Veteran‘Why speak not they of comrades that went under?’ – Wilfred Owen
He never said much about the war
after he came back. We thought then
there wasn’t much to tell.
But when, in later life, I read the histories
- and then became involved and went in deeper -
his regiment kept popping up.
He must have been there, and there and there
- Dunkirk, Sicily, Cassino, Arromanches.
He wasn’t invalided out, or wounded.
Then I began wondering why
he said there wasn’t much to tell.
I thought at first it was just modesty
(we Brits always underplay it, stiff upper lip etc.)
Why did he not count himself a hero?
What horrors had he seen? Or done?
And did he know too much of lives laid down
not for freedom, King and Country, but for him…
Who of his friends and neighbours didn’t come back?
Did he not want me, a child, to know
Life’s realities? Was his deepest wish for me
the innocence of his hard-won peace?
And for his family, no taint of conflict
which only he had been through,
which largely passed us by.
(My mother worrying, of course, but not letting on,)
while I, playing in the garden
with Bob, whose father never came home,
watched the planes go over. We knew them all.
So I traced Dad’s regiment’s history,
focusing on his Company, his Platoon,
but the personal details are missing….
I ask him again, “Dad, what did you do in the war?”
He glances at me from under those grey eyebrows,
Makes a wry face, amused, sad, quizzical,
“Oh, nothing much,” he says,
And looks through the window far away
protecting me still.