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Writings and Witterings


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Somme Song, and, Remember the Animals

To commemorate Armistice Day, here are two of my WWI poems.

Somme Song

You smell the fire and sulphur,
you see the flames and fear;
according to the date you died
you’d been there just one year.
One year of mud and mire,
stink of trenchfoot’s black-dead-rot;
of wondering if you’d get home,
fearful you would not.
Letters from your girl,
back in good old Blighty,
you read how proud of you she is,
that she prays daily, nightly.
The seeping chill, the icy times,
the nights’ illumined shocks,
the bullets’ hateful murky crimes
which your mind surely blocks;
dead men all around you,
scattered in dark ditches,
littering the ground,
fury’s fathomed riches.
You got home part way through
they thought you fortunate,
you lasted two months more,
but came back far too late.
What did your life have in store
that you could not have found?
What more could you have given,
as you lay, on cold bleak ground?
You fought for us to have a life,
you fought for King and Country
you gave your life, and, God knows,
this is duty…most ugly.

Polly Stretton © 2016

First published in ‘Remembering The Somme’ (Black Pear Press, 2016)

Remember the Animals

Hold your horses, cuddle the cat,
when you’re alone, this is where it’s at,
creatures of comfort, of work, of play,
living beings to help through the day.
Carrying water, food and meds,
helping the men lying low in their beds.
Ammunition, so needed in trenches,
dogs delivered, using their senses.
Canaries detected poisonous gas,
the rabid rats never got past
dogs and cats who patiently waited,
and cleared away all of the hated
rodents.
Monkeys and foxes, pets and mascots,
cleaning wounds, clearing foot rot,
they raised morale, provided solace
amidst the hardships of war endured.
They worked, they played: they played their part,
we remember them with all our heart.

Polly Stretton © 2018

First published in ‘The Unremembered–World War One’s Army of Workers–The British Story’ (Black Pear Press, 2018)


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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