Although ‘Earnshaw and Bailey’ sounds like a crime-fighting duo, it is, in fact, the surnames of two of our Touchstones Creative Writing Group members. On 7th March 2018, Eileen Earnshaw and Jennie Bailey performed a poem that they wrote for KYP’s Ambition for Ageing ‘Standing Together’ event. This had a focus on the First World War where speakers were invited to talk about some of the little-known experiences of the community and those who fought or laboured. From Southern Voices talk on the perspectives of colonised people, the experience of Abdul Jabbar a Muslim veteran who served in the 1980s and 1990s, Steve Butterworth introducing veterans’ work in the community, and Major Dr Paul Knight discussing histories of the Indian army in WW1, there was much to learn. Eileen and Jennie were commissioned to write a poem about women’s contribution to the war. (Jennie has blogged about the experience of researching this here.) On International Women’s Day it seems apt that we are republishing the poem here:
A Woman’s War – Eileen Earnshaw & Jennie Bailey
Each day, we fight this intimate war.
Our hair cut short,
our children in others care.
Each day, we read the list of loss,
names known of men and boys.
Still, faith is constant. Re-enforced
in factories and shops.
Each bobbin wound, each woven thread,
Each length of cloth, each twelve-hour day.
This hurt will soon be over.
Each working hour it’s closer.
At night, we touch his coat,
Still there by the door,
His chair, his pipe, his book,
We leave them there,
as he left them there.
This too a sign of faith.
And we are all the women
who fight in this bloody war.
Weavers with pricked fingers
whose blood ends up in battle.
The clothes we make go to the front:
a piece of me with you.
And the suffragist, the objector,
no coward is she for peace.
She sees the waste of all the lives
holds banners all year long:
‘Equality not brutality’.
See her in winter, in the snowfall:
the flutter of cold white feathers.
And all those lads who fell
and those who made it home.
Who made the munitions? Yes,
this is a lass’s war.
The Canary Girls, their make-up
is jaundice from TNT
from the factory,
but they carry on,
their work a sign of faith.
Faith that’d it all be soon over,
by Christmas became the lie.
Every night they still touch his coat
pop a snook of baccy on the side.
The weavers make the khaki clothes
for the daddies who never came home.
Lovers wept over, but the day comes closer
when one day there’ll be no war.
And here among the looms and frames,
his reality becomes a picture
without essence, the features familiar.
We drag back the memory:
how he was, what he did,
how he could do anything. Everything.
How his shoulders filled the doorway,
darkened the room
as the laughter in his eyes
brightened our world.
The memory of his body,
more real than any image.
Our faith more solid
than a report of death.
The way was clear,
as we weave we,
work, work away the anger.
Work, work away the hurt.
Work, work away the fear.
Work to bring him home.
Touchstones Creative Writing Group has received funding from KYP for our work in Rochdale, this allows us to continue to provide high-quality creative writing sessions for the community and a space to connect with other writers.