2017 saw the centenary of many of the battles that took place during the First World War. Although there were many battles that took place throughout 1917 Ypres, or to be accurate the third battle of Ypres, and Passchendaele are probably the two names most recognised by a majority of people. Earlier this year I read an article about the two battles and although I always knew the casualties on both sides were terrible, I don’t think I’d ever fully appreciated just how horrendous they were when compared to modern perceptions of casualty figures and the number of frontline infantry killed in action. Naturally this got me thinking about the lives and individual stories of each combatant and indeed civilians who lost their lives. Although I was primarily thinking about the battles of the First World War I do find myself thinking along the same lines when watching a documentary or reading about events that have happened during conflicts throughout history right up to the present day. This inspired me to write a poem from the perspective of any one of those individuals who perished. It’s quite difficult to explain but I shall attempt to.
Whilst writing the piece I was imagining a First World War soldier’s ethereal essence or ghost if you prefer roaming the battlefield on which he fell. He is roaming over the modern-day site of that battlefield in confusion and bewilderment as the wartime events of his past overlay the modern setting, so although he can kind of recognise where he is he doesn’t really know for sure. The young soldier then wanders the landscape witnessing previous events and contemplating the futility of war, the deaths of those who perished and his sorrow at the loss of those lives never able to be lived. It plays through in my head with a British Tommy as the ghost but of course he could easily be replaced by a German infantryman or a soldier from any other nationality or any other conflict.
So here’s the piece. It’s very simple; my hope is that it paints enough of a picture to allow each reader to let their imagination and perception fill it out. Maybe the reader will even give the fallen soldier a pre-war background, perhaps even a name.
The Ethereal Soldier.
Wandering the tortured landscape
Musing over life and death, the balance of the razor’s edge
Who am I?
When am I?
Why am I here?
Bird song drifts over empty fields, a light in the dark
Mist creeps over the hills, a blanket shrouding the dead
Echoes of distant cries whisper on the breeze, the last breaths of life
Men of a nation us all
So many sons, now all gone
Why did we have to die?
The war to end all wars!
Will we ever learn?
What of the lives we never lived and the loves we lost
A hundred years on yet we wander on.
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