Lest We Forget

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Row upon row, the crosses stand,
An army on parade,
Tended now by gentler hand
‘Neath verdant palisade.

Like silent sentinels, the trees
Stand guard here day and night
Though now only the bees
And vengeful magpies keep the fight.

No Sergeant-Major’s voice is heard,
No bugle call to battle.
The sound of leaves, by breezes stirred,
The call of distant cattle.

Baptised by mud and blood and sweat,
They heard their country’s call.
Waved off by crowds who then forget
And never see them fall.

From battle’s fertile fields, they’re borne
With honour to this place.
That we’ve not learned their lesson
Means yet more will meet their fate.

Though the lucky ones return,
It’s clear they’re never quite the same.
They, too, have paid a heavy price
Despite the victory claim.

Stephen Tomkins
3 April 2017
Sydney

Photo credit:
journalstar.com

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Brothers in Harm

In peacetime, I wouldn’t be seen dead with these others;
In wartime, I’d lay down my life for these brothers.
Not that long ago, we were mere babes-in-arms
Of mothers who saw nothing but for our charms.

Wherein lies the fault between enemy and friend?
Who must I kill and who should I defend?
Hatred is something not innate but learned –
A paradox when claiming “For peace we all yearn.”

At Boot Camp, they mould a most disparate group
Into a bonded and brotherly troop.
So, were you here then, you’d now be on my side,
But since you were not, I should kill you with pride.

Is the answer in language or your uniform?
Or maybe appearance or where you were born?
I’d rather not do this but since you’ll kill me,
I’ll kill in a heartbeat to keep us all free.

Stephen Tomkins
22 November 2016
Sydney

Hamburger Hill

Hamburger Hill is my target tonight

And the thought of my mission just fills me with fright.

At the top of the ridge, I will rendezvous there

With my contact whose blue eyes and long, brunette hair

Disarm in an instant with effortless ease,

A hint of her perfume floats soft on the breeze.

Despite the attraction, we’ve work here to do:

It’s time that huge ammo dump finally blew.

We slip down the hill and dissolve in the dark.

It may seem like fun but this isn’t a lark.

Explosive and fuse are the tools of my trade –

You don’t last for long if you don’t make the grade.

Many the friend who’s been captured or killed;

You’re better off dead if they start with their drills.

A pat on the back and a day or two’s leave

Is the best I can hope for, there’s no time to grieve.

The cost of this victory, if one day it comes,

Can never be counted – see what I’ve become!

Stephen Tomkins

3 August 2016

Melbourne

A Day in the Life….

The sun half-heartedly crawls out of bed
And very reluctantly slides overhead.
A veil of ice crystals is covering his face –
One more loathful witness to what will take place.

The Doctor now cheerfully strides down the line
Then gives me a wink to say all will be fine.
Through snow, slush and filth, still the railroad tracks gleam,
The train then appears, as if shrouded in steam.

The chill in the air has invaded my bones
And through the barbed wire, the icy wind moans.
When I ask my Sergeant what all of this means,
“Do your damn duty!” he angrily screams.

The train has arrived and the doors are forced open;
Out fall the people, exhausted and frozen.
With shouting and wailing, selection begins –
The Doctor continues to seek out the twins.

Oh! How did I come to be part of all this,
Since studying music was my source of bliss?
These people did nothing but sadly be born.
The fit and the healthy are stripped and then shorn.

There’s no way, it seems, to escape from this place
Without bringing me and my unit disgrace.
The air here is fetid and really does stink,
And I, when off duty, rely on the drink.

Stephen Tomkins
5 November 2015
Canberra

 Author’s note:
I would like to clarify that this poem is not an attempt to justify the actions of those who inflicted the Holocaust upon the world. They cannot be justified. Rather the poem is an attempt to find humanity where little, if any, existed.

Tell Me Why? – A Tribute to the Fallen

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Molten face and vacant heart,
Slowly, I’ve been ripped apart.
On misty window, torrents stream.
In vain, I pray it’s just a dream.
A crumpled letter, trembling hand,
At last, I think I understand:
The thing I dreaded has come to pass.
The whole damn war’s a bloody farce!
My son, my boy, my little mate
Stepped upon a pressure plate.
A bang, a flash, there was no pain –
Another death, so little gain.
He’s coming home on Wednesday night
Aboard a scheduled Air Force flight.
I’ll miss his hug, his cheeky grin –
Forever changed, the world has been.

Stephen Tomkins
2 May 2015