Poetry

THE 11TH HOUR

By 24th March 2009December 9th, 2019No Comments

I was shopping in Sainsburys on Sunday when the two minutes silence began,
To remember the dead of a century’s wars, that unique invention of man.
I covertly looked around me at the shoppers all silent and still
And the checkout assistant, with head bowed, in front of her idle till.
And I marvelled at just how quiet it was, where just a few moments before,
The place was alive with the hubbub of sounds, that abound in a crowded store.
And as I studied their faces, some lowered, some staring ahead,
I wondered just what they were thinking in this mark of respect for the dead.

Some young ones perhaps were impatient, to get on with their shopping again.
It was so long ago when it happened, they hadn’t experienced the pain.
But the elderly lady beside me was secretly shedding a tear.
She’d known the horror of war time and suffered the noise and the fear.
Perhaps she remembered a loved one who went away not to return.
And, looking around at the world of today, she wondered why they never learn.

I was too young to know what had happened when the second world war was declared.
Just eighteen months old, a mere toddler. I hadn’t yet learned the word ‘scared’.
I didn’t notice the shortage of food; I barely remembered my Dad.
I suppose it’s quite true that you really don’t miss the things that you’ve never had.
And the sacrifice Mother had to make to ensure that her family thrived .
I knew nothing about ‘til long after; then I marvelled at how she’d survived.
I was eight when it finally ended and Dad arrived home at last
And started to rebuild our lives again and tried to forget what had passed.
As a family we had been lucky, for none of our loved ones were lost.
But I remember the tears in my Mother’s eyes when they talked of the terrible cost.

My image of war was fashioned, by films and by books that I read.
I read of our glorious exploits and revelled in enemy dead.
I saw The Dam Busters and cheered with the rest as the water gushed out in full flow.
I didn’t think of the thousands who drowned, in the stricken valleys below.
When I played, if it wasn’t Red Indians, it was dastardly Germans I shot,
And, like in the films, they died cleanly; it seemed not to hurt them a lot.

In real life of course it’s not like that; they don‘t die without any pain.
As a shell rips a limb off or bullets tear through, they cry out again and again,
And lie in the mud for hours on end with no one to render first aid.
‘Til death puts an end to their suffering – and another poppy is made.

The voice on the Tannoy says, “Thank you,” and the hubbub resumes once more.
For life must go on for the living and the tills have to roll for the store.
We have made our annual gesture and I wonder how much it’s achieved.
I fear, for the planet in general, the message is still not perceived.
For during that two minutes silence, the tide will not have been turned.
Many more have been killed the world over – and all because man will not learn.

Bryn Strudwick

Author Bryn Strudwick

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