Text of the George Lansbury Memorial Lecture, given on 16 November 2016 at Queen Mary University, London.
A villanelle about the Aberfan coal mining disaster, in which 144 people, including 116 school children, died when a coal mining waste tip collapsed. There was a lot of anger at the National Coal Board for its neglect of safety, and at the inquest, one father insisted, "I want it recorded – "Buried alive by the National Coal Board." That is what I want to see on the record. That is the feeling of those present. Those are the words we want to go on the certificate."
The miner insisted the coroner record
The Pantglas School building a homicide scene
They were buried alive by the National Coal Board
A guided tour round Minnie Lansbury's Bow, east London.
If you would like to arrange for me to take you on this guided walk, please email me.
Thanks to Andrew Gellert and Jen Blane for the photos.
We are not heroes, not the valiant sort
We let them take us, fell in to survive
The heroes are the ones who stood and fought
Our bodies packed together frail support
The nudging of her foot kept me alive
But we're not heroes, not the valiant sort
Our best fought underground, our martyrs caught
Resistance from the shadows, fire and strive
The heroes are the ones who stayed and fought
Once the Military Service Act come into force in 1916, men aged 18-41 had to apply to a Military Tribunal if they believed that they had a reason not to be drafted. The majority had health, work or family reasons, but 2% were Conscientious Objectors (COs): men who objected to military service because they objected to war.
From its declaration of war in 1914, Britain’s ruling class appealed to patriotism to boost its support and its military recruitment. By 1916 both were flagging. On the pages of socialist newspaper The Herald, poets used verse to question both nationalism and the war’s aims. When the government asked men to fight for King and Country, was it shielding its true motives?
Hopeless force the Dardanelles
Shells, death knells and straits to hell
Terra firma, firmer terror
History puts it down to error
Wounded yet still predatory
Terrorise for territory
Ground of flesh and rocks from bones
Lay out wire for telephones
Cable London, cross terrain
Thousands dead, a few yards gained
Must despatch a good news story
Inched a bit more territory
Photos, clips and fanzine bits from the decade where punk without music was known as ranting poetry. Janine took to the stage as The Big J and produced fanzine Blaze!