Dossers at the Imperial War Museum by Joyce Herbert

A place devoted to death. At noon, when I came out, the sun
struck at my eyes. I’d been trying to hear Minnenwerfers,
catch the flare of a Verey light, the thud of a phosgene shell.

Across one wall a blinded daisychain of men went clambering
like stricken insects waving feeble antennae. Eyes burnt out,
they clutched the jacket of the man in front:
this neat clean dugout never knew them, neither did
the model soldier standing at the door, his webbing blancoed,
boots bright, puttees perfect, head high.
A general’s delight.

There were photographs of running figures wavering,
lurching, buckling at the knees. There were humped heaps
fallen, stranded like fish on a desolate beach.

Sunshine showered sparks, drenched the steps.
I could not see, shaded my eyes.
They were all out there. Some tide of war had washed them
down the steps from Bapaume or the Somme,
rolled in cocoons of blankets, sprawled on their backs, knees up,
spilled on the shaven glass:
prone near the flowerbeds they slept like stones,
jaws dropped, mittened fingers clutching.
Far under bushes I could see them
in attitudes of death,
rolled in their plastic bags waiting for something to happen.

by Joyce Herbert


1918 by Tony Lewis Jones

I am younger than the century. A boy, you think,

But I am chained to a machine gun

Capable of ending a thousand lives

And this makes me a man.


There will be no withdrawl.

The officers have warned us:

Here, in our trenches, we fight or die

And no one is to cut me free.


In pity for my situation,

Don’t mistake me. I’m as frightened

As the newly wedded bank clerk we all tease

Who’s never known his wife; frightened


As the English, waiting to attack

When dawn reveals the cratered wasteground

Under my machine gun’s eye

Like, me, they’re chained to cirrcumstance;


The future doesn’t favour deals.

I have to trust my comrades and my gun:

No need to aim this thing. Bring on the enemy.

Let’s see some daylight. Death, release your slaves.


By Tony Lewis Jones

The Poppies Do Not Weep For You

You pulled apart her crimson petal folds and exposed her dark warmth. You didn’t like that she had been fertile by another before. But then it didn’t stop you craving her alabaster tears did it? Good men like you used violence and threats to get what you wanted. Especially when defending your misbegotten sense of pride.

Others fought with you for a cause no one believed in. Those who abstained you called chickens, ostracised and called upon the women back home to shame on your behalf while you took comfort in another’s arms within foreign tracts of land. You fought the good fight, as did your opponents, each believing the same thing but on opposite sides of a land no man could ever live in. Only the poppies and the crows attended them.

You became damaged in time and that beloved red whore’s tears were all that could numb your pain, numb the reoccurring memories and helped you forget what you had done. At first you could deal with it because others gave you it in small vials but in time you needed them more and more until you took what you could get and drowned in them. Other good men were brought to ruin too but you were hidden away in your shame of weeping wounds.

Those who had abstained, unlike you, could live their life, as the sepia memories faded like a photograph in the stark sunlight, but you were nothing more than a rotting skeleton in a low lit dragon’s den where you had long given up the chase to survive.

Those who didn’t return with you still lay in that foreign land, foreign even to its locals, as the poppies feasted upon their flesh of those good men laid low and drank their saviours’ blood as if it were wine. Good men still giving to the land they defended even in death.

Your favourite harlot can no longer soothe your ills with her tears. She never could. There are no tears that can soothe such a good man’s ills.

It’s pointless to edit this or make it better. There is no payback and it is a waste of time. Someone will steal this and use it elsewhere. Some kid too lazy to do their own English comprehension homework. They will not get good marks for it.