Ghosts of War: Armistice Day poetry

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The National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle runs a series of workshops in partnership with the Scottish Poetry Library entitled Ghosts of War: Armistice Day Poetry.

Ghosts of War Poetry

On offer for a successful number of years, the workshop takes on a particular significance this year with the centenary of the start of the First World War. More schools than ever are studying the topic and the cross curricular aspects of the workshop help to facilitate an emotional and personal connection with the act of remembrance.

Ken Cockburn, who leads the sessions with Lorna Irvine, explains:

“In Ghosts of War, pupils learn – and write – about the First Word War in different ways. Exploring the War Memorial is always fascinating, with its rich array of words and imagery; the objects in the handling session make the past present again; and in the War Museum they discover personal stories about some of the individuals involved. When they come to write their poems they have more than enough content, and the form I ask them to write with – writing in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person – is both simple and flexible enough for them to write at their own level with confidence.”

Ghosts of War Poetry

A daunting task at first, pupils are soon inspired by the museum collections and the human stories behind them to create their work.

“My class really enjoyed working with Ken and Lorna.  At the beginning, a member of the class said to me that they couldn’t write poetry – by the end of it, they were so enthusiastic that they shared their poem with the class” – Mr Leonard, Victoria Primary

Ghosts of War will run again for schools next October and November at the National War Museum. For school bookings or enquiries please contact

With thanks to Victoria Primary School for providing images and excerpts of their work.

Ghosts of War Poetry

You are the death penny of Joseph Thomson Melville
You are made from bronze, dark gold in colour, heavy, a comfort.
You saw the reaction of Joseph’s family.
Did you help?
His name was Private Henry Hubbard,
His leg was poisoned and he caught jaundice
He sent humorous post-cards to his family to say
it’s OK.


In the war memorial we saw
Colourful windows with soldiers firing guns, shells and bombs,
The four season windows,
The humble beasts in bronze and stone and cloth,
The words god, evil, gloria and eagle’s wings
In the frieze a piper, an engineer, a nurse and a rifleman,
The names in the books of remembrance
Grey Zeppelins bombing Edinburgh
Four black angels praying for the dead


You are a shilling that’s very gold and when we look you’re very old,
You’re made of steel and very hard metal,
On you there are pictures of a lion, a dolphin, an eagle and a trident.
You saw people upset and crying,
You heard the sound of bullets and Zeppelins.
Where would soldiers keep you?
What if they lost you?


W D Hutchison was a nurse,
She had a grey dress on under her apron
and a first aid badge on the Red Cross
was faded away to pink.

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