Perhaps as we remember the fallen
let us not forget why they were there
Only boys in too many instances
in a conflict they wouldn’t understand
Put there in the interests of profits,
egged on by thoughts of king, country, empire
Paraded as heroes; our dead heroes;
sold short by fathers, mothers and us all;
Youth, tragic a whole generation lost
I dream of rivers,
But not of the fast flowing channel,
Winding its undulating path
Between rows of willows,
Silent sentries, heads bowed
On an English Stratford summers day
My dream is of a different kind,
Hades like the Styx opens in an
All too different landscape;
I see the earthworks,
The human moles burrowing sweat
Thrust out of time, out of place, out of breath
Knee deep in water and shit;
They stand ready,
A row of pawns in another’s match,
A shroud of momentary silence.
And then a whistle blows, a shout, a command;
To take that final, fateful step into oblivion.
Oh yes, I dream of rivers;
And all of them poppy red.
We who are about to die salute you
So said the corporal loading up the pin
The cold steel of bayonet running through
An enemy, the original sin;
If we escape lads I’ll buy the first beer
Explosion, the last thing that he will hear
Time is the greatest healer so they say
Blinded by a shell here I am alone
At least you fought, made the enemy pay
My medal given I could not see the throne
And so they will remember me years hence;
A statistic, a poppy on a fence
A retrospective for the 100 year anniversary. I wrote this on 11 November 2013
Drawn by our own curiosity,
The re-run of a million tragedies
Made blind by red lapels in pale sunlight,
We smell the hypocrisy of
A school of clowns,
Whose headstands, armstands, arsestands matter not a jot.
We shall remember,
Not in the circus of cringing cant,
But in our own quiet way,
Seeking no corporate endorsement,
No patting on the back what a good chap calling,
But simply lost dreaming in lasting remembrance.
In a postscript to his novel, Private Peaceful, Michael Morpurgo writes :
“In the First World War, between 1914 and 1918, over 290 soldiers of the British and Commonwealth armies were executed by firing squad, some for desertion and cowardice, two for simply sleeping at their posts.
Many of these men we now know were traumatised by shell shock. Court martial were brief, the accused often unrepresented.
To this day the injustice they suffered has never been officially recognised. The British Government continues to refuse to grant posthumous pardons”
Many of the death warrants were signed by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. A man who that weasel Michael Gove – never fought in a war, never likely too – greatly admires. Haig is in the collective memory as an incompetent butcher, mainly of working class young men. From my point of view, another reason to detest Gove and his reactionary views. But all the more reason of why he should be hounded from office.
This is an imagined speech I gave to the character of Amos Sherriff in A Man of Humble Beginnings. It seems appropriate to reproduce it in view of my earlier post:
But by 1914 with the war clouds hovering over the whole of Europe Amos shared a bond with Macdonald that ten years before would have been unthinkable, the bond of opposing mass slaughter in the name of profit. Against the patriotic fervour that engulfed even some in the Labour Party Amos and Macdonald spoke with passion against the tide.
(WHITE exits and AMOS steps forward to address the audience. The lights dim. Keep the Home Fires Burning is now being sung loud enough to almost drown out what he says)
AMOS: Is it the place of the working men of Europe to take up murderous arms against one another to shed their common blood not in the cause of freeing humanity from the burden of capitalism but to defend the profits of the very capitalists who daily exploit their sweat and toil? Is this the Jerusalem that we want to see built here amongst our green and pleasant land?
(The singing suddenly becomes deafening)
James Ramsey Macdonald may be a voice of the minority, for yes we are few in number and we are not as loud as the voices of Asquith, Lloyd-George or Grey on the government’s benches. But we will continue to express with vigour the undeniable truth at every opportunity that this is a war for profits being conducted not in the interests of the British common man and woman –