Sunday, 5 June 2011

Soldier and sacrifice

At school I never really enjoyed English lessons, in particular I really disliked  English Literature. I don't now why, as in general learning came easy and I did well at most subjects. Perhaps the thoughts of reading Shakespeare was just too much of a turn off ?

 But one piece of  work my English teacher shared has stuck with me ever since and I was reminded of it when I saw a copy pinned on the wall during last weeks visit to the "Secret Bunker"

I grew up like most Brits within the shadow of a "war" in Northern Ireland, which for the most part was a TV news item, but on occasions effected us on the main land by way of Terrorist Bombings. At about age 6 I remember being evacuated with my parents from a shopping centre because of a bomb threat,  I also recall that the BBC had specific reporting restrictions that prevented them broadcasting the voice of anyone connected to the IRA. Instead they would show them with an Irish actors voice dubbed over, but saying the same words (strange) Things have moved on, Jerry Adams the once leader of the Political arm of the IRA is now an elected MP. I also remember the massive explosion at a Brighton Hotel when the Conservative leadership were holding their annual conference. So amidst this background, as an impressionable schoolboy I was presented wit the words penned by Harvey Andrews about the true story of a British Soldier Michael Willets on the streets of Northern Ireland.

In a station in the city a British soldier stood
Talking to the people there if the people would
Some just stared in hatred, and others turned in pain
And the lonely British soldier wished he was back home again

Come join the British Army! said the posters in his town
See the world and have your fun come serve before the Crown
The jobs were hard to come by and he could not face the dole
So he took his country's shilling and enlisted on the roll

For there was no fear of fighting, the Empire long was lost
Just ten years in the army getting paid for being bossed
Then leave a man experienced a man who's made the grade
A medal and a pension some mem'ries and a trade

Then came the call to Ireland as the call had come before
Another bloody chapter in an endless civil war
The priests they stood on both sides the priests they stood behind
Another fight in Jesus name the blind against the blind

The soldier stood between them between the whistling stones
And then the broken bottles that led to broken bones
The petrol bombs that burnt his hands the nails that pierced his skin
And wished that he had stayed at home surrounded by his kin

The station filled with people the soldier soon was bored
But better in the station than where the people warred
The room filled up with mothers with daughters and with sons
Who stared with itchy fingers at the soldier and his gun

A yell of fear a screech of brakes the shattering of glass
The window of the station broke to let the package pass
A scream came from the mothers as they ran towards the door
Dragging children crying from the bomb upon the floor

The soldier stood and could not move his gun he could not use
He knew the bomb had seconds and not minutes on the fuse
He could not run to pick it up and throw it in the street
There were far too many people there too many running feet

Take cover! yelled the soldier, Take cover for your lives
And the Irishmen threw down their young and stood before their wives
They turned towards the soldier their eyes alive with fear
For God's sake save our children or they'll end their short lives here

The soldier moved towards the bomb his stomach like a stone
Why was this his battle God why was he alone
He lay down on the package and he murmured one farewell
To those at home in England to those he loved so well

He saw the sights of summer felt the wind upon his brow
The young girls in the city parks how precious were they now
The soaring of the swallow the beauty of the swan
The music of the turning world so soon would it be gone

A muffled soft explosion and the room began to quake
The soldier blown across the floor his blood a crimson lake
They never heard him cry or shout they never heard him moan
And they turned their children's faces from the blood and from the bones

The crowd outside soon gathered and the ambulances came
To carry off the body of a pawn lost in the game
And the crowd they clapped and cheered and they sang their rebel songs
One soldier less to interfere where he did not belong

But will the children growing up learn at their mothers' knees
The story of the soldier who bought their liberty
Who used his youthful body as a means towards an end
Who gave his life to those who called him murderer not friend

What struck me was not the loss of life but the last paragraph, the futility of a life lost, that makes no effect on those saved. The event in 1971 was not an all changing one in many peoples lives, "The troubles" continued for some time, in fact as those of us that live in Manchester will testify 1996 proved the hostilities to be far from over when the IRA sent a coded warning of a Bomb in our city centre, the area was evacuated but the explosion destroyed the heart of our city

I heard the explosion in our home about 7 miles away, my in-laws were in a department store in the centre of town that had all its windows blown in, but it could have been worse.

The sad thing, when all the destruction and deaths end, it always comes to the same result, men sitting around a table and sorting out there differences. Its true when they say "war is young men dying and old men talking "


Anonymous said...

....and widows and mothers weeping.

Geoff Maritz said...

War is senseless. Thousands of people die to keep who happy? The banks? The tax collector? The priests? Who?
The same thing happened in this country, thousands of young men sent to die in foreign countries to protect who from whom. ? ? ?
God bless those who never go to war, Geoff.

Duckie. said...

Remember that well, luckily I was on holiday in Cornwall, but my office was demolished and luckier still it was Saturday so no one in there!
In the end it comes down to talking round a table,

Cathy said...

A beautiful poem.

My husband was on a train into Manhattan the day the twin towers came down ... it was a very long day waiting for him to come home again.

War, terror and other acts of violence serve no purpose regardless of the justifications WE claim. If only it were so simple as to get folks talking round a table ... someone always chooses muscle instead of talk.

Anne-Marie said...

In 1971, my 18 year old brother, John, was serving with the King's Own, Lancashire Fusiliers, in Northern Ireland....he's joined almost straight from school, wanting a good career.....he came home with a sniper's bullet in his shoulder that could so easily have been in his heart.
I wrote to the Manchester Evening News, protesting that so many people were having their lives snuffed out....I was a 19 year old new wife and mother, with a baby daughter, a few weeks old.....these were the days when full postal addresses were published....I received a 3 threatening letters, and a package that contained the makings of a small bomb. Terrorism has no guilt, conscience, nor humanity.
Our daughter, Gillian, was a teenager, working a Saturday job in Manchester, when the IRA blew up our city. We didn't know she was safe for several hours....terrorism is well named.

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