While I Breath, I Hope is an ambitious programme of events taking place in St Andrews in 2018 to mark the centenary of the ending of the First World War.

Created by the Byre Theatre, this website is a community archive for the people of St Andrews and Fife to remember the First World War and the years that followed in which the Byre Theatre was founded.

While I Breathe, I Hope takes its name from the town motto of St Andrews: Dum Spiro Spero or While I Breathe, I Hope.

The Byre Theatre is grateful for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, awarded through the First World War: then and now programme.

Thanks also go to the St Andrews Preservation Trust for all its support and to everyone who has given time and shared stories and memories of St Andrews with us.

Where to start:

As part of this project, we asked storyteller Andy Cannon to deliver workshops in schools and around the community and commissioned Martin Clark to make several films. Take a look at Martin’s films of Andy Cannon sharing the story of the Founding of the Byre and how the founders were affected by World War One and our interview with Scottish Military Historian Hew Strachan.

Poetry by Roderick Manson

St Andrews in the First World War

On 11th and 15th November, 2018, Roderick Manson joined us in our Pages of the Sea and While I Breathe I Hope homecoming walk and website launch events, and was so inspired that he took pen to pad and wrote some new poems, which he has very kindly let us share with you all below. Here is what Roderick had to say:

“Although I have written poems themed around The Great War before, I felt that I wanted, as my personal response and tribute to those who fell, were wounded (physically or otherwise) and those who served unscathed, to write some poems around the time of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. Being somewhat obsessed by numbers and symbols, I wanted to work the numbers fourteen and eighteen into the project somehow, it being the 14:18 War. Being delighted at the stroke of serendipitous symbolism that had the community archive launch event four days later,  I then used the walk paralleling the old railway line from Leuchars Railway Station to where St. Andrews Railway Station used to be to compile a sequence of eighteen poems to commemorate its end.”

While I Breathe, I Hope

lines from the returning, 1919


clouds bulleting a clear grey sky,
melon-slicing a neighbour’s skull,
tearing through the future
beyond death.


are railway tracks,
parade grounds,
bombed-up roads,
prescribed up to the trenches:
is the choice of where and when
and no choice to remember it all.


We are not heroes:
we are cogs in a machine,
broken parts in need of repair
or replacement, as often as not,
but, a machine that functioned,
a machine that prevailed:
to a land fit for parts
we return.


In the rain,
we stroll home
through the mud
that clings like a child,
that gives life to our crops
and to us.
But, all we remember
is the mud that is graves
not buried deep enough.


I left a boy:
I return a man.
So many were left behind,
so many were damaged,
so that I could mature
before my allotted time.


The science of war –
I breathed in air;
I breathed in gas;
I breathed in mud.
The failure of the experiment
went unrecorded.


Welcome to the machines
that breath death,
that will evolve
to breath more death,
and we who are compelled to help
lest the dead be us.


So many women;
so few men.
War is not so bad
if you survive.


I sought my love’s hand
but I had none to offer
in return.


I do not want your pity.
I do not want your praise.
I do not want your medals.
I do not want parades.
I do not want dead monuments.
All I want is your grave.


The silence
of footsteps
that do not fall
is not heard here


What is the point
of coming home
to die?


November leaves,
one per body,


A bridge across the Eden
became a bridge in the Tay:
we have left Paradise far behind.


The cat has nine lives,
yet looks on me
with envy.


Where do I live?
That bed where I lie
or the grave
I could have filled


Are these the crows we saw in France
pecking the eyes of ghosts?
Are these the rats we saw in Flanders
gnawing for the marrow in the bones?
Are these the flies we saw in Belgium
buzzing the death-fluids air?
Is this the Angel I saw at Mons
weeping sixteen million tears?


As pilgrims of pain
we shrive to the shrine:
the Saint was not with us
in Hell.


Over my shoulder,
a gun not forged.
In my pocket,
bullets not made
for the not yet gun to fire
into bodies as yet unborn.

Roderick Manson  (15th November, 2018)

(Written on the Homecoming Walk from Leuchars Station to St Andrews Old Railway Station as part of the launch of the “While I Breathe, I Hope” online community archive on 15th November, 2018)

West Sands

(Inspired by the image of suffragist doctor, Elsie Inglis, commemorated on the West Sands, St. Andrews, 11th November, 2018)

The men and boys all choose to go to France
or Belgium, once they find out where that is.
Their love of country is a deeper dance:
love is not love where death does not exist.
The fishermen read pages of the sea
where graves of men and nations are not seen:
in shifting tides of war there is no “me”,
the passion of the waves will scourge them clean.
Duty is gender-neutral, has no flag
or uniform mistaken for a boast,
secretes its bombast in the old kit bag,
a silent isle of virtue in the host.
Woman can die as readily as man:
we choose to bring such comfort as we can.

Roderick Manson (11th November, 2018)