Mixing Genealogy and Poetry

A few weeks ago I decided to have a go at entering some poems in a competition run as part of my towns annual Arts Festival. This year they decided to have a theme of WWI, you could write about any side of it, anything at all, as long as it was based around WWI. I wrote four in total but the main one I really focused on was an idea I had to look up the details of a soldier from the town I live in who had been killed in action. I found his service record, found his family in 1911 and looked into them and their lives and ultimately their sacrifice. He has no living relatives left in the town, his brother’s families moved away from the area, but perhaps one day someone related to him may come across this. I received an email this week to inform me that my poem had won 2nd prize – so I was really pleased with that!

Dear Mrs Sage


On Alma Terrace that morning,

The mist hung low,

A dreary blanket thick over the town.

Reddened leaves had begun to drop,

Littering the lanes,

Like bodies on the battlefield.

Emily grasped the telegram,

In trembling hands – alone.

Her husband, bacon briner Ben,

Had passed before war began.

Spared from that moment, the shattering blow.

Three sons attested – so proud.

Which one? Fred? Reggie? Little Frank?

Heart heavy as a mortar shell,

It is her turn to go ‘over the top’

“Dear Mrs Sage, we regret to inform you…”

Knees weak, she crumpled, beaten, surrendered,

“Gunner Francis Victor Sage was killed in action…”

On a September day, on foreign soil,

Far from home, buried and lost.

The neighbours came, summoned by her cries,

A warm blanket, brandy, attempts at soothing words,

Cut in like barbed wire, as the sobs tore through.

Once proud she had waved him off,

On the platform, kissed his cheek – bright with youth,

Now battered, sunken and left to rot,

Her pride a bitter gall.

A year on two sons returned, a hollow victory.

At St. Mary’s – “F V Sage” was carved in stone,

There to remind us of King and Country,

And how a mother lost her boy,

Somewhere in a field in Poperinge.


(This poem was written about a young soldier from Calne, Gunner Francis Victor Sage, Royal Garrison Artillery, killed in action on 19th Sept 1917 in Belgium. Francis was the son of Benjamin & Emily Ann Sage who lived at 10 Alma Terrace. Benjamin worked at Harris’s as a Bacon Briner but died in 1914 before war was declared. According to Francis’s service record, the Army tried to send Emily his memorial plaque in February 1921 and it was returned address unknown, however Emily was still living at 10 Alma Terrace. With the help of local policeman Inspector Hillier, Emily eventually received his plaque about a month later. Emily’s other two sons Frederick Augustus (9th Worcester Regt) and Reginald George (7th North Stafford Regt) survived the war and Emily herself died in 1940 aged 82.)

17 thoughts on “Mixing Genealogy and Poetry

  1. Congratulations! I am not surprised you won a prize—this is really moving. The imagery of the leaves falling like bodies on the battlefield is very powerful.

    • Thanks Amy. I was surprised to have come second – I was starting to think I hadn’t come anywhere when I got the email. The first year I ever entered I came third, the second year – nothing, the year after that they didn’t include the poetry competition, so maybe next year I’ll come first! 🙂

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