Poem for Armistice Day

The following poem was originally published in my book, ‘Towards Humanity’, in 2015. However, as we are now only four weeks away from Armistice Day, exactly one hundred years after the end of World War One, I thought it would be a good time to re-visit this poem. Many may not have read it anyway.
The notes at the end of the poem explain how it came about, but it may be relevant to point out that I personally feel a strong affinity with the recipient of this letter in the poem, since I have worked in agriculture, and indeed with horses briefly; besides which, my father ploughed with horses in the 1950s and held very fond memories of that time. My father also fought in the Second World War, taking part in the D-Day landings in 1944.
The poem itself says the rest.

I recently visited London and took these photos of the statue on Platform One of Paddington Station.

 

Letter to an Unknown Soldier

 Dear Tommy,

How are the blasted fields of France?                                                

Not much like the corduroy fields at home,

I guess, where you were following the plough,

and caught the sunlight’s glow

off the moist, neat ridges of loam,

furrowing far into an unknown future,

while the blackbird sang his love song from the chirruping copse;

nor like the sun-drenched hay fields

bleaching in those days of tranquil yellow,

as you followed the clicking, ticking tedder

to turn and turn and turn again

the sweetly scented summer crop.

Now you, and your fellow labouring men,

will never know such pastoral peace again.

 

“Your country needs you,” you were told,                                 

to go a-mowing in the killing fields

of Flanders and of France,

to dig the soil

and sow the fields with shells;

to make the earth to boil

with mud and blood of foreign working men;

to tunnel like a mole, as blind as fools,

to try and blow the Hun to Kingdom come.

 

And from the factories and fields of Germany

there’ll be some young, hard-working Fritz

with a mother, sister, brother, sweetheart, lover,

and you may fire the shots

that shred their lives, and his, to bits;

before a Werner, Helmut, Klaus or Willi

does the very same to you.

But no matter, you will be

crucified on the cross of a good cause,

for this, it’s said, is the war to end all wars.

 

Tommy, I know I shouldn’t tell you this,

but one day soon you will be face-down in the stinking mud,

soaking in your sweat and blood and piss;

and years hence people will solemnly say

that they remember you, and value your spilt blood,

that you served your King and country well.

The great and “good” will sing your praises,

then re-draw some lines on maps

and maybe plant a stone near where you fell.

 

Tommy, do you know

that you are fighting this war

because a Serbian nationalist rebel

shot dead an Austrian royal in Sarajevo?

Do you know where Sarajevo is?

It doesn’t matter, since some other murderous incident

would equally have done

to haul you from the fields

and arm you with a bayonet and gun.

 

Do you wear the scarf your mother knit,

a mother’s love in every stitch?

Somehow she knows you’ll never return

to sup with her at kitchen table,

at close of day with candles lit,

when you have rubbed the horses down,

having led them back from field to stable,

or trimmed a hedge or cleared a ditch.

 

Go now, Tommy,

for there is a floundering horse out there,

belly deep in sucking mud,

that needs your horseman’s skill and love;

and a German ploughboy, fresh from foreign furrows,

has his rifle ready,

will have you soon in his assassin sights.

He does not know that you and he could talk all night,

could bend each other’s ear,

about who ploughs the straightest furrow

and the taste and price of beer.

 

I’m writing you this letter, Tommy,                                

from near a hundred years ahead.

The wars they keep on coming, Tommy,

for the machine of man’s stupidity

continues to be fed.

The groaning you can hear, Tommy,

will never go away;

so best foot forward now, my lad,

into those fields of bloody clay.

Yours in sorrow,

Dave Urwin.

 

This poem was first published on-line in summer 2014 as part of the project which invited everyone to write the letter held by the statue of the soldier on platform one of London’s Paddington Station. The letters, over 21,000 of them, will be available to read on-line until 2018, and then archived in the British Library.

 

Further information: http://www.1418now.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About jadedmountain

I am a poet, living a rural life in south-west Wales. The purpose of this blog is to publicise my poetry.
This entry was posted in pacifism, poetry, rural life, war poems and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Poem for Armistice Day

  1. I remember when you wrote this poem and how much moving it is. I suggested my friend Rosella who is a teacher to make her pupils write a letter to an unknown soldier, and she did. The pupils acted well and the best letters and poems were read during a celebration with pupils reading, music etc. on 4th November (the Victory day we call it in Italy). She received congratulations from local authorites and from public! It’s always so sad to see monuments like that at Paddington station and I get angry every time I read those war plags in honour of the country (and king). Those guys didn’t go to war for their will and there was no honour to save! They were sent to a massacre just to please some governments and their “thirst” of power. That rural guy you refer to in the letter is very similar to my mum’s brother who was killed at 23 in autumn 1941 by a bomb thrown by a Serbian soldier. Some days after the advice of his death, the family received his last letter written the day before being killed. He didn’t realize at all the reasons of the war and the dangers he was involved in. He wanted information about the fields, the cows, the dog, the vintage and hoped to be back home soon to “taste the new wine” with his brothers. He could never taste it and 20 years after his brothers and sisters only received a military metal box containing his bones. So terrible and sad to be involved in that event when I was a child. How many millions like him? No more, no more, but it goes on…

    Liked by 1 person

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