Three Stoke-on-Trent pupils’ poignant memorial poetry has won them a helicopter flight organised by Staffordshire businessman James Leavesley.
Winner Raif Clarke and runners-up Emma Yates and Alex Whitehead composed their poems after visiting the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) in Alrewas along with 13 fellow students from Endon High School. It was only once they were in the Arboretum that they learned of the prize on offer – a 20-minute flight with an instructor pilot.
Mr Leavesley, Group Director of the privately owned Leavesley Group of Companies, came up with the idea of his thrilling prize to encourage more pupils to visit the memorials and be inspired by them.
He is already planning to provide another helicopter trip for a similar competition next year.
“I am passionate about the National Memorial Arboretum, which I can see from my office window,” he said.
“It’s a goal of mine that every child in Staffordshire visits the Arboretum at least once in their school career.”
Mr Leavesley added: “I was absolutely delighted to know that the students gained so much from their visit, and that they will be sharing their experiences with other pupils through their poems and their photographs.
"The memorials are an integral part of both our history and our present and our young people need to feel part of and be proud of the stories they tell.”
Teacher Claire Brown presented the prize to the deserving winners at a school assembly.
She described the poems as “genuinely wonderful,” and said that those who made the visit were “inspired by the experience.”
The theme of the day for the optional visit was “Respect” – a theme that shines through each of the winning poems.
Raif makes starkly simple use of heart-felt words to reflect the fears and pain for a loved one in mortal peril. In Back Home, he begins:
“I don’t know what you go through,
I couldn’t imagine it but even if I could
I would choose not to.”
For a moment, hope soars...before faltering once more.
“You walked into the eye of the thunderstorm with the grit and determination in your face
That told me you would come home.
I have not seen that face in a long time and my hope slowly dies with the
Brave men who serve,
But I pray you will not.”
Emma’s poetry paints a piercing, vividly drawn picture of courage and sacrifice in war. She writes:
“Upon a shaken ground
Lies a shadowy eve of black and grey
Not a morsel of blue sky
Nor a sunset of red.
Beaten up rifles and battered bayonets
Lie beneath the ground where trampled bodies
Live as proof of the highest courage.”
And Alex Whitehead’s hauntingly beautiful poem of remembrance opens with:
“Soldiers marching half asleep,
With the seat of their palms gripping
A memory to keep.”
The trio’s successes come in the wake of other accolades won for their school last year when Endon High School entered the In Remembrance Competition run by the National Memorial Arboretum and Best Kept Village. Many Endon High pupils were successful in the competition, which was won by a Year 7 boy.
The National Memorial Arboretum’s memorials remember those who have served in many different ways including in the military, civil services, charities and overseas organisations.