Winners of the University of Stirling’s national creative writing competition, commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the First World War Battle of Gallipoli, have been announced and were awarded certificates at a special ceremony at Holyrood today.
‘Creating Gallipoli. Connecting Scotland’s diverse communities through creative writing’ was launched as part a joint campaign with the Scottish Government Commemorations Panel to remember the Battle. The creative writing competition coincided with 100 years from the day the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division arrived in Gallipoli, having conducted their training in the City. Secondary school pupils across Scotland were encouraged to submit a poem or short story that recreated a scene from the Gallipoli campaign.
The judging panel comprised acclaimed poet Professor Kathleen Jamie, military historian, Trevor Royle, and Professor Holger Nehring, Head of History and Politics at the University of Stirling.
The winner for best short story was Iseabail Duncan from Banchory Academy for ‘Dear Father.’
Iseabail Duncan, said: “I am incredibly delighted to have had my story chosen as the winner of Creating Gallipolli 2015. I found it fascinating to be able to look back in time, past the statistics, to see how war affects each person as an individual.”
Adam Duncan from Shawlands Academy won best poem for ‘Slaughter at Gallipoli’.
Adam Duncan said: “Before the competition, I did not know about Gallipoli but it was so interesting and sad and I found it fascinating. Some things just amazed me like when we picked up bags full of books to feel how heavy a soldier’s kit was. I really enjoyed writing the poem and trying to include all the things we had been taught. I never expected to win but feel honoured that my poem was considered good enough to be part of the centenary celebrations and to remember all the men who lost their lives in the campaign.”
Professor Holger Nehring, Head of History and Politics at the University of Stirling, said:
“Congratulations to the winners for their excellent short story and poem. The University was honoured to be involved in organising the commemorative campaign together with the Scottish Government, and it was truly moving to read how Scottish pupils today brought the suffering and experiences of both British and Turkish soldiers to life.”
“The competition attracted more than 300 entries from 25 secondary schools all over Scotland. It helped to raise awareness in schools of the impact of the First World War, which probably claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Scots and left many more injured or disabled.”
Ms Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, presented the winners with certificates and a book voucher at a special ceremony at Holyrood.
Ms Hyslop said:
“The ‘Creating Gallipoli’ Creative Writing Competition provided pupils with an opportunity to consider how troops must have felt when they arrived in Gallipoli one hundred years ago. Expressing those feelings as a poem or short story will have added to their understanding of the horrors of that particular campaign and of war in general.
“The winning entries are extremely moving and excellent pieces of writing and I have no doubt that the winners, and all those who took part, will have gained a greater understanding of the sacrifices made by so many. I was very impressed and affected by the winners writing.
“This, and future generations, should be aware of the enormous impact that the First World War had and how that is still being felt today. I congratulate the University of Stirling and the many entrants for the success of this competition.”
Best short story by Iseabail Duncan from Banchory Academy – ‘Dear Father’
It’s raining. We go all the way to bloody Turkey and it rains. Typical.
Sorry. That was probably blasphemous. The ink is smudging anyway; in the unlikely event of somebody attempting to read this, they won’t be able to. The onslaught stopped a few hours ago and we were told to catch forty-winks, write a letter before the gunfire opens up again. Well. Too freezing to sleep, raining like Noah’s bloody Ark, and I’ve nobody to write to, do I? I want my real father, but we’ve been torn apart. So you’ll have to do.
The gunfire’s peppered my ability to contemplate internally, and I’ve paper in my hands. So this is my sort of letter. And it’s to you, God, because it’s all your bloody fault.
Look, I was a good kid. Went to kirk every Sunday, said grace before meals, the lot – I believed in you, right? Even in this bloody hellhole, when I’m heaving mess tins and rusty water buckets, dodging fire, I pray. Beg. Implore. Let this stop. Deliver us: let Death cease to whirl bullet scythes in beauteous wastelands. Let feet no longer chew the famished soil. Let us detach our fragmented selves from incarceration, from inevitable ellipsism; narrow existence, living hell. I could’ve been a poet. The high achiever of the school-down-the-road; before the bloody war started, Ma said I could go to the Grammar.
Poetry. Battle’s not poetic, I told myself as I signed my name. Marched off, became another cog in this suicidal time bomb. I remember pushing individuality from my head, breaking away from clinging ambition. For the kingdom. The power; the glory.
Poetry’s not going to win this war.
Still – simple soldier minds, eh? Thick as bricks, conforming puppets, that’s all us rookies are. I’ve gone straight from the one who knew everything to one of many with nothing – I don’t even know which day it is any more. Each dawn registers, clockwork, in my head, horrors entrenched in regime. Humanity sputtered out at Eceabat, the town before these trenches. Months ago, when heat still seared the parched land. Suffocating; locals gawping, faces twisted with resent. It’s not just soldier lives destroyed. Someone else’s bloody battle on your doorstep can’t be fun.
Funnily enough, however, I’m more than a senseless doll. Thoughts hide somewhere in my brain, regretting a childhood of obedience, divine fealty; this war, this so-called ‘honour’, is stealing my soul. My fidelity. How is that fair? Let my past, my parents, faith and ambition, live on. God. Why won’t you? Why can’t you?
Father. The one I used to know. Since you’ve started playing your game of lives by callous rules, faith deserts me. I still want to be rescued, but in which way, I cannot even pretend to know.
Terror doesn’t stop, nor the game. Others lose. Choke on their own blood, watch hope and memories soak into dust at shattered feet. Impersonal for you, perhaps, with ‘all-seeing’ eyes and the ability to remain indifferent as bullets bite skin; impersonal for most of us, actually. Bloody selfish, humans are.
But let me tell you something, Father Almighty. When hands shake from recoil, when you’re burying best friends. As you scrape blood off dead mens’ boots, clean festering wounds, scratch lice, crave comfort, cry. You know the other side is doing the same. And suddenly Turkish snipers aren’t the evil ones.
This letter. Rambling. The true effect of war? No food, disease. Flies. So many flies, even in the rain, always there. Like the drilling of disengaging minds. The guns are starting again. I can hear the shrieks of bullet and bomb.
Faith breaks like brittle bones – but there’s no time left to question it.
So let’s start this last battle like I’ve ended all my others.
Our Father who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
I wonder how one delivers oneself.
For thine is the kingdom
And the power
And the glory,
Father. With your untouchable, unscarred, infinity.
There’s a lot of time to think while you’re waiting to die.
Infinities, eternities. Forever.
I think I’ve given you enough.
Your Unknown Soldier.
Best Poem by Adam Duncan from Shawlands Academy – ‘Slaughter at Gallipoli’
A sea of blood and a land of the dead
Soldiers fuelled by bravery and by fear
Water too deep, hills too high, kit too heavy
And night too dark.
Guns crackling, bullets bouncing, water splashing
For there was slaughter at Gallipoli
Progressing with only a trail of corpses behind
1915 to 16, with only dead between.
These were lions led by donkeys.
Metal clanging, shrapnel flying, blood flowing
For there was slaughter at Gallipoli
One man’s hero is another’s villain
One man’s killer is another’s saviour.
Six VCs before breakfast, death after lunch, confusion after tea –
And sorrow after all.
Pulling the weight of their woe like rowing boats tugged by steam boats.
Gallipoli, a melancholy patch of land.
Many countries, and very many dead –
The dead falling faster than tears falling to the ground.
So many lives wasted in such a terrible campaign – and a worse war.
Lovers. Fathers. Brothers. Sons. All are dead,
For there was slaughter at Gallipoli.
Flies swarming around rotting corpses, the food, the living
The old and the young. All were victims at Gallipoli.
Relationships, friendships and families destroyed by the bloodshed.
Brave men dead on the wire like flies on a web.
To drown, to be shot, to die of disease – not a choice someone should have to make.
Never has it occurred before, but in the storm of battle
What other choices were there?
It was fear and hope that got them to carry on,
Hope of seeing their loved ones again,
Fear that they would not.
Hope that they would survive,
Fear that it might not be the case.
Beaches stained with the gore of battle,
Barbed wire hidden like the fear the soldier had to hide.
A failed plan and a doomed river.
Walls of flies and streams of blood.
Oh yes! There was slaughter at Gallipoli.