Poets

Why did WW1 produce such an outpouring of poetry?

A remarkable fact of the first world war was the extraordinary number of poets it involved. 

Numerous collections of WW1 poetry have been published. The term ‘war poet’ is almost exclusively used to refer to world war one. Over at least 80 talented and published poets wrote during the Great War, all but a few fought in it.

Even more remarkable, is the evidence that countless others wrote down their experiences in poetry; men and women who are not ‘recognised’ as poets. Many of them wrote powerful and moving verse suitable for publication.

One possibility is that there was a particular flowering of poetic talent in the late C19th and early C20th Centuries whose lives just happened to coincide with and, in many cases end with the war.

But the real explanation evidenced by those who wrote but were not intent on becoming published authors is more inspiring. That even in the most vile of situations surrounded by death and carnage people craved hope, beauty and inspiration. That they were able to find it is testament to the stength of the human spirit and the redemptive power of poetry.

The following list includes some of the recognised (published) WW1 poets. Those who died during the war are indicated with **

Richard Aldington, Bertram Andrews**, Robert H Beckh**, Hilaire Belloc, Edmund Blunden,

Mary Borden, John Le Gay Brereton, Vera Brittain, Rupert Brooke, May Wedderburn Cannan, Margaret Postgate Cole, Eric Thirkell Cooper, Leslie Coulson **, John Crommelin-Brown,

Elizabeth Daryush, Jeffery Day**, Geoffrey Deamer, Eva Dobell, Eleanor Farjeon, Geoffrey Faber, James Griffin Fairfax, Ford Maddox Ford, Gilbert Frankau, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson,

Julian Grenfell**, Robert Graves, Ivor Gurney, Thomas Hardy, F W Harvey, Hedd Wyn**,

A. P. Herbert, Agnes Grozier Herbertson, W N Hodgson** Cyril Morton Horne**, Dyneley Hussey, David Jones, Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, Anna Gordon Keown, Tom Kettle**, Rudyard Kipling, Francis Ledwidge**, Joseph Lee, Roland Leighton, Winifred M Letts, C S Lewis, Wyndham Lewis, PHB Lyon, Ewart Alan Mackingtosh**, Hamish Mann** Frederick Manning, Charlotte Mew, Bernard Moore, Edith Nesbitt, Henry Newbolt, Robert Nichols, Wilfred Owen, John Oxenham,

Nowell Oxland**, Vivian de Sola Pinto, Jessie Pope, Herbert Read, Isaac Rosentberg**,

Edward Owen Rutter, Lady Margaret Sackville, Siegfreid Sassoon, Owen Seaman, Alan Seeger**, Robert Service, May Sinclair, Tom Skeyhill, Louis B Solomon**, Charles Sorley**, Patrick Houston Shaw-Stewart**, Robert Serling**, Will Streets**, Muriel Stuart, Edward Tennant**,

Edward Thomas**, Katherine Tynan, Robert Vernede**, Geoffrey Wall, Gilbert Waterhouse**, Alec Waugh, Arthur Graeme West** T P Cameron Wilson**

The lives and work of the 27 poets listed above who died in the Great 


War are outlined in the accompanying page

"The Lost Poets"

along with the 15 women listed who have largely been forgotten.


John H Fletcher (1881 – 1917)

Pte. 6th Battalion Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry 260127

John Fletcher was the fourth of five children born to James and Ellen Fletcher who moved to Portsmouth between 1881 and 1885. In 1891 the family lived at 99 Belgrave Square. James, a mineral water manufacturer, had a brushes with the law until his death in 1897. Ellen took over the business, before advertising in the Portsmouth Evening News for a partner. She married Robert Fletcher, a man 21 years her junior, something John was not happy with and which led to a couple of court appearances. Ellen and Robert later separated and she suffered bankruptcy in 1902.


John married Portsmouth girl Harriett Croomer in 1901 and they moved to 58 Lancaster Road. By the 1911 census they had moved again to 7 Warwick Street, John’s occupation is recorded as carman and they have four children.


John Fletcher enlisted with the Royal Navy in 1906, he later he deserted. In October 1916 John enlisted with the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry, and was posted to the Western Front.


At Passchendaele John’s battalion (6th) was in training until they were sent to relieve the 7th Battalion K.R.R.C. in the trenches. They fought in the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, where John Fletcher lost his life. He is commemorated at Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium.


John’s wife Harriett remarried in 1920 and she is recorded in the 1939 Register living at 8 Warwick Road, her and John’s address during the war

Men taking a rest break Battle of Menin Road Ridge: "Clapham Junction"

By kind permission of the Imperial War Museumm

© IWM (E(AUS) 768)

Some Came Home

Patriotic Postcard sent from Portsmouth on June 30th at 8.30pm (Year unknown)

The rucksack opens to access a paper strip of photos of Portsmouth and Southsea

The letter reads --

"Dear Gwen, Just a card to say I have got my discharge shall be home sometime Thursday but not till late I expect so don't write to this address again. Goodbye hoping to see you the weekend Love Jack"

An addition reads - "Got a week sick leave pending my discharge"


George R Stebbens (1897 – 1961)

Pioneer and Sapper Royal Engineers 126425

A first generation Portsmouth boy, third of four children, his parents had moved to Portsmouth between 1893 and 1897. Father Charles was a shipwright in Portsmouth Dockyard living at 6 Northumberland Road. In 1901 and 4 Eton Road, Southsea in 1911.

George Stebbens secured an appointment in Horsham in 1913 as a telegraphist moving to Sutton in 1914 and from there to Faversham as an SC&T – Sorting Clerk and Telegraphist.

George was called up in September 1916, to the Royal Engineers Signal Depot as a Wireless Operator and he joined the BEF on 13th March 1917, transferred to the 50th Divisional Signal Company on 25th August 1917 four weeks in to the Battle of Passchendaele. Their role was to keep all lines of communication open, from wireless to visual to pigeon, and report on and immobilize German cables

In May 1918 George was at the enemy attack on the Chemin des Dames. The 50th Divisional Signals Company War Diary records:

“The bombardment opened at 1am and is reported to have been the heaviest on record.” Having received warning of the attack the night before, the Divisional Signal Office was moved to a dugout under Chateau Hanotaux. The Signal division had to attempt to keep lines of communication open as effectively as possible whilst being bombarded with enemy shells. The barrage was brutal and devastating:

“All wireless personnel and equipment are missing.”

George Stebbens was one of 134 missing or wounded having been taken prisoner. His family was informed but given very little despite the efforst of his sister Dorothy. George was eventually repatriated

Reported Missing

My thought shall never be that you are dead:

Who laughed so lately in this quiet place.

The dear and deep-eyed humour of that face

Held something ever-living, in Death’s stead.

Scornfull I hear the flat things they have said

And all their piteous platitudes of pain.

I laugh! I laugh! – For you will come again –

This heart would never beat if you were dead.

The world’s adrowse in twilight hushfulness,

There’s purple lilac in your little room,

And somewhere out beyond the evening gloom

Small boys are culling summer watercress.

Of these familiar things I have no dread

Being so very sure you are not dead.

Anna Gordon Keown


Charles W Greentree (1887 – 1950)

Driver/Saddler 4th Canadian Division Ammunition Column 183692

Charles Greentree was one of three brothers, 2nd generation Portsmouth boys with three sisters. Both sets of grandparents had moved to Portsea in the 1850s. By the 1891 census they were living in Hope Street without their father. 

The brothers (Charles, George and Frederick), with thousands of other children, were taken by Dr Barnardos to start new lives in Canada where they became farm workers

From the early C20th until the 1970's, many thousands of children, either orphans or 'in care' were sent to Australia or Canada, to start a 'new life'. Dr Barnados and many other children's charities participated. Undoubtedly 'well intentioned', the programme has in recent years been exposed as flawed and often involved abuse and exploitation.

The oldest of the brothers, Charles joined up in November 1915 and sailed for England in September 1916 before being sent to the front on 21st August 1917. He stayed in Portsmouth his 'home' town (the naval port had a major role in troop movement) and married Violet Freeman there in December 1916.


Brother George had joined in 1914 a day after youngest brother Frederick. Sent to the Western Front in May 1915; he was blown out of a wagon and suffered shell shock, and was discharged as medically unfit.


Frederick was also sent to the Western Front in 1915, and taken prisoner . He was released on 8th January 1919 after four years as a POW dying of meningitis attributed to his war service 18 months later.


Charles was the only one of the Greentree brothers to fight at Passchendaele. He was appointed a Saddler on arrival in the field and his division went straight to join the battle. Fighting for the Canadian Divisions was incessant; they had to deal with artillery, light and heavy trench mortar, gas shells and aircraft shelling.


“Taken as a whole, the fighting during this tour was some of the heaviest that has been encountered in the war.”

4th Canadian Division War Diary August 1917


Charles was granted special leave of absence to England for 14 days on the 29th December and returned to the Front 12th January 1918. His son Roy Charles was born the following September. After the war he returned to Canada with his wife and son and became a Game Warden.


During the course of our research, our archivist Donna Bish was contacted by the descendants of Charles W Greentree. His family still live in Canada

Canadian Divisions arrived at Passchendaele on 7 October. Three rainless days from 3–5 November eased preparation for the final assault on Passchenaele on the morning of 6 November by the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions. In less than three hours, Passchendaele was captured. A final action on 10 November, by the Canadians took control of the remaining high ground north of the village near Hill 52

Injured Canadian soldiers were treated in Portsmouth's St James's Hospital which had ceased operation as an 'asylum' for the purpose

Passchendaele 12 October - 6 November: View of the battlefield through which Canadian Divisions advanced with Passchendaele Church on the horizon, showing the waterlogged state of the ground.

By kind permission of the Imperial War Museum

© IWM (Q 56258)


Percy Eastland (1898 – 1970)

Pte. 1st Hampshire Regiment 15128

Born in Portsmouth, the third of four children; Charles, Albert, Percy and Mabel. His father Albert, a naval armourer, moved the family to Portsmouth from Surrey between 1893 and 1896 when he was posted to HMS Excellent in March 1895. In 1901 the family was living at 32 George Street. The address was still in the family in 1939 though Percy is living in Fareham with his wife Annie, they married in1934.

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Percy’s brothers and his father also served in the war; brothers Charles and Albert in the Hampshire Regiment and father Albert back in the navy where he was in Battle of Jutland before being put on shore duties. Albert junior was a 1st Class Signaller and suffered a gunshot wound to his left shoulder in 1917 and was discharged in 1918. Charles also fought on the Western Front in the Battles of Arras and Messines. He was wounded and taken prisoner of war in 1918 and held at Darmstadt POW camp until 1919.

Percy Eastland army returned to active service in the Battle of Passchendaele after being injured at the Somme. He severely wounded, in the 2nd Battle of Arras 1918. Alone and unable to move for several hours, he was found by the 1st Hampshire Regiment’s Padre Rev. S E Swann. Rev Swann and his batman carried Percy back to the British trenches on a stretcher “a nightmare journey through a hail of shells and bullets”. Percy had always wanted to thank Rev Swann personally for rescuing him and his chance came when Canon Swann came to Portsmouth to preach at Portsmouth Cathedral on 19th September 1954. “But for Canon Swann I should have died

Photograph from Portsmouth Evening News article on the meeting of Percy Eastland and Canon Swann 1954

The Outcome of the Battle of Passchendaele:

A British soldier stands besides        Army carpenter making

the grave of a comrade near              crosses for war graves, 1

Pilckem 22nd August 1917                  18 August 1917

Royal Field Artillery Gunners                 British tank half submerged hauling a field gun out of the mud         in mud and water near St Julien, North of Ypres, 2 August 1917              12 October 1917.

Photographs by kind permission of the Imperial War Museum

© IWM (Q 2756)                          © IWM (Q 5885)                       © IWM (Q 5937)                 © IWM (Q 6327)

Passchendaele lasted 103 days

Over half a million men died

Historian AJP Taylor claimed that figures were officially altered to reduce casualties numbers. Although he challenged Taylor, military historian John Terraine quoted "normal wastage" as averaging 35,000 per month in the "quiet periods". The Total average for Passchendaele is 5000-6000 per day or 90,000 British and Allied casulaties per month!

Men and horses drowned in the mud. More men died from drowning (not enemy fire) than in any other recorded battle in history

Thousands were wounded or suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Few survivors ever talked about their experiences

"When the war ended, I don't know if I was more relieved that we'd won or that I didn't have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle – thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Charles Kuentz, Germany's only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We've had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it's a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn't speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?"

— Harry Patch

Buttes New British Cemetery in Zonnebeke, Flanders

We wish to thank the Free Software Foundation for use of this photograph under © GNU Free Documentation License

There are many cemeteries around the Ypres Salient, including the mass graves witnessed by Jack Seely

The Buttes New British Cemetery in Zonnebeke. Zonnebeke, West Flanders, Belgium seen here is one of the smaller burial grounds resulting from Passchendaele. It contains 2093 dead of whom 1600 (76%) are unidentified

Many dead remained where they fell or were absorbed into the mud. In 1919, when the battlefield clearances began, the bodies of 25,000 Commonwealth soldiers were found in the area north, south and east of Passchendaele. More than 70% were unidentifiable. Of the 11,954 men honoured at Tyne Cot 8367 (70%) are unidentified dead.Their graves are marked with the words "Known Unto God"

Some 42,000 bodies have never been recovered. These include John Frederick White RAMC of Portsmouth

The village of Passchendaele was completely obliterated

These arial reconnaissance photographs show the village of Passchendaele taken immediately before (lower) and immediately after the Battle. The dots in the post battle photograph are thousands of mud filled shell craters!

By kind permission of the Imperial War Museum

© IWM (Q 42918A)

Having taken Passchendaele, Haig chose not to advance to the submarine bases that had been his objective.

German General Staff documents state Germany had been brought near to certain destruction (sicheren Untergang) by the battle. Had it been continued for two more weeks it is possible the war might have ended in 1917 not 1918

The nomclementure applied to General Haig as the “Butcher of the Somme” continues to be debated, his responsibility in Passchendaele is often overlooked

Haig was an experienced military leader in both fighting and management roles

He was fighting using military skills and tactics that had become less effective by because of significant technological advances in warfare the late C19th and early C20th.

These included -

Submarine warfare, tanks, telephone communications, areal reconnaissance, chemical weapons, and the machine gun.

The last four of especially altered the parameters of trench tactics. Haig and his commanders were learning on their feet.


He stuck to a faith in cavalry

He remained convinced that the "resolve" would win even when it was costing thousands of lives

He continued to believe that the machine gun was "over-rated" even after the fatalities of the Somme and the exemplar of Mametz Wood

Although the 'lions led by donkeys' sobriquet surfaced in the 1960's, Siegfried Sassoon played a major part in advancing this damning opinion of WW1 military leadership long before the term became well known.

"My subject is War and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity"

Wilfred Owen

The 'war poets' chose either to romanticise WW1 or, in the main, give voice to the tragedy and suffering. These were not 'pacifists' or anti-war poets, the overwhelming majority were serving soldiers but they felt the need to express and make understood the suffering war involves.

Sassoon was different.

In addition to the 'pity', his poems often castigate those who sent men to their deaths and criticise military leadership. These include journalists, women at home, local dignitaries (who often played a key role in recruitment as in Portsmouth) and military leaders.

Right hand arch of the Menin Gate Memorial. The missing of the Army Service Corps are inscribed on

Panel 56, just visible to the right inside the doorway including John Frederick White​

"The General" (1917) is a scathing parody of command ineptitude and, although written about his superior officer in the Royal Welsh (Maj-Gen Sir Reginald Pinney), is often taken as a condemnation of Haig. However, his poem "Song-Books of the War" mentions Haig by name.

Sassoon's poems identify with the ordinary soldier both in subject and they way they are written and often express the social chasm that existed between senior officers and the 'ranks' and the ease with which men were sent to their deaths.

For many years Haig claimed that the heavy rain of 1917 could not have been foreseen but finally admitted that heavy August rain in Flanders was well known

Butcher or Hero?

"Victory will belong to the side that holds out the longest. There is no other course open but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man. There must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end."

Haig, Order of the Day (11 April 1918)

"He was a painstaking professional soldier with a sound intelligence of secondary quality. He had the courage and stubbornness of his race. But he did not possess the necessary breadth of vision or imagination to plan a great campaign against some of the ablest generals of the war. I never met a man in a high position who seemed to me so utterly devoid of imagination."

Lloyd George, War Memoirs (1928)

"In all the British offensives the British casualties were never less than 3 to 2, and often nearly double the corresponding German losses… The campaign of 1916 on the Western Front was from beginning to end a welter of slaughter."

Winston Churchill, The World Crisis (1923)

"Haig had a fine appearance, and a stern devotion to duty. Though he had no more idea than others how to win the war, he was sure that he could win it. Divine help would make up for any deficiencies on his part. This unshakeable confidence, and the support of the king, enabled Haig to survive a long record of failure and to emerge in the end victorious… A later generation may feel that Haig should have stood on the defensive and waited for the tanks. The French would not have tolerated this. The British public would have been still more indignant. Haig had to do what he did and, though he did not succeed, no one better was found to take his place."

AJP Taylor, The First World War (1963)

"As an executive commander there has hardly been a finer defensive general; in contrast, among those who have gained fame as offensive generals none perhaps have made worse errors… His mind was dominated by the instinct of method, where he failed was in the instinct of surprise – originality of conception, fertility of resource, receptivity in ideas. In his qualities and defects he was the very embodiment of the national character and the army tradition."

Sir Basil H Liddell Hart, Reputations (1928)

For a century, opinion on Haig has been split between two divergent summaries, the highly critical and the apologist. There have been great and accomplished names in both camps.

This quote from the close of the war demonstrates that, despite the Somme and Passchendaele, Haig's Victorian view that 'resolve' would win ignoring the cost in lives was unshaken!

The depiction of Haig as intractable and lacking in imagination originated with David Lloyd George. However, it must be remembered the men hated each other. Not only did they come from different and opposing backgrounds, Haig hated Lloyd George for 'interfering' in military matters by making him more accountable to the war Council and Lloyd George hated Haig for Mametz Wood and for the implications the war had for his political career. It has been said that Lloyd George agreed to Passchendaele in the hope that it would ruin Haigs career and remove him! EKG Sixsmith ("Douglas Haig" 1976) argued that Lloyd George was the prime cause of the damning view of Haig and that his opinion was very different before the Somme.

Haig's response to Churchill was that French pressure which forced him to keep fighting on the Western Front in 1916–1917, and wrote about the battle of Passchendaele in 1917:

"It is impossible for Winston to know how the possibility of the French army breaking up in 1917 compelled me to go on attacking. Pétain pressed me not to leave the Germans alone for a week, on account of the awful state of the French troops."

A J P Taylor's account of WW1 at its 50th anniversary was a major addition to the critical view of British military leadership. It manages to be both damning and give a grudging defence!

Perhaps the most reasoned assessment comes from Liddell Hart, that Haig was both accomplished and inept leading to some catastrophic decisions. A military man of his era in both the best and the worst aspects!!

In Flanders Fields, by John McRae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD

Canadian poet, teacher of English and Mathematics, pathologist, physician, author, artist and both a soldier and a surgeon during WWI

"In Flanders Fields" is one of the most well known poems of the first world war frequently used at Remembrance events. In 2015, the Canadian 'Legion Magazine' commissioned the nations most famous poet Leonard Cohen to produce a video to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the poem as a poignant tribute to McCrae. It is a particularly moving reading by one of the greatest poets of modern times made just a year before his own death.

The video of him reading the poem accompanied by images of WW1, can be seen on You Tube or by visiting the Legion Magazine website.

Note - this is not a link

To hear the recording use either of the two URL's below

Although he later visited the Cambrai battlefield, Haig did not visit Paaschendaele either while his troops were fighting and dying there or after the battle has ended. He remained committed to the belief that resolve could overcome any obstacle even the mud and machines he said were 'over-rated'!



When Paaschendaele was over his Chief of Staff, Sir Launcelot Kiggell, visited the area. He is said to broken into tears at the sight of the muddy wasteland and said "Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?". His driver is said to have given the laconic response, "It's worse over that ridge Sir!" Kiggell ordered him to turn round and drive away.

Note - Brigadier-General John Davidson later claimed it was actually he in the autumn of 1917 on first seeing the morass in which the men had fought, not Kiggell. There is no evidence to corroborate either version.

The men who suffered and died at Passchendaele and the other battles of the ‘Great War’ (the “war to end all wars”) are our recent relatives

“Have you forgotten yet?

Look up and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget”


Siegfried Sassoon

Copyright Siegfried Sassoon by kind permission of the Estate of George Sassoon

"As a small boy in Southsea, I saw streets disfigured by ragged, unwanted ex-soldiers, medalled but ill, blind, maimed, selling matches, bootlaces, notepaper, trundling barrel-organs or standing with a melancholy dog or monkey beside a decrepit hurdy-gurdy. Whether they were pleading or abusive, resigned or menacing, they appalled me. Their wretchedness suggested that, in overthrowing Germany, they had earned some monstrous penalty now being inexorably exacted."

Peter Vansittart

Voices from the Great War Pimlico Books

Copyright Note -- this is the only item (quotation or image) for which permission to use has not been sought and given where copyright exists. In preparing for the exhibition, permission was sought from the publishers Random House who own/owned Pimlico but without success as the book is no longer in print. All attempts both in the UK and abroad to track down Vansittart's widow who inherited his literary estate failed despite contacting his solicitor who drew up and executed his will. UK copyright law allows non-profit use of limited quotations where every reasonable effort has been made to secure permission from the estate of an author. With regret, the quotation was not used in the exhibition but is included here as it is such a succinct and well written description of the fate of so many WW1 combatants. If you have information which would allow us to contact the current owner of Peter Vansittart's estate please contact us.

Josh Brown

Portsmouth V.C.'s

The Victoria Cross is the highest British award for valour in battle. During Passchendaele, several of the men in our biographies were awarded the Military Medal, the award immediately below the VC.

Three Victoria Crosses were awarded to Portsmouth men or men commanding soldiers from the city. They were not included in the Portsmouth Poetry Passchendaele Project only because their details are already well documented.

Dennis Hewitt

14th Battalion Hampshire Regiment (the 1st ‘Pompey Pals’). VC won at St Julien on the 1st day of Passchendaele (31st July 1917). Having joined the regiment in 1917 as a 2nd Lieutenant after leaving Winchester College he found himself in charge of a company at 19! Hewitt organised his men despite being badly wounded at Pilckem Ridge and led them to the next objective line which was secured. Hewitt died in a hail of machine gun fire. He has no known grave and is remembered at Tyne Cot. The VC was awarded posthumously.

Montague Moore

15th Battalion Hampshire Regiment (the 2nd ‘Pompey Pals’). Joined the Hampshires after Sandhurst. Joined Passchendaele after recovering from wounding at Messines Ridge. Led an attack on 20 October suffering heavy losses and then shelled by British artillery the following day. Moore and 10 surviving men sheltered for a day and night until they could return to British lines in the morning mist. They had been in ‘no man’s land’ for 48 hours. Moore died in Kenya in 1966.

James Ockenden

1st Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers. After fighting and being wounded at Gallipoli, he was awarded the Military Medal in France in 1917 before being sent to Passchendaele. As an acting Sergeant-Major, on 4th October at Langemark, he saw that his company were held up by machine gun fire, rushed the gun and captured it. Then he led his company into an attack despite heavy fire, forcing a garrison to surrender. Born and brought up in Landport, he survived the war and returned to Portsmouth to work in the dockyard. Crowds chered him on his return home. He died in 1966. The City Council named Ockenden Close in his honour. His family still live in the city. There is a memorial to James Ockenden in the Fratton British Legion and a family bench in Burgoyne Gardens Southsea. James Ockenden was also awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre. A pavement memorial was laid on October 4th 2017 to mark the centenary of his heroism.

James Ockenden VC Memorial Bench Burgoyne Gardens Southsea Seafront

Additional Sites providing information and biographies of Portsmouth men at Passchendaele

Portsmouth Grammar School Book of Remembrance

131 ex-PGS pupils fought in WW1 and the fallen were commemorated in a school project in 2014. They include four men who fought at Passchendaele

Cecil Harte Barry

Lieytenant 17th Battalion Royal Irish Regiment and 57th Squadron Royal Flying Corps. Killed in action 21st August 1917. Listed at Tyne Cot

Cyril Alfred Spencer Buck

2nd Lieutenant 18th Battalion London Regiment (London Irish Rifles) and attached to 2nd/3rd Battalion London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers). Killed in action 26th October 1917. Listed at Tyne Cot.

Arthur Graham Cook

Private 1st Portsmouth Battalion 14th Hampshire Regiment (1st Pompey Pals). Died of wounds 17th September 1917. Buried in Reninghelst Cemetery

Lionel Ernest Schloss

2nd Lieutenant 44th Company Machine Gun Corps. Killed in action on the 1st day of Passchendaele 31st July 1917. Listed at the Menin Gate Memorial

Details of these men can be found on the Portsmouth Grammar School website at

History In Portsmouth

The excellent local history website of the late Tim Backhouse details the largest number of biographies of men from Portsmouth who died in WW1. This is the most detailed and comprehensive research yet published about men from the city in the Great War. Backhouse took the names of the WW1 dead from the Portsmouth Cenotaph and researched them and their families. He also discovered a number of men missing from the memorial roll. Among these are the following names of 47 men who fought (or may have fought) at Passchendaele.

Henry Thomas Allen

Reginald Egbert Batchelor

Reginald Harold Chamberlain

Clarence Harold Churchill

Reginald Arthur Clarke

Frank Clay

Cecil Herbert Mowlam Collingwood

Henry George Couzins

Clarance W Cox

Charles Edward Crockford

Charles Walter Dangerfield

Allen James Day

William Garnett Daysh

Charles David Dollery

Frederick Alexander Drackett

Arthur Boyett Earle

Alfred Stewart Earwicker

William John Edney

Frederick Frampton

Hugh Bernard German

John George Giles

Henry Cecil Hall

George Joseph Hankin

Frank James Henley

Ernest Harold Hoff

Albert Edward Hooker

Alfred William Horn

Henry Pembroke Innes

Abel Cain Ivery

George Bensly Iveson

George Stinton James

Sydney John Jenkins

Burton Thomas Knox

William Wallace McCrerie

Alfred Parfoot

George Edwin Harold Parks

George Powell

Albert Edward Roles

Edgar Thomas Smith

Charles Leonard Stokes

Willian Edward Stone

John Charles Dodsworth Tetley

Frederick George Thomas

Stanley Benjamin Tidy

Alfred Ernest Tilley

David Underdown

William Thomas Wills

Portsmouth Poetry Paaschendaele Project 2017

Portsmouth Poetry is a non-profit voluntary body launched during the 2016 Portsmouth Festivities which was set up to promote mixed-arts events and activities in the city. Its mission is to work in partnership with other venues and organisations in art, theatre, music and education to provide performances and community and educational projects based upon poetry drawing on a broad spectrum of expertise.

The Passchendaele Project

The Project arose out of discussions with Portsmouth Cathedral to promote poetry based events in the Cathedral in keeping with the ethical and humanitarian concerns that are shared by poets and faiths. More than four years into the centenary commemoration we ​were concerned that Passchendaele being less well known than other WW1 engagements and overshadowed by the Somme might not receive the remembrance it deserved. We decided to produce an exhibition, performance and educational activities to highlight not only the tragedy of Paaschendaele but the contribution to it from the city of Portsmouth.

The exhibition and performance were located in St Thomas's Cathedral as part of the 2017 Portsmouth Festivities

The HLF funded project comprised

  • In-depth historical research to identify and produce biographies of Portsmouth participation in the battle
    Battle of Passchendaele
  • A month long commemorative exhibition in Portsmouth (St Thomas’s) Cathedral and video narrative on
  • the Guildhall Square Big Screen
  • An autumn term schools project for Year 7-11 3 pupils.
  • A digital archive of the research outcomes and permanent home for the exhibition materials

Heritage Lottery Fund ‘First World War then and now’

The Heritage Lottery Fund ‘First World War then and now’ programme seeks to encourage and fund local events and projects which identify and highlight the involvement and contribution of local communities.

The Passchendaele Project was recognised by a £10,000 award as making an important contribution to local heritage by helping the city to recognise and understand its recent history and the part it and its people played.

A £6,000 award from Arts Council England funded an accompanying performance “The Angels Cry” in the Cathedral (June 20) produced by Portsmouth Poetry and the New Theatre Royal.

The Research Project

A professional archivist with proven expertise, Donna Bish, was engaged to complete research to identify people from Portsmouth who had participated in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. Her brief was to conduct initial research to identify participants and an overview of their stories to form a 'shortlist' from which 12 would be selected for more detailed investigation. These 12 would form the core of the exhibition. Time constraints meant that this research would have to be completed in 3 months.

In total, nearly 250 Portsmouth WW1 participants were identified - names, an address, rank and regiment. Initial research removed those found not to have fought at Passchendaele or for whom no further records existed.

An interim shortlist of around 68 persons secured more detail and again it was possible to eliminate more either because additional information did not exist or would take longer to acquire than was available.

A meeting discussed approximately 20+ biographies and the final 12 were selected both because of their stories and to reflect a diversity typical of the WW1 experience. These 12 were investigated in depth and formed the core of the exhibition.

Researching WW1 - the buried truths of the Great War

The Portsmouth Poetry Passchendaele Centenary research project was an enormous success. The diligence and expertise of our archivist Donna Bish produced a depth of detail and information rarely achieved in investigating the Great War and for each of the 12 biographies in our exhibition included not only detail of the experience at Passchendaele but the war service, their lives and family details (particularly rare). The end result is some of the most informative research into WW1 and Portsmouth.

Researching WW1 is very difficult. To obtain information, three things are needed-

1 informative data has to have been properly collected

2 the data needs to have been recorded effectively

3 this information needs to be safely archived so as to be accessible to subsequent generations.

If any one of these is inadequate, securing reliable information will be difficult and obscured. In the case of the first world war, all three are faulted!

The British armed forces kept only the briefest of information on its men. By contrast, better recording was made by our allies such as the Canadians and he best records were kept by the Germany evidenced, for example, in the Wikipaedia entry on Passchendaele which gives detailed German casualty figures and none for the BEF. In addition, slightly better records were kept of officers than the rank and file though still minimal in content and rigorous censorship at the time limited the content of letters home, war diary entries and the scenes permitted in photography. Much of our understanding of the true horror of 3rd Ypres has come from German and French forces where these restrictions were less vigorous.

Subsequent storage and archiving is a problem. The records of officers were kept in a rural location and have survived. Those of ‘ranks’ were stored in London and 60% were lost in a direct hit during the WW2 ‘blitz’. Military records, where they have survived, have no connection with other records such as the national census so that to complete a full account of the lives of WW1 servicemen requires accessing data from unconnected sources. A number of online ‘ancestry’ sites now exist but are still far from complete, unconnected and expensive to access. Researching our recent past is costly, very time consuming and requires a good understanding of how conduct such investigation. The best outcome of the WW1 Centenary would have been to coordinate these sources.

“Every time an old person dies, it’s like a library burning down.” Alex Haley

The universal response of those men who did survive the war. Symptomatic of PTSD, they buried the horror internally and never spoke about it. All but a few, took their story to the grave. In the 1960’s the BBC attempted a documentary for the 50th anniversary in which veterans would talk of their experiences. Over a thousand veterans were approached but only 15 would agree to do so and most of these reluctantly. The famous Harry Patch did not talk of his experiences until the very end of his long life.

Not only do these problems hamper the investigation of WW1, they fuel controversy and disagreement over what happened. Even obtaining an agreed figure on the number of men who died during Passchendaele is impossible!

By kind permission of the Imperial War Museum © IWM (Q 2978)

Portsmouth Poetry Passchendaele Project Research


To access details of the research and how it was completed, the full biographies of the 12 Portsmouth men featured here and in our Exhibition and the identifying information on over 400 Portsmouth WW1 soldiers, CLICK ON THE BUTTON "RESEARCH" BELOW TO DOWNLOAD IN PDF

This research, a valuable contribution to our understanding of WW1 and the history of Portsmouth and its people, was made possible by the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund

Material collected by many organisations during the 2014-2018 Centenary are being archived into a complete collection by the Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis and Living Legacies 1914-1918 at Queens University Belfast.

We are honoured that our research is included in this important collection and will post as soon as the archive is completed and available to access.

The exhibition consisted of 30 printed plates mounted on 5 display boards hung from the windows of the Ambulatory of Portsmouth Cathedral. A display banner at the start and end of the displays explained the project purpose and provided information about the Battle of Passchendaele and concluding information about the battle and the people and organisations who had assisted the production of the exhibition.

In addition to the biographies there were illustrative images and quotations used to narrate the exhibition

The exhibition opened on June 16th and closed July 14th 2017

The Exhibition

The Angels Cry

Written and Choreographed by Liz Weston of Portsmouth Poetry and our researcher Donna Bish, "The Angels Cry" incorporated drama, dance, music, singing, film and images to tell the story of World War 1 as it was experienced by the women left behind - mothers, wives, lovers and sisters, the people most frequently given as next of kin when men enlisted drawing parallels with more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Women who worked in the factories to supply the war, endured the hardship of raising families alone and suffered grief when their men died. The title is taken from "Passchendaele" by Iron Maiden



Heritage Lottery Fund

Portsmouth Cathedral

Donna Bish Archivist

Prof. Brad Beavan & Dr Karl Bell

Gateways to the first world

war at University of


Chris Pennycook

Pompey Pals Project

John Sadden,

Portsmouth Grammar School

Alan Laishley,

Portsmouth WW1 Research

Racing Post Books

The Estate of George Sassoon

The Imperial War Museum

Portsmouth Records Office