Arts Richmond Poetry Hub 1914 1918 WW1 Centenary Walk
Richmond Bridge Twickenham side. - 24 October 2018
Victory Winged With Peace
The Centenary Walk
Arts Richmond Poetry Hub at East Twickenham, 21st October
Review by Poppy Rose Jervis
On a Sunday morning a group of people set out to make a very special journey. It is one of those gorgeous autumnal days of the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…” variety - the sort that remind you simultaneously of sparkling frost with log fires, and a warm glowing sun.
Similarly conflicted, as anticipation sought to harmonise with respect and empathic sadness on a fresh, bright day, we walk along with the interwoven emotions and strands of this journey entwining to commemorate and honour all those in or affected by The First World War, remind ourselves of those who lost their lives and those who lost loved ones, celebrate poetry and poets old and new but through an artistry born of tragedy, and re-awaken an awareness in our rich local heritage and beautiful surroundings. Memorials and poetry along the way mingle the poignant past with the here and now and powerfully transporting us in our journey alongside those who had made their own journey at the time.
Expertly guided by sisters, Helen Baker and Carol Wain of the Richmond in Europe Association, we learn of the Pelabon Munitions Works site and the East Twickenham Belgium community, discover little known facts at each stopping place, are fed with nuggets of interest, enlightened and fortified with local information and history, and sustained with bitter-sweet poetry. On a day that saw thousands attend the FiLiA Conference, a pause by the factory site (now a development of luxury flats) offered not just an insight into the changing face of East Twickenham and its landscape, and a time to reflect on the past, but served to remind how the dedication and strength of woman workers during the war, against all adversity and in the face of untold misery, has affected women’s liberation today. “We are the daughters of the women who came before us …”
We think of The Great War poets, some writing bitterly and graphically of the horrific reality, despairing of God and country, while others exulted, glorifying patriotism and honour. Some died. Some survived. All left a legacy and the First World War is forever closely associated with the literature and poetry of its time. This was a time to listen, a time to read, and a time to reflect with a sensitive selection of work.
We walk on in the autumn sun through residential streets keeping their past a secret and not showing any traces or giving away any clues of what had gone on before, until, that is, we get to the leafy embankment where the public monument, tucked away and carved from Belgian Blue stone speaks eloquently of the 6,000 Belgian refugees and injured soldiers who made up “The Belgian Village on the Thames”. The words, “memories flow through me like a boat flows down the river”, wrapping the memorial in English, French and Flemish (the languages of those immigrant Belgians) are read out to us by an eleven-year-old girl on the walk. The inscription was written by Issy Holton, a then eight-year-old pupil attending Orleans Primary School, the school attended by the Twickenham Belgian children during the war years.
Here, we listen to Carol Wain read her own moving poem about the Belgian community returning home to Belgium at the end of WW1 and to Gerald Baker reading a poem written by his wife, Helen Baker, creating a visual image of the red, white, and black tulips symbolic of warfare, peace, and hatred.
An autumn morning, glistening in glorious sunshine, we continue on our way and in the gentle breeze. Standing on the mound overlooking the Poppy Factory, Ian Lee-Dolphin reads In Flanders Fields by Major John McCrae, and Heather Montford, her own beautiful poem, Painting for the Botanist, vividly and intricately describing the poppy and remembering what it stands for.
Chatting softly to each other, we walk on again, along the river and under the bridge and, as celebrations for Trafalgar Day are being held on the Warship HMS Victory in anniversary and honour of the 1805 battle that confirmed the Britain as ruler of the waves, we find ourselves on this 2018 Centenary Walk alongside the River Thames and its gently lapping waves, a quiet and thoughtful group gathered around the Richmond War Memorial with a sailor on the north side and a soldier on the south, coats of arms to the east and west and its engraved wall of names, and we listen in silence to the last three poems of our journey: Drummer Hodge by Thomas Hardy, read by Ian Lee-Dolphin; I Stood by the Dead by Siegfried Sassoon, read by Graham Harmes; and The Man He Killed by Thomas Hardy, read by Anne Warrington. We remember once again, in the approach to Armistice Day that glorious victories are also great tragedies.
Thoroughly researched, perfectly planned and expertly organised, this event sang out with the success it deserved. All too often, caught up in the everyday bustle and turmoil of life, we are guilty of forgetting to remember. On Sunday 21st October we were given permission to pause our busy lives, we were given time to remember generations past and to think of generations new.
The sun was shining, the birds were singing and down by the river, the strains of a guitar could be heard. Of course, one hesitates to say, that an event commemorating such suffering and sadness is enjoyable, but what an opportunity to pay respects, to recognise and keep the bravery alive, to celebrate our culture and heritage, and remind ourselves of what’s around us through the artistry of poetry.
One couldn’t help feeling, as we stood above the river and under a canopy of leaves, and with the sun shining through, that we had been at one, sharing a wonderful celebration.
Poppy Rose Jervis
Photography by Heather Moulson. See more photographs at www.markaspen.wordpress.com/2018/10/24/www1-walk
‘We shall build the Cenotaph: Victory, winged, w