Lost Uncles

They still haunt us, these two young men who went to that great war

and did not come back. Thomas on my father’s side, William on my mother’s.

Lost uncles we never knew, enclosing a past we find it hard to fathom,

when England was called home and in the atlas half the world was pink.

Tom was middle brother of three, who all joined up together

—big farewell at the local church, where they all sang in the choir.

Flags and cheers, tea and cakes, rousing words from the rector

and sweethearts left behind Commissioned early in the piece,

he fell, badly wounded, in the battle of Fromelles. A soldier

moved him to a safer place, gave him water and sought help.

This much is recorded, along with the colour of his eyes and skin

and the list of his effects: pistol, clothes, tobacco pouch, a cane,

pocket chess and a New Testament, delivered to his family in the tin trunk

he left with. The girl he loved never married, became a courtesy aunt.

Will, seventeen years old, eldest but one of ten, handed a white feather

by a woman on the train, wrung from his mother consent to enlist.

Just eighteen when he sailed away, killed in action at Bullecourt

eleven months later. All that’s left, a photo of a solemn, sweet-faced lad,

and pencilled letters to his mother, long-treasured in a metal box.

She is not to worry, his health is good and, would you believe,

he’s an excellent shot! But the mud and lice are beyond belief.

Love to his brothers and sisters, he’s sending postcards to the little ones.

When he gets home he’ll have deferred pay; maybe twenty pounds,

so she must not fret about money, for this will help with the family.

Nobody knows where Tom and Will lie. At the time, Authority wrote,

in hope perhaps of cushioning the blow: Particulars not to hand.

Leave a Reply