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In memory of Frederick Seymour, 1895–1981

No conversation needed or desired.
I’m in the ward each evening, just to sit.
His occupation is to breathe, and mine
To listen for his voice inside my head.

The voice remembered likes to stick to facts.
He made a choice quite easily one day:
I went down to the office to recruit.
Mornington Crescent. Then I went straight back

And told my mother that I’d volunteered.
She was upset. But I was right to go.
If I had waited till they called me up
I never would have lasted like I did.

On Vimy Ridge, the doctor’s orderly,
He sewed them into blankets, corpse by corpse.
We took their boots off, and their I.D. chains,
That’s all. I saw their faces. Bits of boys.

The voice resists grandiloquence. It speaks
Of perks and pains — I got the better food
‘Cause I was looking after officers.
The tin hats made my hair fall out in weeks.

He lasted till a shell undid his leg.
The wound was bad enough to bring me home.
They drained the pus for ages, bowls of it

From where the shrapnel nestled in the thigh

And lodges there tonight; a flake of iron
Which cooled first in a factory in the Ruhr
Now shivers with the rest of him inside
The shiny silver bag he’s swaddled in.

Not long ago, at home, he handed me
A standard issue army greetings card,
Address and message legible but faint,
The Allied flags still bright in coloured inks.

My darling Dolly, my first chance to write.
Arrived quite safe in France on Monday last.
Am hoping you are well. Yours ever, Fred.
Goodbye dear
— like an afterthought, beneath.

The censor had approved these sentiments
And left his purple mark accordingly
But insufficient postage had been paid
By sender, and the message was delayed.

Poor thing, she had to wait three months for this.
I kept it when she died. Look after it.

No conversation needed or desired.
I’m in the ward each evening, just to sit.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author