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Three Poems for Sunday

by Mickey 

Posted: 09 November 2017
Word Count: 396
Summary: Sorry to sneak in three at once but they are only relevant this week

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The Match
We lost good friends, cut down by others.
Those others’ friends? – we killed a few.
But friends, and others’ friends, had mothers,
whose lives were ended that day too,
when precious sons laid down their lives,
to serve their Kaiser and their King.
They paid the greatest sacrifice,
with unimagined suffering.
But when the guns had quietened down,
to mark the beaten Cross of Death,
they’d kicked a battered ball around …
those sons with mothers now bereft.
In Memoriam
The wasted generation 1914-1918
(Dedicated with grateful respect to the lost boys of Crawley)
Weather-beaten village sons,
driven mad by German guns;
The shepherd lads torn from their sheep,
then torn to shreds themselves at Ypres;
Young labourers from the Sussex Weald,
left dying in some foreign field;
The brick yard boys of old West Green,
slaughtered by the war machine;
Those plough boys of the chalkland vale,
dead in the mud of Passchendaele.
Newly khakied vagabonds
equalled, all, by death at Mons.
Fallen teenage heroes all,
just answering their country’s call.

The Lost Boys
I see lanes down which village lads
marched off to war with pride
and read the list of long lost names
that lump the throat and wet the eyes,
their orphans, playing children’s games
in memory of lost fathers’ lives,
engraved upon memorial stones
which proudly face their exit road
as if such gestures can atone
the monumental debt that's owed.
But hearts it seems no longer dwell
within the mindset of today,
like those that beat within the breasts
of our youthful troops of yesterday
when young boys khakied for their King
reacted to a man each one
and rushed to do the decent thing
exchanging ploughshares for the gun.
With fathers’ tales of Kimberley
and Mafeking in their heads,
they marched to meet their destiny
of mud, and gas, and death
and spurred them on to burnt-out eyes
and horrid broken minds and limbs.
Unquestioned duty paid in full to
England, God, and George their King.
With treasured tattered photographs
of loved ones buttoned tight,
they faced undreamt of horrors
and the slaughter of the fight.
In muddied tunic pockets
precious love so sorely missed,
they faced their roles, while dreaming all,
of sweethearts left unkissed.
A century down time’s long track,
their great-grandchildren, poppied red,
from lessons never learned, look back
remembering their beloved dead.

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:46 on 11 November 2017  Report this post
I like these – ‘In Memoriam’ best. Your characteristic smooth-flowing rhymed verse is turned to serious purpose. It is very respectful. I like your listing of ordinary occupations, followed in each case by an apt reminder of their fate. The occupations are timeless: there had been shepherd boys and ploughboys since time immemorial – generations of the same families in many cases – but these were doomed. I like your listing of local places too, which maybe recalls the fact that all the boys from a village, or town street, were put into the same fighting units, and so a village might lose almost all its young men on the same day in the same battle. It’s a poem that could be read aloud as part of a Remembrance ceremony.

I can’t help thinking, though, that after 100 years we might find it in our hearts to write an elegy for the German boys too. The war was none of their doing. I’m not saying you should write it, but somebody should. Maybe I will. It wasn’t quite their country’s call they were answering, it was the call of a hereditary dictator (or would-be dictator) and his Austrian buddy, greedy for power and wealth. ‘Shepherd boys of the old Hunsrück’ (a very rural area of Rhineland-Pfalz, near the River Mosel). When all’s said and done, what’s the difference?
No time just now to say much about the other two poems, except to quote a couple of things that are a bit special.
With fathers’ tales of Kimberley
and Mafeking in their heads,
they marched to meet their destiny
of mud, and gas, and death
This is a well-expressed, very clear reminder of how the old notions of what war was like were shattered in 1914 – though there were hellish battles in the Boer War, and the Zulu wars before that, ideas about noble causes, glory and honour, and King and country were still uppermost. The whole of this stanza is very good on that aspect.
With treasured tattered photographs
of loved ones buttoned tight
This stands out for the personal detail. ‘Buttoned tight’ is a nice touch.
If you leave these for a couple of days, there’s more to be said.

James Graham at 20:52 on 11 November 2017  Report this post
P.S. My grandfather might be remembered as one of 'the gasworks boys of Middlesbrough'. More than half of them were killed on the first day of the Somme.


Thomas Norman at 09:32 on 14 November 2017  Report this post
You have put your whole heart into these three poems Mike and excelled. The emotions are palpable and the language is respectful but forthright. Like James I really like "In Memoriam" it has that indefinable quality that makes a good poem into an exceptional one. Normally I would not like that type of poem to be rhymed as it tends towards levity but in this case it is wholly justified and I may say tastefully done.

If it's not the wrong expression to use, I enjoyed reading these well written poems very much.
Thank you Mike for making such a fine contribution to Remembrance Day.


LA at 12:26 on 14 November 2017  Report this post
Such powerful imagery here, Mike, delivered in your usual easy-flowing style.
'In Memoriam' stands out as extra special - simple yet, for me, as memorable and hard-hitting as many of Owen's war poems. 


Mickey at 15:12 on 16 November 2017  Report this post
Hi James, Thomas, and Lesley
Thank you all so much for your kind comments on these poems, all of which were written years ago.
I am a Baby-Boomer born in London in 1948 but we moved to Crawley when I was a kid and the town was still a ‘New Town’.  I was raised and educated there and only moved further afield with my own family twenty-six years later.  I retired three years ago and for the preceding quarter century had continued to work in Crawley, so I kind of consider it my old ‘home town’.
West Green was the first neighbourhood developed - around a small independent hamlet lying less than a quarter mile off the old village high street.  ‘The Lost Boys’ is a cut-and-paste revision of an earlier piece that I wrote in protest at the insensitive development of Crawley’s shopping centre which obliterated the road down which the boys of the two villages marched off to their fate.
My own dear Dad had his arm torn off when he went down with his ship – HMS ’Hebe’ – minesweeping off Bari in Italy.  He was also involved in the relief of Malta for which he was latterly awarded the Malta George Cross Medal in 1993.  I have this along with his other campaign medals of which I am immensely proud.
His Dad (my grandad) was born in 1876 and was a mounted cavalryman, a ‘Lancer of the Line’ in the 16th The Queens Lancers (also known as the ‘Scarlet Lancers’). He served in the South Africa Wars and also during WW1 when he re-joined and served in the Lincolnshire Yeomanry in Egypt and France (my Dad’s family are from Grimsby).  I also have his campaign medals including both the Queen’s SA medal with four bars, and the King’s SA medal with two.
My maternal grandad was born in 1900 and served in both world wars.  I have his medals too, including the Burma Star for his action in that jungle campaign.
Being of the immediate post war generation, I find it incredible to hear reverent reference to ‘surviving veterans’ of the second world war because, of course, when I was growing up almost every adult male had fought in one or both of the two wars.  It is astonishing to me to realise that anyone who served in WW2 would now be in their nineties!
Until you mentioned it James, it hadn’t really occurred to me that the Mefeking and Kimberley stanza describes what would have been a remarkable change of perception about warfare.  There can be no comparison with my grandad astride a horse with a lance, and the remote drone strikes of today’s conflicts that are directed from air bases in England or the USA.
Thanks again for your gracious comments

James Graham at 21:22 on 18 November 2017  Report this post
If you leave this one more day, Mike, I'd like to reply to your latest very interesting comment. Meanwhile, have you any views on my modest Remembrance poem?


Mickey at 13:43 on 19 November 2017  Report this post
The very first poem that I ever wrote was in April 1991 and was entitled ‘I Grow and I Despair’.  It was prompted by the imminent completion of a huge shopping mall, and was a dig at the town’s motto ‘I Grow and I Rejoice’.  It extended to some thirteen verses and closed thus:
I have no doubt that County Mall
onto the park will one day sprawl
and poke two fingers at our dead
“A wine bar’s needed there instead”
Come friendly bombs, forget poor Slough*,
It’s not a patch on Crawley now

(* a reference to Betjeman's 'Slough')
The park is the town centre Memorial Gardens opened shortly after the first world war with gate pillars proudly displaying the names of the lost boys of Crawley and West Green, which opened onto the ancient east-west road which bisected the village (and later New Town)
I used to be extremely interested in the history of Crawley and one of the most evocative descriptions I remember reading was by an old village resident who figured in the early days of the New Town as a local JP.  She wrote movingly of watching the boys from the two villages when she was a small child as they marched east to the next village to embark upon the troop trains waiting to take them off to war.  It was that very road, that had existed since time immemorial, that the new shopping mall obliterated.  The park and its gates now open onto a narrow back path alongside this structure.
The subject matter of that first poem was repeated in several further pieces culminating in ‘The Lost Boys’.  The version that I have posted here is a shortened poem to remove specific local references.
All three of these postings were written separately and I realise, now that I have presented them as a group, that they are each written from a different perspective.  The one about the Christmas Truce of 1914 when English and German troops played football in ‘no-mans-land’ is written as a later reflection of a survivor of the conflict in much the same way as James’s superb piece ‘Erinnerung’
‘In Memoriam’ on the other hand is a historical collective retrospect of the war described through the experiences of lads of one small village but which is equally relevant on a national scale.
‘The Lost Boys’ is as described above.  It is my own personal thoughts from the present day on the horrors facing the lads who thought they were just ‘doing their bit’ for a few months and would soon be back on the land in and around the village and country they loved.  

James Graham at 19:59 on 19 November 2017  Report this post
Hi Mike – Your history of your family’s war service, like all such histories, is a reminder of precisely what Remembrance means. It’s a family and a personal mourning, and a gesture of respect for those who died and those who came through as well. My story is that my maternal grandmother lost her first husband in South Africa – poisoned by rotten army food – then her second husband (my grandfather) on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, then her only son in the bombing of Coventry (though she did not live to see that happen). The family remembrance goes on – my grandchildren, now in their twenties, know this story. I imagine it’s the same in your family.
I fully sympathise with your objections to the shopping mall. It’s a disgrace that the Memorial Park gates should be so overshadowed by this temple of consumerism. OK, maybe we need shopping malls, but let them be placed where they don’t obliterate the people’s history. These lines make the point with some force:

and poke two fingers at our dead
“A wine bar’s needed there instead”

‘I Grow and I Rejoice’ is only one of many pretentious town mottoes. Our nearest big town (Kilmarnock) has the pompous ‘Virtute et Industria’ – by virtue and industry. Most of the industry has gone, including the famous Johnnie Walker whisky distillery. As for virtue…
There’s more I’d like to say about your Remembrance poems. Tomorrow for sure.

James Graham at 20:22 on 20 November 2017  Report this post
Hi Mike – I’ve taken these quotes from your comment on my poem. It’s where you refer to your own poems.
my poem merely states cold facts
These are not merely ‘cold facts’. They carry a certain depth of feeling in themselves, but it’s strengthened by the way you localise all the tragedies. Anyone can substitute their own locality and feel the immediacy of a local community tragedy. As I think I said before, the lads from a neighbourhood were put into the same units together, and so often a village or town district would lose most of its young men in the same battle, even on the same day.
I haven’t the depth of compassion to be as objective as you.
I doubt that. ‘The Match’ expresses that compassion well enough! It’s seen from the British side rather than from the point of view of German soldiers; it’s our boys looking over no-man’s-land and thinking, ‘It’s the same for them. They have mothers at home who worry about them and will be grief-stricken if they die’. There must have been some who thought along these lines.
I’ve posted a reply to your comment on my own poem. This has been a real dialogue, on more than one level – on the poems themselves, on WW1 and the young men’s experience, and on our family histories. My own view of WW1 (in a nutshell) is that it was a crime against humanity. The disreputable Hapsburg family (I use the word advisedly) who ruled Austria-Hungary, wanted to incorporate Serbia into their little empire; the Serbs understandably wanted none of it; the Kaiser gave Austria a blank cheque, unconditional support; Austria declared war, and off we go. It was a crime against humanity, for which the Archduke and the Kaiser are largely to blame. Ordinary Austrians/Germans and ordinary Frenchmen/Englishmen were not enemies. Quite a big nutshell…but that just about sums it up.
Many thanks for posting these poems – it has been very thought-provoking. I realise this sounds as if I’m signing off, ending the discussion – but if you want to continue it, please do so.

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