At this time of year, I always remember those who did not return from war/conflict, whatever you choose to call it, and those who did but who return with physical, emotional and mental traumas that are hard to witness. So, as I have written quite alot of poetry with a military theme to them, I thought I would share three with you.
I wrote this one in memory of my granddad Alfred who, alongside his three brothers, witnessed the carnage of the Somme. Sadly, one brother was killed in September 1916 and his remains were never found.
The rum was lost, but we had to go over.
The line was set, we had but one chance.
With a sign of the cross, or whatever religion,
We think what the fuck are we doing in France?
The silence is deafening, the guns have gone silent.
The countdown begun to the whistles blow.
And over we go, walking in bullets.
And onwards and onwards we march and we go.
A father is lost, and a son and a brother.
So many men on the first day of battle.
I would rather not be here, rather not suffer this.
Rather not face the push: treated like cattle.
1st of July, 1916,
Seven thirty am, and over we’ve gone.
They said we could do it, that we would make history,
In this hell hole of mud that we call the Somme.
My dad (who lived through the Blitz in London’s east end) and I wrote this one together about WW1 when I was about 13/14 years old. Those of you familiar with the poetry from that era will spot lines taken from poems by W.B Yeats and Wilfred Owen.
I know that I shall meet my fate,
I know that I shall die.
Fighting in this bloody war, fighting til I die.
We all signed up, we thought it right to fight for King and country.
What romantic fairytale,
Oh England fair, our country.
But as we stand here in our trench, we think of all at home,
we think of what we have to do,
our firing arms to load.
We get the signal, off we go rifles in our hands.
Fighting’s in our blood and mind,
protection for our land.
We get a little present, it’s just a little bomb.
We are blown sky-high and to the winds.
What did we do wrong?
Now all is quiet, I cannot see my friends, they have all gone.
Do not desert me God,
I’m all alone.
Sing, oh angels, sing to me.
Take me by the hand.
Lift me from this earthly grave, take me to your land.
So give us Lord our daily bread and with your love enthrall.
I gaze upon this weary land
as the bugle sounds recall.
Dulce et decorum est propartria mori.
War’s a bloody waste of time, now tell me that’s a lie.
I wrote this poem back in 2005, after watching a programme about the extermination of Jews in the various camps but namely Auschwitz. So, although the number six in the final line refers to the estimated numbers of Jews killed, this poem is also dedicated to the huge numbers of other ‘undesirables’ who perished in Hitler’s death camps, and to those who continue to die in circumstances where humanity and compassion are absent. My one wish is that none of my Jewish ancestors met their end this way…
AUSCHWITZ 27/01/05 PLUS 60 YEARS
These are my numbers, etched into my soul.
They define me, because my name no longer exists.
But my identity is in that pile of shoes – but I can’t see them,
But I know they are there and will I be remembered?
I am afraid of this familiar; the brutal grey.
They look like me, so why the hatred?
A pile of stench, a smoke-filled sky.
And human ash, and human ash…
My being: who will remember me as I float down from permanent fire, stoked in hell?
If you light one candle, you will remember me.
But if you light 6, you remember us all.
I also think about my other grandfather, grand père Louis who fought in Verdun in WW1, losing an eye for his troubles, and also my mother who along with her family, lived through WW2 in occupied France. She can still vividly remember the way things were then, especially in the depths of winter when her bedroom ceiling would have sheets of ice on it and she would have to sleep under the contents of her wardrobe in order to try and keep warm.