Earlier this year, the three remaining World War I veterans living in the UK sadly died: Bill Stone at the age of 108 in January followed by Henry Allingham, 113, and Harry Patch (photo), 111, in July.
Today, special Armistice Day services have been held around the country in memory of them and the ‘Lost Generation’, the millions of others that died in the trenches of Europe between 1914 and 1918. As a fitting tribute to their memory, a poem by Carol Ann Duffy (the new Poet Laureate) is posted below:
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin
that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud…
but you get up, amazed, watch bled bad blood
run upwards from the slime into its wounds;
see lines and lines of British boys rewind
back to their trenches, kiss the photographs from home –
mothers, sweethearts, sisters, younger brothers
not entering the story now to die and die and die.
Dulce – No – Decorum – No – Pro patria mori.
You walk away.
You walk away; drop your gun (fixed bayonet)
like all your mates do too –
Harry, Tommy, Wilfred, Edward, Bert –
and light a cigarette.
There”s coffee in the square,
warm French bread
and all those thousands dead
are shaking dried mud from their hair
and queueing up for home. Freshly alive,
a lad plays Tipperary to the crowd, released
from History; the glistening, healthy horses fit for heroes, kings.
You lean against a wall,
your several million lives still possible
and crammed with love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food.
You see the poet tuck away his pocket-book and smile.
If poetry could truly write it backwards,
then it would.