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When I Went to War (Poem)

by ritsonvaljos

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Archive List > British Army

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Ronald Ritson, Richard Benedict 'Dickie' Coyles
Location of story: 
Whitehaven, Cumberland
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
07 February 2005

Whitehaven Cenotaph, Castle Park, Whitehaven, Cumbria. Each year in November, on Remembrance Sunday a commemorative service is held and poppy wreaths are laid to commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Two World Wars and other conflicts. Never Forget.

This poem was inspired by the story of Private Ronald Ritson, RAMC, who was one of the West Cumbrian volunteers in the St John’s Ambulance Brigade who were in the Royal Military Hospital Reserve before World War Two. They were among the first people to be called up to serve in the forces when war was declared on 3 September 1939. The leader of the ‘Whitehaven’ group of St John’s volunteers was Mr Richard Benedict (‘Dickie’) Coyles.

Many of these volunteers, including Private Ritson, left on the 7.00 pm night train from Bransty Station, Whitehaven on 4 September 1939. They met up with volunteers from all over Britain before being posted to their final units in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Often, they were among the thick of the action to try and help the wounded, with only a Red Cross armband for protection. Those that survived the war returned home in 1945. Those that became casualties of the war never returned. However, they are commemorated each year at local Cenotaphs throughout the country, such as the one in Castle Park, Whitehaven.

One evening, Private Ritson related a detailed account of his war experiences. At the end of the evening I composed this poem with him. It took about ten minutes. It was a remarkable account of a remarkable period in his life.

It was an attempt to put into verse what had happened to him during World War Two. At the outbreak of World War Two he was working as a coal miner at Walkmill Colliery, Moresby Parks. He took part in the Normandy landings in June 1944, travelled though to Germany and in 1945 he returned to civilian life. Inititially Private Ritson recommenced work as a coal miner back at Walkmill Colliery.

I submit the poem as a tribute to those volunteers from the St John Ambulance who volunteered for the Medical Corps during World War Two. It is important to never forget what happened and to hope it may never happen again.

When I went to war
7517826 Private Ritson, RAMC

I went to war in Thirty-nine,
At that time I worked down the mine.
I had to make this obligation
So left the town from Bransty Station.

We went to oppose the Fuhrer’s might,
And to save lives after the fight.
We cannot speak of the things we saw
There are no films of this in folklore.

We went to France in Forty-four,
Amidst a war as in days of yore.
We made our way through to Germany
And set the whole land of Europe free.

I came back home in Forty-five,
The Good Lord brought me back alive.
I saw too much sorrow, death and pain
And pray it will not happen again.

J. Ritson, April 2000

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Message 1 - When I went to war

Posted on: 08 February 2005 by Joan-Elizabeth


Thankyou for your lovely story and poem, I so enjoyed reading your memories.

As an ex-StJohns member I found it very interesting!

Kind regards,



Message 2 - When I went to war

Posted on: 10 February 2005 by ritsonvaljos

Hello Joan-Elizabeth,
Thanks very much for your comments.

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