Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The One With Remembrance Sunday

25 years ago this week I went on a sixth form excursion to the battlefields in France and Belgium. It was an A level history field trip and it changed my life.

That may sound rather an over dramatic, sweeping statement but it did.

We were studying World War 1, which has left me with a devotion and passion for the war poets to this day. As we walked along the actual trenches of the Somme and visited the endless fields of graves, we were all struck by the waste of all those young lives. 

Of course back then, as a bunch of idealistic 17 year olds, we were going to change the world. Some of our number wore white poppies for peace along with the blood red poppies of remembrance. After two Gulf wars, the conflict in Afghanistan, 9/11 and the London Tube bombings I doubt they do now.

Now peace seems like a luxury. Remembrance is a necessity. In my eyes anyway.

On Sunday, when I chatted to a friend on Twitter who was actually there on that field trip I suddenly remembered a poem I wrote some years later about the experience.

Yes you heard correctly. A poem.

I haven't written much poetry over the years but occasionally the mood takes me. I have never shared any of it with anyone before. Ever. But somehow this feels right and sums up how I felt then and now.

And yes we really did have Kate Bush The Whole Story playing on the tape deck of the coach and Army Dreamers came on just as we first saw the fields of graves. I also did fall arse over tit in a trench and get covered in mud!

So here it is. Wear your poppy with pride.


Have you been there?

Have you seen it?

Did you trip up in a trench?

Did you laugh your teenage socks off?

Cos you couldn’t smell the stench.

Playing Kate Bush “Army Dreamers’

As the coach went passing by

Then we saw the fields of endless graves

And we all began to cry.

Now I’ll always buy a Poppy

To commentate their fate

And remind me how we stood there

Sobbing tears at Menin Gate.

Just a bunch of idealistic kids

But when the truth was told

The facts are bigger than ideals

And make your blood run cold.

The boys who died at just 16

The husbands, fathers, sons

Sent out to meet their slaughter

Ready with their guns.

The endless names on massive tombs,

The endless lines of graves.

Babies ripped from mother’s wombs,

And not one we could save.

Buried where they’ve fallen

It’s more than just a shame

The hopeless sense of heartbreak

For graves without a name.

And when we crossed the channel

We’d still hear their battle call

We’d all returned much altered

But they’d not come back at all.

So I always buy a poppy

To commemorate the dead

And say thank you to the living

With “Army Dreamer’s in my head.