16 November 2015

1915  -  “Violets from Plug Street Wood, Sweet, I send you … ”
Roland Leighton from Ploegsteert Wood, Flanders, to Vera Brittain 

Serried ranks marching through Whitehall, paraplegics,
and princes, pensioners and red coated guardsmen, 
politicians pristine in sombre mourning dress,
the hatted and  turbaned, feathered and helmeted,
gather around Lutyen’s white marble Cenotaph, 
symbol of an old empire’s long remembering.

In a quiet green village at the heart of Kent stands
a Memorial Cross.  Here mourners will assemble
to remember loved ones lost long ago in France,
and brave men and women who, never to return
from the war grounds of Iraq and Afghanistan, 
followed the bugle’s last call to eternal sleep.  

Should we cast aside our memories of trauma
and destruction in the sodden trenches of France,
where boys, never grown into manhood, there still lie
beneath a carpet of spent shells in Nomansland,
or ignore the sacrifice of thousands who fell
on the beaches of far away Gallipoli?

If we shrug off as old history best forgotten
when, as Death hovered smiling over the Line, six
thousand victims of ten minutes’ gas died at Ypres,
or if a hundred years on we cannot or will not 
remember those whose lives were tragically broken,
how can we teach our children the harsh truths of war?

When the grass in the sun warmed meadows grows again,
the scorched earth takes into itself a million bones
to nourish the wheat and feed a dormouse newborn,
do not forget the pain while you rebuild the peace, 
and gather violets once more in Plug Street Wood.
Amen  So may it be.

Lieutenant R A Leighton, aged 20, died from his wounds 23 December 1915             


Illustration by Liz