The Day War Came – another poem for Refugee Week

I am posting a poem a day during Refugee Week. I have already posted Home by Warsan Shire and My Hazara People by Shukria Rezaei.

The Day War Came was written by Nicola Davies in 2016 when she heard that the British government was refusing to allow lone refugee children entry into the UK. Nicola Davies is a children’s author and zoologist. The poem has been published as a book with illustrations by Rebecca Cobb.

it is striking how many of these poems I have selected for Refugee Week are about children. Here the child’s safe space is undermined in a split second: the place where they belonged becomes lost to them and they have no choice other than to go on the run.

One person responded to this poem by drawing a chair – I suppose there is a real welcome in our phrase “draw up a chair”. That idea grew into parading #3000chairs across the internet for 3000 child refugees alone and fleeing “all kinds of ghastliness” to “make the people who voted to shrug their shoulders and throw those kids to the traffickers hang their heads in shame”. Posting this is my offer of a chair – but as well I asked Vincent to draw one up for me as my way of saying “refugees welcome”.

The day war came

The day war came there were flowers on the windowsill
and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.
My mother made my breakfast, kissed my nose
and walked with me to school.

That morning I learned about volcanos,
I sang a song about how tadpoles turn at last to frogs
I made a picture of myself with wings.

Then just after lunch,
while I watched a cloud shaped like a dolphin,
war came.
At first, just like a spattering of hail
a voice of thunder …
then all smoke and fire and noise, that I didn’t understand.

It came across the playground.
It came into my teacher’s face.
It brought the roof down.
and turned my town to rubble.

I can’t say the words that tell you
about the blackened hole that has been my home.

All I can say is this:

war took everything

war took everyone

I was ragged, bloody, all alone.

I ran. Rode on the back of trucks, in buses;
walked over fields and roads and mountains,
in the cold, the mud and the rain;
on a boat that leaked and almost sank
and up a beach where babies lay face down in the sand.

I ran until I couldn’t run
until I reached a row of huts
and found a corner with a dirty blanket
and a door that rattled in the wind.

But war had followed me.
It was underneath my skin,
behind my eyes,
and in my dreams.
It had taken possession of my heart.

I walked and walked to try and drive war out of myself,
to try and find a place it hadn’t reached.
But war was in the way that doors shut when I came down the street.
It was in the way the people didn’t smile and turned away.

I came to a school.
I looked in through the window.
They were learning all about volcanos
And drawing birds and singing.

I went inside. My footsteps echoed in the hall.
I pushed the door and faces turned towards me
but the teacher didn’t smile.
She said there is no room for you,
you see there is no chair for you to sit on,
you have to go away.

And then I understood that war had got here too.

I turned around and went back to the hut, the corner and the blanket
and crawled inside.
It seemed that war had taken all the world and all the people in it.

The door banged.
I thought it was the wind.
But a child’s voice spoke.
“I brought you this,” she said, “so you can come to school”.
It was a chair.
A chair for me to sit on and learn about volcanos, frogs and singing
And drive the war out of my heart.

She smiled and said:
“My friends have brought theirs too, so all the children here can come to school.”

Out of every hut a child came and we walked together
on a road all lined with chairs,
pushing back the war with every step.

Nicola Davies



Poppies painted by Pam Kelly
Today is a day to remember.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,They fell with their faces to the foe.We will remember them.
Also it is the day we celebrate St Martin of Tours – patron saint of France. Martin was a soldier who changed sides. He was a Roman soldier who became a “soldier of Christ” whereupon he declared, “I cannot fight”.Martin is famous for having halved his cloak to share it with a beggar. The cloak became an important relic which was specially cared by a priest in its reliquary. Wikipedia tells us that this priest was called “acappellanu” and “ultimately all priests who served the military were called cappellani. The French translation is chapelains, from which the English word chaplain is derived.”

St Martin and the Beggar by El Greco

This gives a fascinating insight into Christian ministry with “chaplaincy” grounded in this act of love – the sharing of the cloak. There is a further twist to the story in that Martin discovered his cloak restored when he woke one morning. Love defies the accountant and moves us into a world of magic and mystery. How can one cloak become one and a half cloaks, or even two cloaks? (Because I bet it wasn’t only Martin who was so blessed). Jesus defies accountancy logic when he declares that “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life me will find it” (Matt 16:25). This mystery means that those who are determined to give of themselves don’t need to count the cost.

Those who give their life for their friends have a love which is supreme. There is no greater love than this – and there is no waste in such love. Simon Marsh has a wonderful story on his blog about the war veteran being greeted by a grandchild from one of the villages he helped to liberate. Such stories highlight the life-giving commitment of people who share Martin’s vocation as soldiers and chaplains. But Martin’s declaration sounds a warning at a time when we tend to avoid the hard questions of war – when life is wasted and brutalised. “I am a soldier of Christ. I will not fight.”


> What is Remembrance Sunday about? How has it changed over the 90 years since Armistice Day?
These were some of the questions we looked at yesterday.
Remembrance Sunday remains a day of mourning. One day that we have set aside in our year to remember the victims of war, human nature and its consequences. But our thoughts will not be the same as those celebrating the hard fought peace of 1918.

Significant changes include
• The development of international institutions like the United Nations and the EU – great political achievements representing a cooperative relationships instead of the colonialism of the past.
• War has changed and its weapons have changed. Now civilian casualties are far higher. In WW1 civilian casualties were 5% of total casualties. Now that figure is 75%.
• Communications have changed. We now live in the “global village” where “everyone is networked and nobody is in control” – which makes wars far less winnable. As a child of the 50’s I was told how lucky I was that the wolrd was at peace. Now, because of news media and globalisation, we know that there isn’t likely to have been a moment of our human history when we haven’t been fighting one another.
• We know – especially as awareness of post traumatic stress disorder has increased – that, in the words of Jose Narosky “in war there are no unwounded soldiers”.
• We know more about “child soldiers”. Children as young as 8 are involved in conflicts in at least 17 countries – acting as spies, messengers and brandishing rifles.
• We know that there are over 34 million people displaced by war.
These are some of the things that come to mind as “I remember” – the thoughts for my two minute silence. I carry on remembering the “fallen”, those killed, their loved ones, parents and communities. I remember all those who have been on the front line. I remember the civilian casualties, the child soldiers and the refugees. I remember the violence that is part of being human and I remember that we are made in God’s image – and called to pray:

God our refuge and strength,
bring near the day when wars shall cease
and poverty and pain shall end,
that earth may know the peace of heaven
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(the poppy picture was pianted by friend Pam Kelly – member of St Andrew’s Painters’ Group)