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The annual poems of Remembrance. - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
The annual poems of Remembrance.
Uniform: Remembrance Day 2010
Old men, as such, are very much alike;
And dress themselves – are dressed, as oft as not:
For they are old, and hands may not obey
The mind’s commands as once they did obey
Commands far sterner – dress themselves, I say,
Much of a muchness; and occasion, time,
The purpose of the day, quite often will
Impose a uniformity of dress.
There’s nothing uniform in uniform.
And these old men, attired as they have been
In clothes distinctly undistinguishing;
In Bath chairs or with sticks, or tottering;
Look very much the same: until one sees
A dullish green and claret double striped,
Or red and blue in patterns infinite,
Or blue and buff, or black and trebly gilt –
These regimental ties that surely bind
And bind fast those who bound themselves in youth
To regiment or battery or troop.
There’s nothing uniform in uniform.
One wonders: are they playing at this role?
Young soldiers but pretending to old age,
A regimental concert running on
For more than the duration of the war?
Of course they’re not: one knows that. Even so,
The young men that they were, one yet perceives:
They peep out shyly from the mask of age,
And signal presence in the stripes of silk
That signify their regimental lives.
The yeomanry who left the hussar’s role,
Retrained as gunners, with a hussar’s dash;
The tank crews that survived in Normandy
When bocage meant no more than sudden death;
The sailors pared and honed by storm and sea
To something sharper than the well-honed dirk;
The Few who rode the deathly airs of Kent
And came safe home: all these live on in them,
The men now old who offered their young lives.
There’s something uniform in uniform.
Here is a Gloster of Korea; here,
A sapper who remembers fiercer suns;
And there a Scot who wears the Burma Star.
And there’s a younger man, a Desert Rat
All empty-sleev’d since Basra, standing tall.
There’s one thing uniform in uniform.
In Brussels is no revelry by night:
By day, dull, cautious bureaucrats
Work daily to betray the victories
These men, and those who fell, once won in blood:
‘The nation state must end. It leads to fear,
And fear to ego, and from that, to war.’
Ad interim, the quiet British graves
Of all the Fallen must be vandalised
With EU signs and plaques; the Menin Gate,
Dieppe, and Becklingen, all these must change,
Be changed, not in the twinkling of an eye –
‘No trumpets, please, that’s not the EU’s way’ –
Transmuted to a Europhile ideal,
Made safe – un-British – common to the foe
As to the victor who fought for the right
And justice and the freedoms of mankind.
In London, there are subjects of the Crown
Who will not own allegiance to the same,
And owe their loyalties to foreign foes.
They burn the poppies of remembrance, scream
Abuse at those who died to free them to that act,
Adhere to those with whom we are at war.
‘Was it for this those men now old once fought
Beside those who shall never now grow old?’
‘Well ... in a sense, perhaps –’ (one hears the tone
Of donnish equability, perturb’d,
Mild, quibbling, measured, bloodless, quizzical)
‘– They did, you know: free speech, and it is that,
And after all we mustn’t go too far....’
Well, yes; yet I would gladly see an old
Risaldar-major of the War, two Sikhs,
And one old Gurkha, men true to their salt,
Explain that concept to the protesters.
There’s one thing uniform in uniform.
My father is not on parade this year:
He has for many years enjoyed his sleep
In that green rural churchyard, far and far
From ice and mountain, Chinese bugles blown,
And all that was that grim Korean hell.
As well he sleeps: he need not watch and damn
As students riot, Belgians plot, and foes
Use British liberty to mock the dead.
It seems the end, a grim collapse: and yet,
Old men who once were young ‘Dukes’ at the Hook,
RM commandos who’d known Um Qasr,
The Paras of Goose Green – men young, men old;
The Wrens, the nurses, chaplains, signallers –
All these, the Forces, old or newly trained,
Old soldiers and those serving on this day,
Keep yet their Covenant, and see us through.
There’s one thing uniform in uniform.
Procurement’s buggered. All the money’s gone.
Our sovereignty is like a fort besieged.
The law is daily twisted out of shape.
And yet the Forces bide, and like grim death
Hang on like bulldogs of tenacity.
They save the sum of things for little pay,
And less respect. We shall remember them.
At sunset and at dawn, we shall pay heed
And tribute to those standing – and who fell –
Between us and the darkness, bright with faith:
(There’s one thing uniform in uniform)
Whose way was duty – and whose names yet live.
Remembrance: Old Soldiers at the Cenotaph
The Bath chair or the Zimmer frame,
The agèd, gnarled, claw-like hand:
Was it to this that heroes came
In England’s green and pleasant land?
Do generations give just due
To those who faced the direst foe:
The Senior Service and the Few,
The BEF of long ago?
Burma – (Blenheim, Ramillies –),
The Mons Canal, El Alamein,
The ancient wars that won the peace
Are figured in their names again;
The trenches of the Kaiser’s war,
The aerodromes at grass in Kent,
The surge of ships in seas afar,
The bagpipes in the Orient –
‘Old men forget’?  No.  These persist,
Though backs are bent and eyes are blear,
The best who graced the Army List
When backs were straight and eyes were clear.
Or do they wish they slept beside
Their fellows who will not grow old,
The proven true however tried,
Refined from dross and wholly gold?
Ghost-comrades in a rank and file
That reaches back past Waterloo
Fall in behind them – with a smile,
That tells the warrior’s point of view.
The long, thin, red, unbroken line
Of history and struggle shared
Makes glories that will long outshine
The simple facts our school texts blared.
And these, now spent with weight of days,
Yet stand erect in heart and thought,
And match the bovine, staring gaze
Of those who live because they fought;

These yet, as honour fades and goes,
In times made fat and dull with peace,
Enjoy the warrior’s right repose
Who paid in blood for civil ease.

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