Menin Gate, 8pm

Menin Gate, Ypres by Chrostopher Martin

Menin Gate, 8pm

We, the onlookers, dressed for Summer,
Less of a troop and more of a pack.
Shins and forearms and heads uncovered –
Only the jackdaws are dressed in black.
Partly honouring, partly gawking,
English voices amiably talking,
Not many present are younger than fifty –
One or two pause to read the plaque.

Officials in blazers, though we’re well-behaved.
Squaddies’ fatigues, their shoulders say Dutch,
Though I swear their “left-right-left” is in English –
The crowd wear no medals – would that be too much ?
The towers of names are columns of debt,
Bearing down, by rank before alphabet,
In a random sample, I look for my own
In the Surreys and sappers and serjeants and such.

Suddenly, a hush, an announcement by speaker,
Telling we must not talk or applaud.
A trio of buglers – was that the Last Post ?
Then a soldier steps up, a little over-awed.
“They shall grow not old” he reads,
His accent heavy, and yet succeeds
To draw from us a shared Amen:
“We shall remember them”, these Brits abroad.

The bugles again, and wreaths are laid,
The squad march off in the evening sun,
And suddenly ev’rything melts into chatter –
We mill for a while, but the service is done.
The road reopens, the traffic drives through,
We pose for a final selfie or two,
But we’ve far too many atrocities to remember,
To focus on only one.

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