Photo by Tony Whittle 

She is out feeding the birds,
on the dot again,
in the drizzle of a seaside morning;
the seed 
cast fom her hand
to the jerking beak of a cock pheasant.

She is alone 
in a flock of dark starlings,
scattering crumbs to make them shriek.

She is a friend of spuggies,
gives blackbirds water.

Her eyes fly across the garden
to catch a quick robin,
to spot a wee wren,
to chase a bold magpie.

She is innocence,
she is a lovely old lady;
still giving,
still nursing.

She deserves heaven,
she deserves a beautiful nest
to dream out her last hours 
in bird song;
in the rich colours of music,
in the red feathers of sunset,
she is my mother,
she is a rare bird
who fed me beautiful dreams.

Thank you for letting me climb 
with the skylarks.

Thank you
for the strength of wings. 


Thank you very much for this poem. Ever since I have heard you reading it out at “Poems, Prose, Pints” it has been on my mind – it’s written in such a gentle and honest voice. The poem may be dedicated to your mum, but, as you said in the pub, it’s something you could say about all mums. I certainly feel reminded of my own mother, who died not so long ago, when I read the poem.

Hi Keith

Thanks for this beautiful poem.

Tim G

Dear Keith ! Thank you very much. You read this poem when you were here in Groningen. It moves me each time I read or hear it. Nice talking to you on the phone yesterday. All the best, yours, Henk

Thanks Keith - you moved me.

All best

The Bird Woman of Whitley is a lovely poem, Keith.  Beautiful tribute.


You amazing poet YOU
- thank you for that that poem - it deserves a very good moment, but I will translate it.

Lovely poem!
Keep sending them!


Good poem, Keith

Thank you, Keith, thank you –
 For bringing a fulsome tear to my eye with the sad and beautifully-crafted The Bird Woman of Whitley. How amazingly coincidental and serendipitous that you should have numbered me amongst those privileged to receive it because, just this afternoon, I have put in the post to you my Christmas book (in Irish) An Nollaig sa Naigín (Christmas in the Noggin [my homeplace]), which has in it the story Céad Sneachta na Nollag (First Christmas Snow), which features my own mother feeding two birds, they being the Robin and the Wren!!!!
 Bravo, my friend, and thank you for giving me the delight of reading so beautiful a poem.

Thats a nice poem Keith. Is that lady really your mum?


Thanks for sending me this beautiful poem. It really moved me. I have a special Mother too, she hasn't a selfish thought in her body. 

Catherine Graham

Hi Keith loved the poem


Thanks for your beautiful poem Keith. I must write something special to my mum. 




Greetings one and all,

A First Tuesday meeting will be held at the Bridge Hotel, at 7.00 pm on 6th October 2015.

   The Belgian Refugees: A Hundred Years On.

Next year marks one hundred years since the arrival of Belgian refugees into the region. Bill Lawrence  will bring us up to date with they and their families, and will discuss the events and publications planned, both in the North East and Belgium,  to  commemorate the centenary. Keith Armstrong will present his poem that has been specially commissioned as part of the celebrations.

Brian Bennison


FRIENDS OF THE GRAVES (for the Birtley Belgians)

‘Never forget that you are a Birtley Belgian.’
(Ida ‘Anderland’ Dergent)

This is the story of the Birtley Belgians,
the shellers from hell,
the wandering men 
and the women they wed.
You can say goodbye to your friends.

These are the remants of Elisabethville,
the shattered relics of battered soldiers,
the shards of savagery,
the empty shells of discarded folk.

This is what’s left of the carnage,
the last of the war effort,
the smiles of the children
and the severed limbs.
This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.

From Flanders and Wallonia they came
leaving beloved roots behind
to do their bit for the ritual slaughter,
to bring up well their sons and daughters
to dance and sing
under the hails of bullets.

Fishing for sunshine in the Ijzer brook,
kicking stones on the Rue de Charleroi,
the Birtley Belgians
planted their seed on Durham ground
and made do
and made explosive dreams.
What more can we tell?
‘Home is made for coming from,
for dreams of going to 
which with any luck
will never come true.’

Sweating in uniform
on assembly lines,
pulverising their brains
to keep the powers that be in power,
they were strong
and at the same time weak
and screamed and cried
like anyone.
This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.

They’re gone now,
blown to dust
in the festering fields,
memories strewn over the way
to fertilise another day
with the same weary mistakes
and thrusts of love.

I can see the boys in the Villa de Bruges
slaking their frustrated fantasies
to drown the horror 
and the girls
seductive behind the huts
in between
the grind of daily production.

Let me take you
up the Boulevard Queen Mary,
along the Rue de Louvain,
knock on the door of number D2
and blood will pour
and the ground will open up,
‘mud will take you prisoner’
and devour all those years.
This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.

You can hear their singing on the North Sea wind,
hear them in Chester le Street and Liege,
the brass band and orchestra
drowning out the distant pounding.
In and out of trouble,
we will always dance.

An accordion wails across the little streets,
the Three Tuns welcomes the living.
And at the crack of dawn
and in the battlefields of evening clouds
we will remember them,
in the words of the Walloon poet Camille Fabry proclaim:
‘Our thoughts fly like arrows back to the land of our birth.’

This is story of the loss of lives
for causes we scarcely understand
but for love and grandeur too
and for the little Belgian children
and the joyous games they play.
This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.


The Birtley Belgians emigrated from Belgium to Birtley, County Durham during World War 1 to build an armaments factory and lived in their own specially created village.  
Named after the Queen of the Belgians, Elisabethville itself became Little Belgium - a colony of 6,000 people, of boules and of boulevards.

It had its own hospital, cemetery, school, church, nunnery and Co-op; only Flemish and Walloon were spoken.

The Birtley factory was to the north of the town, British built but entirely Belgian run. By 1916 it gave work to 3,500 men, 85 per cent disabled in some way, with 2,500 family members also housed in the adjacent iron fenced village. 

The poem was commissioned by the Birtley Belgians Euro-Network in 2015 in association with Borsolino and Berline Belgian Drama Groups.

What a good job you've made of it!  Like you, I find these nooks and crannies of the 20th century totally fascinating. (John Mapplebeck, Bewick Films).



photos: dr armstrong

This poet’s wild imagination
is open all hours.
Fired by the flash of barmaids
I have worshipped,
I crawl the Shields bars,
seeking memories 
of old sailors.
Thrashing through The Jungle
of sun-kissed lounges,
I look for a date
with a Tyneside Dolly,
trawl through the faded papers
for a glimpse of a dashing blade.
My thirsty history is in these pubs,
seeping through The Porthole,
swimming with the Low Lights blues.
My tongue is wagging with excitement,
I am the talk of the Tyne,
one of the many mouths
of this swilling river
in our blood.




Hookey Walker’s Farewell to Shields

South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, Ocean Road, South Shields, Tyne & Wear, NE33 2JA
Performance by poet Dr Keith Armstrong of the atmospheric narrative poem describing the state of South Shields in 1852 written by former Shields gazette Editor William Brockie (1811-1890), together with a short selection of other poetry by Brockie. The rendition was accompanied by sea shanties performed by South Shields folk heroes 'The Ancient Mariners'. All those attending received a Hooky Walker souvenir broadsheet at the performance.

Opening Times

  • Thursday 10 September: Performance 12.00

Organised by

Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums

The Geordie Lamp: Celebrating the Stephenson Legacy

White Swan Centre, Citadel East, Killingworth, Tyne & Wear

A special event organised by Northern Voices Community Projects to mark the 200th anniversary of the invention of the 'Geordie' mining safety lamp by George Stephenson. The event included readings from 'North Tyneside Steam', the recently published book by Dr Keith Armstrong and Peter Dixon which tells the story of George Stephenson in Killingworth and North Tyneside and of steam railways in the area. Contributors to the book performed their poems, stories and songs as well as new materials inspired by the 'Geordie Lamp'. They were introduced by local poet Keith Armstrong with music from the Sawdust Jacks.

Additional information

North Tyneside Steam: This new book from Northern Voices Community Projects, was commissioned by North Tyneside Council in 2014, with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, It was published to mark the bicentenary of George Stephenson's steam locomotive Blucher and tells the story of its creator in Killingworth and North Tyneside and of steam railways in the area.

the jingling geordie

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poet and raconteur