Untold World War I stories brought to life in 100 Days poetry project

Untold stories of World War I are being brought to life in an entirely new way. 

A global project is challenging writers from around the world to unearth forgotten experiences, such as a man who protected horses and a teacher who inspired his students from beyond the grave. 

When the orders came for horses to be shipped off to fight in the Great War, Jane Berney's great-grandfather wanted none of it. 

"He'd seen the papers, knew the rules: one from every farmer. This one was going over his dead body," said the AUT Lecturer and writer for John Berney. 

"He would cry out at night that they would take the horses to war and they would kill them... so he had nightmares," Ms Berney told Newshub. 

Mr Berney, who farmed in the small North Island rural town of Eketahuna, refused the call up, hiding his horses because he loved them so much, his great-granddaughter says. 

The lives of New Zealanders like Mr Berney are being commemorated in the global 100 Days Project - a poetry challenge to tell the stories of those who lived during the First World War.

And there's a twist: the poems have to be exactly 100 words; with the opening three words the same as the last.

Ms Burney says she admires her great-grandfather because he chose love over duty.  

"Maybe you don't have to go with the flow, if you're told to do something... maybe you can question it," she says. 

Paul White is telling the story of a headmaster, Kenneth White, who died in the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium, aged just 28.

Paul White is telling the story of Kenneth White who died in the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium.
Paul White is telling the story of Kenneth White who died in the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium. Photo credit: Newshub

Before Kenneth White died, the Awanui School principal wrote a letter to his pupils. 

"It was obvious that he cared enormously about them, and would have given his life for them," Paul White says, adding that the project has inspired him to think about all the untold stories from the War. 

"Giving voices to the hundreds of thousands of people who were involved in that conflict - who would never have really surfaced - it's quite a privilege," he told Newshub. 

The project is counting down the last 100 days of the First World War, with one poem published online every day, until Armistice Day on November 11. 

Jane's poem went live this week and it is Paul's turn next week. 

A hundred years on, the untold stories are finally being heard.