The Old Scholars Project, by Pauline Sewards

These names are united
on the plaque on the wall
as they were in this classroom
of  the ‘Big Boys School

Our searches and stories return them
to the hearth of family
in these redbrick streets.

Those children who ran in the park
when the trees were saplings
with their pockets full of sweets and string

when we find they survived a battle
we are pleased at the small reprieve
but we know they all came to the same fate in the end
pockets packed with mud and shrapnel

Did any of them meet
(faces wrapped in overlapping bandages)
in the Nightingale wards where
the scent of burning paraffin lamps
masked  the stench of gangrene flesh?

In the archives we make remembrance
each stopped heart each broken body

We trace them through certificate and census
roll call, hospital records
medals, newspaper pictures
telegrams and handwritten cards listing possessions at time of death


These are the names
‘Fathers and Sons lost in the awful slaughter’

These are the other names
mothers sister bereaved lovers
children who were never born or even conceived

The hero whose name was left off the memorial
the one whose name was spelt wrongly
the many whose bodies were never quite recovered
swept up bones in the wrong order
exhumed and disinterred

and  the Conscientious Objectors who were imprisoned for their views

In this pocket of the city it is known that  no war is First or Great
and it was said
‘No worker in any country would go and fight others if not forced to, most people are interested in earning a living and trying to feed their families’


This poem was written for The Old Scholars Project which has traced the lost stories of the names listed on a War Memorial plaque at St Werburghs Community Centre Bristol. The centre was formerly a school and all of the men commemorated has been pupils there. On November 9th for the third year in a row a remembrance service was held in the centre with local school children taking part. The project is co-ordinated by Xeena Cooper


Pauline’s poems been published by I am not a silent poet in the past and she has a collection called This the Band ( Hearing Eye 20180. She is a co-host of  Satellite of Love – a poetry and spoken word event in Bristol

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