Forces Stories and Poems

The Military Writing Network at Kingston University was founded in 2009 by Siobhan Campbell, Principal Lecturer in the School of Humanities. The MWN brings together a range of organisations and individuals who are developing innovative ways of encouraging and supporting creative writing in several related constituencies including members and veterans of the services.

Winning and Commended writing from the Forces Stories and Poems Competition

To celebrate the 125th Anniversary of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) Forces Help.

Note from the judges

We have read and re-read, with pleasure and increasing admiration, hundreds of entries covering a very wide range of experience. From daughters, sons, fathers, mothers; about the army, navy, air force and special forces; about training and fear, fighting and peacefulness; about death, wounds, nursing and painful recovery; about chaplaincy, parting and yearning, shared horror and pleasure, comradeship, demobilization and civilian life; about our great-grandparents' wars and the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan. Forty per cent of entries were prose, sixty percent poetry and there was one Japanese-style haibun.

We were looking for well-crafted work which caught our attention, engaged the imagination and showed keen attention to the language used and the form chosen. The standard of entries was very high and the winning and commended writing here is only a fraction of what we would have wished to include. We thank all of the entrants most sincerely for the privilege of reading their work.

Roger Kirkpatrick, for the judges (Alison Baverstock, Vahni Capildeo, Maree Michel and Chair, Siobhan Campbell)


The winning works are available in a celebratory booklet which can be obtained by a cheque for £5 made out to Kingston University or online at All profits will go to SSAFA Forces Help.

Winning writers

  • Jill Sharp's mother was a WAAF and her father served as an RAF Flight Lieutenant during WW2. Other family members have been in REME and the TA. An associate lecturer with the Open University, Jill is a member of Swindon's BlueGate poets. The cemetery behind her home contains the war graves that inspired her winning poem, 'Think only this'.
  • Heather Stapley served in the Women's Royal Navy Service and her story, 'Losing Liz', is based on real events she experienced and which seem just as vivid and as pertinent today. (2nd place)
  • Jack Oakley is a case-worker with SSAFA Forces Help and draws on his own time serving in the Sappers to inspire his short stories which tend to see both the poignant and the comic sides of army life. He has spent many years in education, working mainly at third level and in Further Education. His third placed story is entitled, 'Me, the Brigadier and Goethe'.

Highly commended

  • Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is a retired mathematician whose research put him in touch with RMCS Shrivenham and RAE Farnborough. His family includes Merchant Navy and enlisted soldiers. A widely published poet, his latest collection is "Tradesman's Exit" (Shoestring Press, 2009). He co-organises, with Nancy Mattson, the Poetry in the Crypt reading series at St Mary's church in Islington. His poem, 'Official Recognition' is Highly Commended by the judges.

Commended writers

  • Hugo Willis has served in the Army for over 20 years in all corners of the globe. As a result of his travels, letters have always played a significant part in his life. The spark may have been lit when, as a child, he inherited a dusty box of family letters from the Crimean and First World Wars. That, combined with listening to Alistair Cooke's 'Letters from America', fuelled the idea of writing a series of informative letters from Afghanistan to his friends and family, mixing anecdote and observation.
  • Robert Shooter writes: "My writing was in secret until an English teacher confiscated my jotter as he thought I was animatedly doing other work in class. I never expected to see it again but did when he said, why don't you write like that for me? Decades on, with an MA in Writing Studies from Edge Hill University, poems and stories published, one poem Copse winning an Ottaker's regional poetry prize, I do."
  • Joining Boys Service in 1962, Bob Le Vaillant's career included four tours in the Far East, secondment to HMS Ark Royal and NATO HQ in Naples. Discharged in 1986 with the Army's senior Warrant Officer Appointment (Conductor RAOC), he founded Toynbee Hall's Children's Department, retiring in 2005 as Deputy Warden. Supported by SSAFA, he adopted a Korean orphan in 1975 and has since adopted 3 more daughters. Bob lives in Deal.
  • Alan Markland holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Bolton. His work with the Royal Navy provided him with a priceless fund of background intelligence, which has inspired his many short stories and his book Plate Pies.
  • Dr Joseph F Ryan served with the Royal Army Medical Corps (V), 1979-84. After graduating with Highest Honours from Carleton University, Ottawa, he worked at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies (RUSI) in London. After a period as a defence analyst, he joined the Ministry of Defence (1992-1995), finally serving as a Senior Research Officer.
  • Reverend (Wing Commander) Anthony Gilbert from the RAF was appointed an Honorary Chaplain to Her Majesty the Queen in 2010. He has worked in Basra, Iraq as well as at the busy Tornado GR4 base at RAF Lossiemouth.
  • Elizabeth Walker is a writer living in Montrose, Scotland. Her life-writing has appeared in 'Family Legends', published by the Scottish Book Trust.

More information

Read more about the competition and prize winners.

"The calibre of writing was excellent; it was a pleasure to read all of the entries and I was deeply moved by their words which still resonate today. It is important to remember those who fell in previous conflicts, but to also not forget those who are actively serving right now, all over the world. At SSAFA, we support members of the Armed Forces and their families, and we are delighted to be working with Kingston University on such a noteworthy initiative."

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue, Chairman of SSAFA Forces Help

"I'm really delighted that Kingston University is involved with this project. It's really important for members of the armed forces to have different ways of expressing themselves, especially bearing in mind the considerable stresses on themselves and their families. I'm extremely proud that the university is involved in this."

Neil Latham, Pro-Vice Chancellor at Kingston University, plus a 30-year career with the Royal Navy

Judging panel

Vahni Capildeo

Vahni Capildeo is a poet and memoirist who has worked as a creative writing professional at the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds and as a lexicographer at the Oxford English Dictionary after a DPhil from Oxford and a Cambridge Research Fellowship. Books include No Traveller Returns, Person Animal Figure (Guardian Poetry Book of the Year), Undraining Sea (Forward Prize Highly Commended individual poem) and Dark & Unaccustomed Words (forthcoming 2010). Poetry and prose have been anthologised in The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse (OUP) In the Telling, See How I Land (HeavenTree), Identity Parade (Bloodaxe), Iain Sinclair's London: City of Disappearances and in Jeanne Mason and Lisa Allen-Agostini's Trinidad Noir. A Contributing Editor for the Caribbean Review of Books, Vahni also acts as co-editor of TOWN, a public arts initiative linking global practitioners via the Internet.

Maree Giles

Maree Giles is an Australian-born author and critic. Her fiction has won the She/Arvon Short Story competition and been shortlisted in the Ian St James Awards. Her three novels are Invisible Thread, Under the Green Moon and The Past is a Secret Country, all published by Virago Press. Maree acted as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Kingston University London from 2009-2010. She has taught and performed at many festivals including the Byron Bay and Sydney Writers' Festivals and her work has been broadcast on BBC radio and on the World Service. She is currently working on her fourth novel and supervises MA in Creative Writing dissertations.

Alison Baverstock

Alison Baverstock has a very broad experience of the publishing industry, having been both publisher and author. She is the author of what is often described as the 'bible of book marketing' - How to Market Books - as well as several titles on writing. Course Leader for the MA in Publishing at Kingston University, she is a regular commentator in the media on issues to do with the publishing industry, reading and writing. In 2007 she received the Pandora Award, for a significant contribution to the publishing industry by a woman. She has been a service wife for 26 years and she and her husband have four children.

Roger Kirkpatrick

Roger Kirkpatrick is a social campaigner with a distinguished publishing career. He has been enterprise manager at Shaw Trust, the national charity that helps people with disabilities find employment; managing director of Berlitz Publishing and marketing director of the Random House publishing group as well as a member of England's Library and Information Services Council. He held a fellowship at Stanford University before becoming a publisher and grew up on RAF bases, his father and grandfathers being members of the armed services.

Judging panel chair

Siobhan Campbell

Siobhan Campbell, Course Director of the MA/MFA in Creative Writing is the founder of the Military Writing Network at KUL and a contributor of poetry on conflict to Wasafiri Magazine and War, Literature and the Arts. A member of the working group emerging from the CRAASH conference, The Culture of Reconstruction: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Aftermath of Crisis, Siobhan uses creative writing to work with advocates for peace and reconciliation as well as veterans of conflict situations. Books include Cross-Talk (Seren Press) which includes the Forward Anthology sonnet 'Warrenpoint', set in Northern Ireland.

The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) Forces Help