A war in words: Sharp Street by Robert J Bell

Many times in the past, I have combined my love of cycling with tracing some remarkable routes and events that have changed the course of history, for better or worse.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 2007, one such ride took me around the battlefields and war cemeteries of Flanders and the Somme, the scene of many devastating battles during WWI, and witness to a level of carnage that had never before been seen in time of war. I took with me the names and locations of the fallen relatives of several friends and colleagues, giving me the opportunity to pay them my respects and to read, graveside, some of the most significant verses written by war poets such as John McCrae, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon and others.


P.E.Stubbs, former pupil of Kimbolton School, buried at Thiepval.

In the background, I had been aware of the misfortunes suffered by the Pals Battalions, but it was six years later that I picked up Sharp Street by Robert J Bell and discovered in detail the massive impact suffered by local communities. Rob cannot be compared to the war poets mentioned above. He has penned his verses in the 21st century, as a poet historian, with the benefit of hindsight and extensive research, but he found his inspiration in the faded, forgotten monument to the 140 fallen in one street alone in Hull:  Sharp Street. sharpstreetWe discover that whole communities were torn apart because whole battalions had been formed by ‘pals’ and neighbours from the same communities, and sometimes from the same street, and when calamity struck on the battlefield, hundreds could be killed, leaving as many widowed mothers and wives, and many more fatherless children back at home. The consequences were horrendous……..so horrendous, in fact, that the methods of recruitment had to be radically altered during the remaining years of the war.

Rob’s collection of poems is no ordinary collection. He uses his sources intelligently to provide a narrative of the war, through the eyes and experiences of the many brave soldiers  from Hull who had suffered and died. But, of course, this was not unique to Hull…….this was repeated across the country, leaving whole neighbourhoods decimated and in mourning.


Thiepval, memorial to some 70,000 fallen soldiers

If I were to pick out just one page of the book that stopped me in my tracks, it might not win the author any accolades for originality, but the “First Postcard Home” imaginatively conveys the utter fear and desolation of a young boy soldier, stuck for words and lacking the skill to write anything of length, as he awaits the moment when he has to ‘go over the top’ with his comrades:

My Dearest Lily,



And as I read “An end is beginning”, words from T S Eliot’s Fourth Quartet “Little Gidding” came to mind: What we call the beginning is often the end, And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from……….And the end of all our exploring, Will be to arrive where we started, And know the place for the first time.

How many of those young soldiers, returning home battle-weary and shell-shocked, never expecting to see home again, struggled to recognize the once familiar contours of the place where they had grown up? The likelihood of surviving trench warfare was once summed up succinctly by a 93 year old veteran when he said: “My chances of surviving another week, at the age of 93, are infinitely greater than when I was 19 and in the trenches”.

Click here to buy your copy of Sharp Street by Robert J. Bell.


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on April 9, 2013, in Book reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. It’s so easy to forget the past. Thanks for the reminder. It brought tears to my eyes.

  2. My grandfather was there, Frank, and also wrote moving daily letters to his mother and a diary, which we have in the family. I too have ridden around there, particularly on the Belgian side. The Flanders Fields Museum in the Cloth Hall in Ypres is particularly recommended.

    • I agree, Richard, the Cloth Hall museum is a very moving and eloquent reminder of the horrors of WW1, but I would love to go back to see it after its recent refurbishment (in readiness for the big 2014 anniversary).

  3. A Hull Pal

    A look captured for ever, a look of a postman, baker, printer, son, husband

    What thoughts then as his eyes look out 96 years ago?

    Only silence now broken with the gentle sound of bird song as I look and wonder

    It came in an instant with brown mud and spurting blood

    Now just a ploughed field or grassy rise

    A cramped terrace off Newland Avenue, the telegram, the pain

    The back room then a shrine now a new generation tweet and Facebook

    A name carved for ever

    K A Meadows 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Matildas Musings

A blog written by Matilda - the "old lady" classic tandem - and her Musings about her adventures, trials and tribulations with the "old git" and Chief Pilot, aka Colin and the "old gal" and Chief Stoker (as well as Chief Engineer) aka Diane.

Fit Recovery

Stay Clean Get Fit

Northern Walker

Lightweight backpacking, hillwalking and bicycle touring adventures in Northern England and Scotland

Looking For 42

Traveling the world looking for the meaning for life (and whatever else I might find along the way)

Off The Beaten Path

All contents ©2018 Compass Cycles.

Bike 5

Five miles or less? Bikes are best!


KITESURFING, CYCLING, SUP: ramblings, idiocy and not much more

Cycling Dutch Girl

the only certainty is change


On a bicycle from coast to coast across the USA

Self Propelled

Self propelled adventures through life; blogging on cycling, touring, micro-adventures, general shenanigans, and environmental news


Cycling across Europe, Cornwall to Munich

The Vicious Cycle

A man searches for meaning...in between leg shavings

2 l o v e c y c l i n g

It's about cycling ... and other travels

There And Back Again

Life at 15 miles per hour

As Easy As Riding A Bike

Well it should be, shouldn't it?

Bike Around Britain

Blog on cycling around the coast of Britain

David Noble's Blog

Life, Loves and Living


The Weston Front - the destination of a road less travelled...

The Innocent Bikestander

It can be better

Bike, Banjo & Baby

They go together so well

Something for Kiki and the Pok

the adventures of Christopher Yardin - by plane, bike, through a lens, or the eyes of a child


Cycling Blog

Richard Tulloch's LIFE ON THE ROAD

Travel adventures on wheels and legs


................."Cherry picking the nicest places in the world to cycle"

Gippsland Granny

Musings from Metung

Serendipities of life

Taking the road less travelled

I Do Not Despair

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. ~H.G. Wells

Tom’s Bike Trip

Adventures and experiments in two-wheeled travel

All Seasons Cyclist

Real World Product Reviews For Avid Cyclists

machacas on wheels

Taking the road less travelled

%d bloggers like this: