Read the winners of the CSO "Off to War" Writing Competition

To commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, the Catholic Schools Office held a writing competition inviting primary and secondary students to reflect on what it means to go ‘Off to War’. Read the winning entries here.

The winning writers were:

Stage 2 (Years 3 and 4)

Sienna Isaac of St Benedict’s PS, Edgeworth

Stage 3 (Years 5 and 6)

Apryl Hamall of St Therese’s PS, New Lambton

Stage 4 (Years 7 and 8)

Liam Fairweather of St Peter’s, ASC, Maitland

Stage 5 (Years 9 and 10)

Olivia Stephenson of St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton.

You can read the entries by these students below.

Off to War by Olivia Stephenson (Stage 5)

I gave him your penknife, the one that your grandfather had given to you all those years ago when he left for India; I know you would have wanted him to have it. I gave him a new razor too, just like yours, fine bone handle and a proper steel blade. You mustn’t worry, it wasn’t much, and I had been keeping pennies in the tin above the pantry door for occasions like this. I wanted to give it to him for his birthday but now he won’t be here for it. Sissy and Alice will be real upset, you know how much they like birthdays.

I gave him the extra shirts from the cupboard, the ones made of thick cotton we know will keep him warm. I gave him some biscuits and a thick grey scarf I’d been knitting for Mama. And I gave him a hug to drive the very air out of him. He promised me he’d be careful; he’d do what the officers and the sergeants and the quartermasters told him. And he replied with a “Yes Mum” to everything I said, even when I wasn’t telling him what to do. We both smiled at that.

He promised to polish his teeth and keep his feet dry. He promised me he’d be safe and stay out of harm’s way. He promised he’d teach me some proper French words when he got back. Like some of those maids that work up at the manor.

That was only a month ago now, though it feels like a year. The house has got so very cold and the back gutter is starting to leak. The mould is growing in the kitchen again, near the stove like last winter, but I just don’t have the time to fix it.

Yesterday a man came to see me, which was strange; there don’t seem to be many men around the streets these days. All official looking he was with his cap and stripe down his trouser leg, and a moustache like a couple of hammers joined at the handle. He asked me my name and if I lived here.

Fancy that!

Then I knew something was wrong. He held a white envelope, and stared straight into my eyes with a distant look, said he was very sorry. I was about to talk but my mouth was suddenly dry. When I took the envelope, he touched his cap like a soldier, turned smartly on his heel, and left me alone in the doorway.

There was a typed letter inside the envelope, signed by a Captain Fraser, and it said that Billy was missing in action, presumed dead. What does that mean?

I haven’t let go of that envelope since yesterday.

And now you’ve both gone and winter is coming. Every part of my body aches from crying. My mind is a whirlwind of confusion and the night fills my mind with all the questions I know I may never find the answers to. The girls are doing alright, I think. They get their strength from you, you know. Without it, I don’t know where we’d be. But Sissy and Alice and me, we’ll be OK, please don’t you worry about us.

Sleep well my darling; I miss you so much. Look after our boy if he’s with you, and if he’s not lying there beside you, then promise me you will not stop searching until you find him.

Diary Entries of Henry Kingston by Liam Fairweather (Stage 4)

October 6

Finally respite!  For the past four days continuous nausea and vomiting, next time I will take the Lieutenant’s advice and have some ginger before and during the voyage hopefully that might help the sea sickness.

We arrived here in Egypt at 4 this morning, the relief to finally be off that boat is amazing although I still haven’t got my land legs back yet. It’s almost like I’m walking on jelly.

October 7

Finally getting closer to the action, anxiously waiting for my chance to help.  Shouldn’t be too long now till I get my chance.

October 14

Still waiting, lots of sight-seeing and idle time but not a lot of action.  Our troop went to see the Pyramids two days ago – they were inspiring.  To think that people built those thousands of years ago is mind-boggling.  How did they move the stones to start with?  There are lots of football games being played, lots of racing for money.  I have done alright at this but no-one will race me now.  I will have to wait for some new faces and a chance at winning some more spending money.

October 16

Robert Whitehouse better known as Blackie came racing toward me out of breath: “there’s a young bloke from your home town taking everyone’s money.  Whitey (aka Don Blackmore) said to come and get you as he is willing to bet a pound you can beat him.”

To my disbelief it wasn’t just any young bloke from my home town, it was my 16-year-old little brother William.  I couldn’t believe it, how could they allow him to come here?  He’s much too young.  William went on to tell me that he lied about his age and told Mum and Dad that he had gone spud picking interstate.  I told him that he needed to write Mum and Dad and tell them the truth.  For the record I’m still quicker than the little bugger and Whitey got his money.

October 20

Approached Lieutenant Thomas about William joining our troop, filling him in on the whole story and that I wanted to watch over him.  Lieutenant Thomas is passing this request on to Major Mays, minus the truth of William’s age.

October 24

Relieving news, confirmation of my request for William to join our troop has been received; he will join us on Monday.  The little bastard – as always it becomes about William, all my excitement and anxiety has turned to concern and worry for him.

October 27

Finally!  Packing for action.  We leave tonight at 10.  So many emotions at once, I’m excited, scared, happy, worried, proud and very apprehensive.

October 28

The Lieutenant got it wrong, ginger doesn’t help.

November 1

Wet and muddy!  Each time I slipped, twice the amount of mud would stick to my already drenched clothes, making every step harder with every slip.  We were finally in the trenches.

November 2

Thankfully Lieutenant Thomas has made William a Runner, at least I don’t have to worry about him much.

November 7

Excruciating agony, morphine – sleep.

November 10

In Army Hospital recovering from having some shrapnel removed from my left shoulder, should be back in the trenches in five days.

November 15

No sign of William, three days since he was last seen.

Off to War by Apryl Hamall (Stage 3)

Matthew woke to find his wife already up and out of bed. With a dim morning light filtering in through the half open curtain, everything looked so peaceful. Time stopped and Matthew felt like he finally had time to think about all the choices he had made over the last few days.

Is this really the right thing to do?  Will I really go off to war thinking I’ll come back? What if things go wrong and I never see my family again? What if I get scared? What will I do then? There’ll be no turning back.

When Edith came scampering into the room and started jumping on her Daddy, all the ‘what if’ thoughts suddenly drained away, like someone pulling the plug in a bath. Edith stopped jumping when Arthur walked in and casually leaned up against the door frame.

“Morning Dad,” said Arthur. “Mum says breakfast is ready.  After that she wants you to help me finish building my wooden aeroplane, like you said you would.”

“Yes, of course, of course!” replied Matthew, “straight after breakfast son, just like I said I would … just like I said I would…” Matthew trailed off, looking into the distance, seeing something that neither of the children could see. He was thinking about their future, and how much hope his children had in him. And in that moment, Matthew decided, he would do it, he would go off to war, for them, and for the sake of what they could become.

“Took you a while to get out of bed, didn’t it honey, even for a Saturday!” Mary said to Matthew as she walked across from the kitchen sink to give him a peck on the cheek.

Matthew sat down and started tucking into a bowl of porridge.

“I just needed some time to think, Luv,” Matthew answered with a gentle smile.

An awkward silence settled over the household, and Mary took that time to reflect on her brave warrior.

Oh, I’m so scared. Please don’t go away. We need you, I need you. My brave Matthew, I love you so much and I am so proud of you. Even if something does happen, I will never forget you.

Matthew looked at his wife with kind and sparkling eyes and she knew she would miss him dearly.

No, it’s for the best, He WILL go and fight, but he WILL come back to us. He will. I know he will…

Two weeks later, Matthew found himself fully dressed in his Australian Imperial Forces uniform, heading off to the train station with Edith and Arthur, walking hand in hand, to catch the first train starting his journey to the troop ship that would eventually land him in Gallipoli.

“Daddy? When will you come back?” Edith asked anxiously.

“I don’t know, sweetie, but I will be back.”

“Yes Daddy," said Edith.

Then Matthew turned to face both children.

“I love you two, stay safe and be good.  I’ll be back before you know it.”

He hugged them tightly and thought of Mary, back at the house, and hoped she would be alright while he was gone. He missed her already even though he had just said goodbye at the house a few minutes ago.

The train whistle sounded and Matthew boarded, waving goodbye to his children, thinking that he couldn’t love his family more. As the train pulled away from the station, Matthew thought of his family and the country he was fighting for, and was glad to know that he was helping to protect them.

Allie Jones’ War by Sienna Isaac (Stage 2)

It was September 1914 when we first saw the poster.  As we walked home from church we saw a large crowd gathered around the pub entrance.  I was curious to see what they were looking at and barged through the people.  I could hear my Ma behind me calling, “Allie, Allie”, but I kept going.

As I stared at the poster with the words, “We Want You at the Front”, written in bold letters, I could feel my father’s firm hand grip my shoulder.  At that moment I knew he would enlist in the war.

As a souvenir I cut a lock of my long, wavy red hair and gave it to my father in a tobacco tin.  He put it in his pocket, wiped the tears from my face and was gone, on his way to Egypt.  That Christmas was the worst Christmas I had ever had.  The house felt so empty without him.

In early 1915 we got a letter from my father.  My big brother Jamie tore through the house and thrust it at my mother.  My father said he had seen three sandstorms while he was training and that he was heading in to fight in Turkey very soon.  All of a sudden I felt worried about so many things.  Questions rushed through my head.  Will my mother be able to feed us?  Will my father survive?  Will this war go on forever?

On a cold May morning I was walking to school when I saw my best friend Lucy.  She was crying; her eyes were red and her cheeks were wet.  She told me her father had been shot and killed in a place called Gallipoli.  I felt every muscle in my body go tense, as I knew my father had been sent there too.

In August we received another letter from my father.  He described the horror of the trenches and how many of his friends had died on the beach at Gallipoli.  He said he missed us more than anything and longed to be home again.

Another letter came soon after.  In this letter he told us that he and his battalion were being sent to France to fight the Germans on the Western Front.  He also mentioned that he had picked up a special gift on the beach for Ma, Jamie and me.

As 1916 dragged on and on the letters stopped coming.  All anyone wanted to talk about was the Allies being killed and how many Germans they were killing.  A great rush of stress ran down my back.  That night my Ma told Jamie and me that she had joined the CWA (Country Women’s Association) and she had to knit every spare minute she had.  So Jamie and I had to do more and more around the house like cooking dinner and helping to grow vegetables.

Early one morning in 1917 we heard a knock at the door.  A man in a uniform was standing there.  He told me my father was injured and was coming home.  My mother was worried he would die before he made it home but I was just hoping he could actually make it and be one of the very few people to survive.

Three months later we heard a knock.  I looked through the keyhole and saw a man in a uniform.  I opened the door and saw my father standing there.  I gasped and screamed for my mother and she burst into tears when she saw him.  Finally the Jones family was reunited and happiness returned to our home.

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