The cool morning wind coursing though his hair brought a memory to Billy. He is a small boy sat on the rustic bench outside his grandfather’s cottage waiting for the sun to rise. The old man steps out of the front door. They smile at each other and before his grandfather sits; he ruffles Billy’s blond curls with his broad hand.
They savour the silence for a while, then as the dawn chorus begins his grandfather, who had been a Gamekeeper on the estate, tells him about the birds that are singing. How the skylarks, song thrushes, robins and blackbirds are the first to sing. Then the wrens and warblers, more sensitive to the coldness of dawn, join in. The still dawn air carrying nature’s hymns.
Then, when the light brightens and food, the seeds and insects, are easier to find, the chorus fades.
He can see his grandfather now sat on the bench hunched forward, chin resting on the hands that grip his walking stick. He turns and smiles.
Billy felt the warmth of the rising sun on his face. It was going to be a fine day.
Surprised at the sudden volley, the audience of crows rose cawing from the surrounding trees in a cloud of black feathers and flew into the brightening sky.
The Last Full Measure
Towards the field of bloody battle
We march the long straight road
To answer the sabres metallic rattle
Of a godless foe who would goad
Peaceful nations to stand and fight
And sacrifice our blood and treasure
For honour, freedom, peace and right
We will give our last full measure
Capricious clouds, cherubic white
Gaze through the gossamer light
From the vaulted pale blue sky
Swallows fly high on zephyr’s sigh
As we march ‘tween Gallic leas
Amidst the tall and slender trees
That stand in line, a guard of honour
As pale cattle of content demeanour
In lush and verdant pasture graze.
I look upon all this and dream of days
Of peace that are, God willing nigh
And we will walk this path, you and I
Two more poems for my epistolary project. The theme is marching towards the front line . My soldier character has yet to experience the reality of warfare.
It was a short walk from the Post Office to the address on the telegram. Rather than send the boy he decided to personally deliver this bad news to his friend. At the door he paused to look up the familiar street, peaceful in the late spring sunlight. Paused to remember, try to recall happier times.
He knocked, listened to the footsteps approach along the hallway he knew well. The door opened. He was relieved it was Alex.
“George.” Said Alex, looking at the small square telegram offered to him by the Postmaster. Alex, his reluctant fingers failed to grip the telegram which fluttered to land soundlessly on the pavement. Alex slowly bent down to pick up the message of death; his three sons were in France, in constant danger. As he stood up their eyes met.
“It’s for Laura.” Said George. “It’s addressed to her.”
“Clem, then.” Said Alex, his mind a confused maelstrom of emotion; guilt at the good news that his sons still lived battled with the grief that his daughter’s beloved husband’s name would be written in the dark ink.
Then, a voice behind him broke his train of thought. Broke his heart.
“Faither, what is it? I heard Clem’s name…….”
Alex turned around to face his daughter, reached out to catch her as she fell, her life, her future slipping through his fingers.
My story is of how I imagine the news of my grandfather’s death was delivered.
When the war ended one of Clem’s comrades visited Laura to tell of how her husband had been wounded during the Third Battle of Arras. With his hip shattered he had been laid in a shell hole for shelter until he could be picked up. He was never seen again and he was formally presumed dead in February 1918, one of 36,000 dead at Arras.
Beneath time swept landscapes
where lost souls tread, you lie
buried; missing, death presumed.
Your lost treasures: your future life
and precious dreams entombed.
Above, no pale stone with chiselled
name marks the place: your grave.
A passive poet, doubtful warrior
you died young, consumed
in a holocaust made by men.
Beloved wife and child bereft
forever haunted by a never
healing sorrow, and unfulfilled
dreams of what might have been.
For you, my unmet grandfather
I carry your genes, your memory.
With these words I mark your life
During the First World War on the 9th of April 1917 my grandfather Clem Walter died during the the Battle of Arras. A stretcher bearer his body was never found; one of 36,000 at Arras with no known grave.