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Writings and Witterings


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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 –
kill.
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