One of these men could be my grandfather; he fought on the Somme in 1916 with the Royal Irish Rifles, some of whom are pictured here. He came back, and had a son. That son, my father, became a professional soldier for twenty-five years, landing in Normandy at dawn on D-Day, wounded by shrapnel, returning to fight through to the Northern German plain. Then Palestine. Then Korea. Then Cyprus.
They were both men who faced the monstrous anger of the guns, and it was their bravery and that of all those who stood beside them that have ensured that I have never been called upon to do so.
We must speak for the dead that are buried so thickly in Flanders, and in clumps across the globe, that have left no sons or grandsons to do so. And remember always that our freedom and our precious realm are prizes that cost an agony of suffering to win and hold.
- What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
- Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
- Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
- Can patter out their hasty orisons.
- No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
- Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
- The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
- And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
- What candles may be held to speed them all?
- Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
- Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
- The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
- Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
- And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.