I’m watching a brilliant programme by Jeremy Paxman on Wilfred Owen, the great poet of the First World War, and in it they’re looking back on the “Great War” and the weapons that were used, grenades chief among them. For maximum distance, the soldiers were taught to throw them as though bowling “with a straight arm”. No ICC officers back in the day, then.
I was surprised to see a young cadet (or maybe he was in the full army, who knows) sell not a single poppy at Hammersmith yesterday lunchtime. I was further disturbed when one unmitigated bastard shouted “No” to him out of frustration. I doubt he knows what they even signify.
War really is a bit of a bugger. My Grandfather, who I never met, somehow survived the first war by riding a horse in France. That’s all we were ever told. His son, my uncle, then fought in Malaya in the 1950s and was shot through the stomach, again somehow surviving (though he lost all his hair within months). And again that’s all we know of it. I suppose it’s common for ex-soldiers to not say anything of what they saw, but you can’t help wonder…
- What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
- Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
- Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
- Can patter out their hasty orisons.
- No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
- Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
- The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
- And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
- What candles may be held to speed them all?
- Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
- Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
- The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
- Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
- And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.