The Newton Poppy
Updated: Nov 29
A project between Newton Community Association, Andrew Dobb, The local Community and supported by Greater Creative
On 18th October 2022 a dozen or so Newton community members attended a workshop with Andy Dobb to take part in a creative writing workshop. The aim (other than to have some fellowship and fun) was to look at the local war records and, collectively, write a poem titled The Newton Poppy.
"The Newton Poppy was to be a fresh act of remembrance. Newtonians of 2022 looked through the local war records to identify stories, characters, events that typified or represented not only the impact of war on the village, but something of the village’s character as well.
Some of the language or references may feel a little strange or challenging to us today or feel humorous at a time when we’re trying to reflect in solemn gratitude. But these moments are representative of a time and place surviving war and influenced by values and beliefs sometimes different to our own.
So as you read these words - whether it be references to the ‘daft buggers’ or the fundraising that took place through a ‘Minstrel Show’ (a form of Vaudeville Theatre where white performers would don ‘black face’ and perform with reliance on racial stereotypes, rightly now recognised as offensive and demeaning to people of colour) or references to people/ names that might relate to people living today - we ask your permission to represent the history of the village, to remember those who lived, died or survived through the wars, in truth and humility.
Recognising our limitations. Recognising our potential to learn and grow. Recognising that life is a rich tapestry of lament and laughter, of recklessness and renewal.
The famous poem In Flanders’s Field by John McCrae - from where the symbol of the poppy derives - talks about the rows of graves marking the place of those who have given their lives. This act of remembrance, The Newton Poppy marks the place where many of those lives started, where some returned and where others never left. To those who gave so much for their country - we remember you today and always." Words from Andy Dobb Playwright/ Musician/ Workshop Leader @tawnybeard
Feedback from participants at the workshop:
What did you like most about the workshop?
- Getting together
- Getting to know others from Newton, finding out about local history
- Very interactive, participants
- Everyone enjoyed the experience
- All of it – but a chance to meet like-minded people and create
- Informality, Humour where appropriate, Informative, Inclusive
- It was interactive and humorous
- Trying Poetry
- Community Involvement
- Andy Dobb made it fun. Varied activities to warm up
Here is the poem in full:
The Newton Poppy (An Act of Remembrance) by The Community of Newton, in collaboration with Andy Dobb - (October 2022)
From Littlemoor Cottages to the Norwegian Coast,
Memories of Athens from the Sherwood Street boys.
Or Old Blackwell to Dunkirk, Tibshelf to the Canadian Seas Journeys across the globe,
Sights seen, yet stories untold.
Those who were Newton born and bred,
Overseas to war; Then dead. No closure for the nearest and dearest,
No vigil, no deathbed
Newton Men First Felled at the Battle of Loos,
Now pronounced ‘Loss’. For they have no known grave
No witnesses for the brave.
Some were valiant miners Exchanging one type of hell for another, Lived with death, Knew his breath, Faced the danger of gas In the seam...
On the battlefield Rolling clouds of green Choking out the screams. ‘Gassed in France’, read the Vicar’s footnote to his life, The pen laid to rest between the pages of the register.
They have Each other
Even in Death
They are not alone
Gravestones Tablets where their heads are lay,
Bleached white by time. Once crisp letters, now rounded, eroded
A Simple cross, To mark To show
‘Row on row’
Once a barren land, now Verdant expanse. A foreign country is where they rest
Strangers stand, solemn
Mourning their passing...
Whispering words they say: “I’m sorry I did not know you...
But... Thank you”
Comfort Fund letters Love and best wishes, dispatches To arm frontline morale. Love and ‘don’t forget us’ sent in reply
Letter ‘44 Thinking of home Grateful that others are Thinking of us It’s Christmas but I’m ‘browned off’
Life here is far from Pleasant
Letter ’45 ‘I myself Have been proud to tell my service friends
About my local ‘Comfort Fund’ So few of them Have even heard of such in their hometowns'
In Newton Fundraising Minstrels Get black down pit, Come home Get clean To apply Black grease paint for the show
Everyone is changed by conflict
Letter ‘Unknown’ ‘I’m sorry Mum, But I’m just not that person anymore’
Bomb! Bomb! Run and hide! North Street could be blown a mile wide!
‘Run?’ They ask? ‘Hide’? Nah - I’m one of the Daft Buggers...
The frontline starts to make itself known,
In the civil parish of Blackwell.
The names - Walter, Harold, Herbert, Hilda, Arthur and Maud
Different from the names of today A century away.
Young man, Albert
Trained as a pony driver.
Then To Die in the war Never found
Edwin and Joyce, married for 3 months A daughter born, Iris The same year her Dad died, a year after her parents married.
Wedding days so full of hope Looking forward - to the years to be shared together,
Of parenthood, Growing older, So many years. Lost Now life, soaked in grief Broken dreams and heartbreak anniversaries
Victory! End of war in Europe!
Forgotten! Those still in conflict
In the Far East...
A father, Ashamed to have been to war.
In fact, He might have killed someone
Medals worn down From years in the ground Boys aged by cordite, mute, no sound. Guns behind glass Once gripped By a Dead man’s hand ‘God Save the King’ rings out from the colliery band
And ‘In Flanders Fields’ Poppies blew. Each year; the act of remembrance, we’re called to renew.
We’ve marked our place, amongst the rows, Picked up the torch, and made it known, That we break not faith, nor love, nor hope. For they too ‘Loved and were loved’.
So, strangers Stand, solemn Mourn their passing... And whisper these words today.
“We’re sorry we did not know you...
But... we thank you, everyday.”
With reference to ‘In Flanders Fields’ by John McCrae. With reference to Historical Records of Newton (courtesy of T.Mellor) The Newton Poppy (An Act of Remembrance) by The Community of Newton, in collaboration with Andy Dobb - (October 2022)
After the workshop, Greater Creative commissioned local parish artist Stef Coley to create a collage for the backdrop of the poem.
The poem is on exhibition throughout November in the window of Newton Community Centre. Stood beside it is chair of Newton Community Association, member of Greater Creative Working Party and local history buff Tony Mellors ‘Newton Community Association are delighted to partner Greater Creative in such a project’.
The poem will be read live by Andrew Dobb on Friday 11th November at the Unity Concert Band’s Poppy Prom (A reading by Andrew can be heard below).
More local history is available on two blogs: http://ww1blackwellparish.blogspot.com/
The project was funded by The National Lottery Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Fund and Creative Civic Change.