By Allan Mitchell
& it’s November 1939 & from Inverness to Glasgow, we come in droves (by car, by bus, by train) to answer the call of our allies. & we leave behind our loved ones (sons, daughters, wives) to set foot on foreign shores & stand & fight for future freedom. & we band together (we men, we brothers, we fathers, we sons) & march toward the coastal docks & unite the British freedom force (infantry, artillery, auxiliary). & on the pier, a regiment piper’s lament echoes & echoes into the crisp coastal air. & the off-key droning wail pulsates harshly through the woodwinds & reefs, & through the ranks like the moaning cry of a dying breath. & the piper’s bag exhales & in rhythmic velvety wisps, it pulsates & pitches & squirms to the finger march of the chanter & “Amazing Grace” heaves out of each reed pipe. & the drone of the piper marches to the drone of the men & the drone of the ship & the drone of the war an ocean away. & from the chilly waters of the Clyde, we set sail for tomorrow with whistles & waves of good luck & goodbye & the hope of knowing that tomorrow will soon become yesterday. & I gaze across the great Atlantic divide and imagine marching & fighting & weeping & dying on the battlefields & beaches of a strange and distant shore.
& we land on the beaches and battlefields of war & we march for days (in time, in rain, in mud) through tunnels & trenches & trestles layered with the ragged remains of yesterday’s soldiers (sons, husbands, fathers, grandfathers). & I wonder: how long can I hold on & how long can I march without feeling my legs beneath me & how long before I join my brothers in the cold soil of the earth. & we march for days (we men, we brothers, we fathers, we sons) over hill & glen & bank & brae & through canal & river & marsh & muck until darkness drops us into deepened sleep. & we huddle close & shelter in trenches lined with blood & sweat & tears; & I hold my breath as my heartbeat echoes amongst the weeping wounded(good men, kind men, loved men). & the ground absorbs the sound of the distant thunderous barrage. & the groaning, droning lament of a lone regiment piper haunts my mind with a momentary & imaginary calm, & the hope of seeing home soon.
& it’s November again & under grey skies, we gather as monuments of a misplaced time to honor yesterday’s veterans (fathers & brothers & sons). & dressed in spotless standard we motion the rhythmic march of 1 & 2 & 1 & 2 to stand & salute & silently place a flowered wreath before the altar of an anonymous soldier. & I march, keeping time with the beat of my heart, going nowhere, but in my mind, going everywhere (through tunnels & trenches & trestles & over hill & glen & bank & brae & through canal & river & marsh & muck) until the pipes groan & drone & rivulets of sorrow wash over my face & tarnish the medals I hold close to my chest (their medals). & I hear the whispers of yesterday’s soldiers echo in my memory:
& I’m glad you made it Mac;
& tell my wife I love her;
& tell my mother, I’m sorry;
& did we win the fight?
& it was all for freedom;
& don’t forget us Mac.
& keeping time with stationary stride, I see & hear & march with my absent friends (good men, kind men, loved men).
& I march between the granite white crosses & the fallen fragile leafs & whisper the names of those that used to smile in days of long ago, in days when the world was at war, in days of yesteryear. & under the cold gray November sky, their names leave my lips & float upward into the skies of tomorrow. & I march between the rows & rows & rows of marbled epitaphs & I still see the faces of my absent friends (common men, cherished men, courageous men) & they smile back at me & I embrace their company here in the burial trenches of their final resting place.
the Corn Poppy
& I march between the poppies & regard their fragrance as a tribute to yesterday’s soldiers. & I remember on certain battlefields the green stemmed, scarlet-bowled flower blossomed with the blood of the fallen to remind us of the great sacrifice of war. & I remember we huddled close in trenches cluttered with the ragged remains of yesterday’s soldiers, yesterday’s heroes (sons, husbands, fathers, grandfathers), & the beaches & battlefields soaked with blood & sweat & tears. & the groaning, droning lament of a lone regiment piper haunts my mind & the drone of the piper marches to the drone of the men & the drone of the war a memory away. & I remember the brotherly bond I had with these men who would never know the world without war. & with each day & each month & each year, & when November flowers bloom, my tears resurrect the faces of yesterday’s heroes; & like they were standing beside me, with a thankful hand on my shoulder, I hear their grateful whispers:
we won the fight;
& won our freedom;
don’t ever forget.