Writings and Witterings

Brown and Blue


We live in canvas bells for five days’
sweat-clammy shelter,
hot in fields of hay,
as a great war rages.
Anne and I become snake
and snake charmer around a smoky campfire.
The menfolk ‘on the front’
– some of our dads –
My dad’s a Local Defence Volunteer. He has a gun.
We have a singsong, Pack Up Your Troubles for wide-eyed mothers,
nurses, head-scarved land girls,
and munitions factory workers, canary-faced women
who feast on fat pork spitting
splitting sausages that stay
on the tongue with charred onion breath, for hours.

We wonder what it’s like
on the bloody muddy Western front.
Will jam jars and cotton reels really help?
If You Were The Only Girl In The World
our mothers’ eyes shine.
Big blue-garbed Girl Guides
tease us because we’re brown
– few gongs yet –
Me, arms akimbo, in a khaki sleeping bag;
writhing, serpentine, up and down,
side to side,
while Anne tootles, fluting on her recorder,
face dark with gravy browning.
In the trenches guns shatter eardrums, pop eyeballs, make mush of bones.

The big girls give out rubbery gas masks
– hard to breathe –
they send messages using small flags;
wrinkle soapy fingers in hospitals; lather and launder dressings;
roll bandages; prep stretchers for bleeding bodies.

We collect warm hens’ eggs, harvest cabbages and keep our chins up,
knit socks and scarves for the Tommies,
and hope our mums don’t get a telegram.

Polly Stretton © 2014

This poem was published in Remember, the Paragram Poetry Anthology 2014, I mentioned this in conversation with my friend, Mike Alma, who has sent me the photo below to show what the Girl Guides looked like in the early 20th century. Many thanks Mike. Here is Mike’s photo of Doris and Peg, bet they loved camping.

Mike's mum as a Guide circa 1920

Mike’s mum as a Guide circa 1920


22 thoughts on “Brown and Blue

  1. The uniform hasn’t changed much huh! I’m still reading your poem over and over, imaging everything on my mind, what a post!


  2. So much detail in this poem. Such a story you told in a small amount of words.


  3. The narrative in this poem takes the reader right into the actions, reactions and emotions of the era Polly. Very much liked thank you.


  4. My Mum was a girl guide between the wars and in the land army in WWII. Your poem evoked this era so well. It also brought the camping experience to life – I could smell the hay – and the inconsequential/so consequential detail makes it all real. And then the poignant juxta-position of “…bleeding bodies,” and the safe domestic image of “warm hens’ eggs. This is the stuff Polly.


  5. This is fabulous Polly, you painted a great picture, it was such a vivid scene. Just lovely. I’ve read it a few times over.


    • Thanks Christine…I’ve just spotted on Facebook that you’ve got a book out…don’t know how I missed it, but will be ordering it as soon as I’ve broken into my piggybank 🙂


      • The first book called Journey into Poetry was one I just had printed for family and friends two years ago and because it was cheaper to have lots printed than a few I have several spare copies which I am giving in exchange for a donation to my JustGiving page. The new book is being published by Bennison Books (very chuffed 😊) and will be on Amazon very soon.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Polly, a veritable feast for ALL the senses! I could taste, touch, smell, hear and even see in my mind the goings on. The Land Girls is a newer concept for me. I hadn’t ever heard of them in the states but since coming to France I have seen programs and even had a friend whose mother was a Land Girl. Good work and perhaps a labour of love? 🙂


  7. ‘Pack up your troubles for wide eyed mothers’ fabulous line. Reminds me of Kate Bush Army Dreamers.


  8. we always have to remember that even during the shadow of war, people live and have moments of joy.


    • Thank you for commenting on this poem Björn – I’m delighted to say that I’m back in the land of broadband / wifi – so will be able to join in with dVerse once more – looking forward to seeing how the new team are doing 🙂


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