City poets’ project shines a light on untold war stories

HARROWING new stories of soldiers from Portsmouth who gave their all defending the nation during the First World War have been revealed.

Tales of boy soldiers, poets, and greengrocers have been uncovered by Portsmouth Poetry as part of a year-long project by the group.

Members of the poetry group researched hundreds of men from Portsmouth who participated in the Western Front for their 2017 Passchendaele Project.

Now a select few to be investigated have had their tales published on a special memorial website.

Chairman of Portsmouth Poetry Josh Brown said he was proud of the project’s results. Mr Brown – whose grandfather served in Passchendaele, near Ypres, Belgium – said: ‘It has been very humbling and very moving.

‘I am happy to admit there have been occasions where I have almost been moved to tears. Some of the stories are really harrowing and inspiring.’

Funded by a £10,000 award from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the research looked initially at 400 men before narrowing this to 20 individuals.

From this, 12 biographies were chosen of men who served at different times during the bloody battle and had links to Portsmouth.

Among them was the tale of Private John White. He was just 21 when he was killed on the opening day of Passchendaele at Pilckem Ridge.

Serving as a stretcher bearer with the Royal Army Medical Corps, he was charged with retrieving and tending to wounded soldiers in the battlefield, often under fire from the enemy.

An accomplished musician who lived in Portsmouth, he took his clarinet to war with him. His body was never recovered and the Army Graves Service was never able to trace his remains.

‘We want to make sure people don’t forget about any of these stories,’ added Josh.

The initiative, backed by the Pompey Pals Project, in now working with pupils at the Admiral Lord Nelson School with war-inspired poetry.

To read the stories, see portsmouthpoetry.co.uk

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