Keep the peace

In early December 1916

Submitted by Annette Gray in the 18+ category

He was a kind and tolerant man,

my father, machine-gunner in the First World War.

Yet, when we siblings fought, as children do,

he would scold us in his sternest, gruffest voice, saying,

“Keep the peace at all costs.”

He never spoke of those terrifying days in trenches,

nor his only brother, killed near Vimy Ridge.

But when he came in from the fields,

tired from a hard days work,

he would sit dozing by the fire,

then suddenly spring up and yell,

“Get down; the Gerries are coming.”

As a child I laughed,

not realizing what his nightmares were about,

that he was reliving the sight of dying men,

bathed in blood and screaming,

some drowning in craters made by exploding bombs.

I had no way of knowing, so I scoffed.

When I was older he told me he had seen a cavalry charge

—in 1917, perhaps the last—

horses on a hillside, sleek and shining in the sun.

The command given, they race forward.

Then German guns bark, and horses fall.

Not one proud cavalryman or mount survive.

Yet, flailing hooves and mangled men live on

as horrors in his mind. They never left.

In his last years, my father wrote a book,

“Memories of the First World War,”

crossing out much of what he’d written,

“Too gory,” he would say.

Yet in his eyes I read the whole,

and never scoffed again,

when he woke from a dream and yelled, “Get down!”

Finally, I understood his sternest words,

“Keep the peace at all cost.”

War is too evil for the human soul to bear.

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