A new book celebrating the incredible life stories of veterans living at The Royal Star & Garter Homes, Surbiton has just been released. Entitled ‘Poems by Post’, the book contains letters, photos and biographies of residents, plus poems inspired by residents’ lives, written by local poets. The book’s official launch was held at the Surbiton Home, where residents, relatives, staff and volunteers gathered together to hear a selection of poems read by the book’s authors and members of staff.
The book was compiled by It’s Not Your Birthday But (INYBB), a project that aims to unite communities and encourage people to enjoy communication via the written letter. As part of the project, INYBB ran a penpal initiative where 12-year-old pupils from Hinchley Wood School began exchanging letters with residents. It proved to be very successful, with many residents and pupils discovering they had a great deal in common. The correspondence was then gathered and excerpts featured in the book.
Tom Mallender, Lead Artist for Poems by Post, visited residents to chat about their lives. Tom recorded the residents’ stories and posted them to local writers, who in return composed poems inspired by the veterans. Over the course of his visits, Tom got to know each resident well and even found out stories that family members hadn’t heard before. Tom remarked, “It has been a genuine honour and privilege to work on the this project, every resident had something to teach me and offered inspiration on everything from how to live, to love, and how to look at the world and the responsibility we all have to the rest of society.”
A poem inspired by resident Betty’s service in the WAAF was read out by her daughter, Pauline. After the event, Pauline explained the admiration Betty’s family have for her military past, “It’s very easy for Mum to think what she did was nothing special, but we all think it was amazing. All of her family are very proud of her.”
Speaking after the book launch, Wendy Smithers, founding director of INYBB commented, “It was a real privilege to launch ‘Poems by Post’ in the midst of the very people whose amazing stories and experiences had inspired the book and the poems within it. Sharing the memories of these inspiring lives through poetry was more powerful than I had anticipated and they are now preserved forever in our book, which belongs to all the residents who took part.”