Some poetic responses for the Everybody’s Reading Festival, to the eponymous book by Penny Walker, which discusses the impact of World War One on my local community of Highfields, Leicester.
What’s In A Name?
Place names – windows onto the past
From a distance of a century,
Ordinary folk from Highfields
Caught up in conflict
With other ordinary people.
We even shared the same words:
Mecklenburg, Mickleover, Micheldever
Mony a pickle maks a mickle.
Inflamed by propaganda,
Outraged at living with a Germanic street name
Indignant complaints made to the council.
At a stroke of a bureaucratic pencil
Hanover – Andover; Saxe Coburg – Saxby
As in Groby, Blaby, Barkby, Ratby
Reminders of the time when the Danelaw ruled
And Erik Bloodaxe was feared like the Hun.
Immigration is nothing new,
We all have something fresh to bring.
Today, Leicester celebrates Divali, Eid and Vaisakhi
The Empire which stoked war is but a memory
We live together as a community.
The motto of Leicester is Semper Eadem which translates as “Always the Same”. The children of Medway Primary School staged a short play, looking at the similarities and differences between 1915 and 2015.
Always The Same
Leicester stood out
In the rush to sign on
We remained aloof,
Recognised the war for
The racket it was.
It was easy to get a job
Though hours were long
Hosiery was thriving.
We sang to rhythms
Of the factory.
No need to risk our lives
For a few bob.
Penny’s book dealt with memories from the First World War recorded in the local Oral History Archive. Since this was compiled starting from the early eighties, few people were alive who could remember the events from their adulthood. Many of the contributions were about childhood experiences of wartime.
Children played in the street
Hopscotch, top and whip, battledore and shuttlecock.
Our rhymes danced high and clear –
One potato, two potato, three potato, four!
Much better than school – crammed sixty to a class.
Lives were more fragile;
No doctors for the likes of us.
The NHS was a figment of Bevan’s imagination
To be cradled by a future war.
We couldn’t afford such luxury.
We swam through the jitties and the alleys
Fireflies amidst pollution’s pall.
Innocents in the battle
Which engulfed the world.
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I hope you enjoy reading my poems, and, as always, all proceeds will go to help build the fightback against corporate political parties, to build a voice for the millions, not the millionaires.
To find out more about my politics, visit the website of the Committee For A Workers’ International, which is engaged in struggle in around 50 countries worldwide.