Today’s poem commemorates a century since the ending of ‘the war to end all wars.’ Which hasn’t happened again and again and again worldwide, in civil disputes, freedom fights, and far ranging involvements that have resulted in more war and less peace. Remembrance Day 2018 salutes the fallen who served when called. But on this Remembrance Day I also want to be thankful for those conscientious objectors, many of whom I met when they were in their 80s and 90s back in the last millenium. I knew COs who served in the merchant marine in both world wars. I knew those who served in the Friends Ambulence Unit. I knew those who did social work in the bomb ravaged East End of London as alternative service. I even knew a CO who was a jail bird. Rather than parlay his engineering reserved occupation status, he went to Stangeways Prison and rewired their electrics. I remember them today.
The poem’s title is inspired by a project a Quaker friend of mine participated for this Remembrance Day. She was here last summer and crocheted numerous white poppies to create wreaths of remembrance for those who suffered the collateral damage of war. You can find out more about this Peace Pledge Union project here.
The white poppy has become the pacifist way of remembering on the 11th of the 11th month each year. I am remembering with a poem that was also in part inspired by a BBC documentary where a German World War I combatant described how his first kill affected him forever.
The featured image is a photograph I took in Litchfield Cathedral last April. In a side chapel they had an exhibit on the first World War. This sculpture calls to mind the many (about 300 if my memory of one statistic floated is serving me correct) shell-shocked soldiers who were executed for ‘funking.’ I remember those men, too, today.
This is a revised version of a poem originally posted here in 2018
Killing is nothing personal
so long as it is wears the other uniform.
One who knew the trenches spoke,
remembered the moment
he saw the eyes of the man
How strangling, beating
and stabbing were their day’s work.
except he still woke some nights,
haunted by that Frenchman’s eyes,
which otherwise he would have taken and shook.
Then there were the ones who came home broken –
even after Armistice those absent
while sitting around the dining table.
There were Dads who disappeared each Christmas
down a bottle, refighting the Battle.
There were ones who drove family away.
Home has no place for combat.
Lest we forget the shell-shocked comrades
stood blindfolded before firing squad
knowing the Pals taking the parting shot.
Lest we forget survivors who escaped
bombs and bullets in cellars. And rape. Or not.
The victor can spoil. They’ve lost the shellac.
It leaves a wildness in the blood and bone.
both survivors and civilians back home.
That peace bugled at Last Post
never sounded an easy note.
Lest we forget the price of peace consider
the cost in collateral damage
whites in eyes.
Like a bayonet into a belly.
Truly, that is the business of war.
All are lost.
Lest we forget.
Copyright © Bee Smith 2020
I discovered this photo on Facebook in a post by Nikki Phillips of an art installation by Jackie Llandelli of Ghost Soldiers overlooking their memorials in St. John’s Churchyard, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.