The Tale of Walter the Pencil Man

The Tale of Walter the Pencil Man is a collaboration between the poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan and several times Cartoonist of the Year Tony Husband. It tells the story, in six-line rhyming stanzas, of a young lad from a Yorkshire pit village who finds himself caught up in the terrible slaughter of the First World War and records the things he sees around him with a pencil and some paper.

Sample Poem


Imagine this: A pit village, 1914;
A row of houses standing in the cold.
A covering of snow has settled on the green
A winter sun is shining like fool's gold.
Men are standing, talking, in the Queen's Head yard;
The air is tight and frosty and the sky is hard.

Picture this: a sea of sludge, 1917;
You just can't see the army for the dirt.
Stumbling through the morning like a war machine
Built from fear and trembling, blood and hurt.
Look closely though; familiar faces loom through fog.
Silence snapped in two by a barking dog.

Something links these worlds across the seasons, the years;
A long unbroken line from there to there
Those Queen's Head boys with nervous laughter, foaming beers
Grins like horses, windswept ruffled hair;
And those stumbling zombies with faces like screams
That populate your night times, infiltrate your dreams.

Look closer; see that soldier with the nervous eyes
That pit lad with the pencil in his hand
Time and pain buzzed round them like a swarm of flies
They marched down to the station with the band
And the snow fell down like feathers, freezing white
Then the train rolled through the farmland in the night.

And if this was a film the screen would shake and shift;
We'd have a montage of different scenes
Some marching, some shouting, a time of endless drift
Peeling potatoes, digging the latrines:
But always we see Walter drawing as he peels,
Drawing as he polishes and right-wheels.

All his mates gather round and laugh like drunken fools
As he spreads his cartoons across the bed;
They didn't teach this kind of art at miner's schools
No art at all in fact. Just fear and dread
And the knowledge that a life spent down the pit
Would see you drop down in a cage to shovel shit...


'No better piece of writing might be inspired by next year's centenary of the start of the War to End All Wars.'

Northern Echo

'Visually, this book is a joy - the perfect balance of ink and paper'

The North

'a useful primer to the events of 1914-18'

The Recusant