John Henry Todd
Somewhere in France 1918
By His Majesty's command I am to forward the enclosed message of sympathy from Their Gracious Majesties the King and Queen.
I am at the same time to express the regret of the Army Council at the soldier's death in his Country's service.
I am to add that any information that may be received as to the soldier's burial will be communicated to you in due course.
A separate leaflet dealing more fully with this subject is enclosed.
You ended up in Italy
at a place you couldn't pronounce,
in a line of troops along a river
to stop the enemy advance.
There were rumours that the tide was beginning to turn
and the end would be coming soon;
Hang on in for victory, lads, the captain called
and then we'll all be home.
But the pride that you felt
when you first took the King's shilling
had diminished back on the Western Front,
and on the banks of the Piave
it finally evaporated like a cloud
in the sweltering heat of a high-summer sun
and gave way to a bitter disillusionment
and a sullen resentment that was shared by everyone.
They said things would be different
when you got back to Blighty -
homes for heroes, a fair living wage -
but your betters would still demand your obedience
and at the end of it all, nothing would change.
What's the use of worrying?
It never was worthwhile...
Sheltering in your shell-crater,
feeling in your pockets for a lucifer to light your fag,
as the sky explodes above your head
and armies, nations and continents collide
you finally find your match.
This is where history stops
and everything is over
in a flash.
At first, you were down as missing in action,
then they wrote to your family to say you'd fallen in France,
and for the sacrifice you'd made
in fighting for your country
empty platitudes were offered
and our gracious King gave thanks.
Italy, France (Iraq, Afghanistan) -
it's all the same foreign field in the end.
You were just another number
on another sheet of paper that needed stamping;
the geographical details of your death
obviously weren't important to them.
What was important was that you fought the good fight
and helped win the good war,
and as a sign of the nation's gratitude
your name was chiselled on a block of stone
so it would live for ever more.
the two minutes silence
the fidgeting children
the shuffling of feet
and then it's all over
we carry on shopping
and time fades the wreath.