Robert- gassed at Ypres. Lived to 90s
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
Photo- Stephen Sweeney. Titan crane
The trench gaped to receive him at last,
over seventy years since he’d escaped its maw
at Ypres. Other bombshells had been cast:
his daughter’s death at four; her hair as straw-
hued as bales bedded in Picardy barns.
She’d waited for him in the nether tier,
between the pewter Clyde; Kilpatrick tarns –
close to where he’d toiled as an engineer,
in ruts of rusty shipyards, hail or thaw.
I stroked Wilfred, Pip, Squeak in childish awe;
loved the sepia photo of Five Bobs;
marvelled that only one of them came back
to supplement the King’s shilling with jobs,
where the main goal was to avoid ‘the sack.’
It was little better than digging graves.
I used to ask him how he’d survived the gas.
He said he’d run away from its green waves.
I asked him to recount how lads would burn, en masse,
lice from their tunic seams with candle flame,
until they heard shells crack. Then and I unrolled
his trouser leg, amazed he was not lame,
with that lump of shrapnel, which was pure gold,
as a Blighty wound, taking him away
from the Front line, to Palestine.
The cranes, his guard of honour, now gone too.