Afghanistan War Poetry

 

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First World War
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Illustrations include contemporary photographs.


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Poems by Soldiers
and others affected by the war in Afghanistan

See also the 2010 page for more poems about Afghanistan

Coffin of UK soldier, Afghanistan

Poems on this page

Reality in Afghanistan - Phil Williams

An Afghan Christmas Day - Mark Quince

A taste of Afghanistan - Robert Densmore

The Volunteer - John Bailey

I am with you - Hannah Carpenter

Sunset Vigil - Sgt Andy McFarlane, 2009.

Repatriation - Sgt Andy McFarlane, 2009.

John Hawkhead - Helmand

Martin Harris - Marching Men

Chris, Kandahar Airbase  - A soldier's winter

Chris, Kandahar Airbase  -  A soldier's lost love

Reality in Afghanistan
Phil Williams explains how this poem came to be written:
I wrote this poem last July (2009). At the time I was working in Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, for the NAAFI and was wallowing in self pity as my partner had just sent me a “Dear John” e mail. Seeing all those helicopters coming in with the dead and wounded moved me greatly and put my own small problems into perspective. I am proud to have served our brave service men and women in Afghanistan in my own small way.

Phil Williams

Reality in Afghanistan

My pain feels cold and selfish
My anguish very small
My reality insignificant
Compared to ones that fall
Young men with broken bodies
Their Comrades lie in sacks
Devastated parents
Their sons will not come back.

My pain will ease and lessen
My anguish slip away
Reality in Afghanistan
Two brave men died today
Young men with shell shocked faces
Growing old before their time
 Are living breathing testament
To this shallow pain of mine.

Phil Williams
Bastion 1 July 2009

From Chris in Kandahar, 15 October 2009

I am currently out in Afghanistan, and watch daily as soldiers from all nations are taken on their final journey from Kandahar Airbase home to rest.

 

Author's introduction to  A Soldier's Winter

 

Nothing about war is peaceful; nothing about dying is graceful...but maybe in those last seconds, that last breath, that last blink.....peace finds you.

 

A Soldier’s Winter

What is this cold?
Where is this white
Is this real, or just a fleeting moment of life, of my life

I see no longer the greens and reds,
Where have the autumn leaves gone?
This must be the first signs of a new winter?

I see trees, I see sky, I see clouds,
All winter white,
Can I reach upward to touch the falling flake?
I try but never seem to connect, 

And as I lay there staring at the sky
is my body cold ?
As I lay I hope I am not forgotten

But here I am alone.
I close my eyes and try to think of home
is this really happening to me?

This isn’t real this is only a dream
I never have felt this way before, cold, weak and exposed,
but strangely at ease
With a tear I draw my parting breath
I’m looking down on my body below

I understand now this is winter….this is my winter

Chris, a soldier serving in Afghanistan.

 

 

Chris's introduction to A Soldier's Lost Love

 

Sometime love is there, you can see it, taste it, hear it, laugh with it....sometimes war comes between you and love, sometimes war takes away that chance.

A soldier's lost love

He knows love
He grows weary of loss
Once green eye, now tainted with red
Death awakens him with every sleeping breath
Thick iron shields the boy inside
Wanting hoping praying for release
Wanting hoping praying for reunion
But knowing his time is short
This boy, this man, this soldier
Your friend, his warmth, his love, his touch, will wait for you in another life

Chris, a soldier serving in Afghanistan

Helmand - a poem by John Hawkhead

Author's introduction

This poem concerns the current operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. My intention was to draw parallels between military operations using the poppy which is grown extensively for opium and ironically is also the symbol we use for Remembrance Day



Helmand

Night on the cold plain,
invisible sands lift,
peripheral shadows stir,

space between light and dark
shrouding secrets;
old trades draped grey.

Here too poppies fall,
petals blown on broken ground,
seeds scattered on stone

and this bright bloom,
newly cropped,
leaves pale remains,

fresh lines cut;
the old sickle wind
sharp as yesterday.

John Hawkhead
2009

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Marching Men was written by Martin Harris as a response to the sight of the coffins of British servicemen returning to this country from Afghanistan.

MARCHING MEN

Think of wars in the past and then of wars that we have left 
For when your country calls for you to murder, maim and persecute
In a war where nothing is gained, where the slaughter of people is inhumane
When your country sends its war machine of marching men and bullets clean
Rivers flow the colours red, drained from men that have been bled
And they tell you that God is on your side. That when you kill its justified.

But the spoils of war turn bad, when you send friends home in body bags
With anger strong and bitterness high, you struggle to fight the emotions inside
You’re told to be tough, you’re told to be mean, that you’re not a man, you’re a 
killing machine
But hidden away deep down inside, you are a man and you cannot hide
For your children scream and your children cry, for they don’t understand the 
reason why
Why at war its right to take a life but in peace time, it’s our worst crime
So your country knows what‘s good for you, now take your orders and carry 
them through
And finish it quick the job you do, to kill another man
For there will never be peace on earth my friend 
So listen to the feet of the marching men
Martin Harris

10 November 09

From Sgt Andy McFarlane, currently serving in Afghanistan. (November 2009)
 

Sunset Vigil

The news is spread far and wide

Another comrade has sadly died

A sunset vigil upon the sand

As a soldier leaves this foreign land

 

We stand alone, and yet as one

In the fading light of a setting sun

We’ve all gathered to say goodbye

To our fallen comrade who’s set to fly

 

The eulogy’s read about their life

Sometimes with words from pals or wife

We all know when the CO’s done

What kind of soldier they’d become

 

The padre then calls us all to pray

The bugler has Last Post to play

The cannon roars and belches flame

We will recall, with pride, their name

 

A minute’s silence stood in place

As tears roll down the hardest face

Deafening silence fills the air

With each of us in personal prayer

 

Reveille sounds and the parade is done

The hero remembered, forgotten by none

They leave to start the journey back

In a coffin draped in the Union Jack


Sgt Andy McFarlane, 2009.

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Repatriation

The leviathan of the sky does land

In England’s green and pleasant Land

Its cargo is more precious than gold

The body of a hero, bold

 

Once the giants’ engines stopped

The cargo ramp is gently dropped

Carried by six on shoulders true

The hero is saluted by the crew

 

The coffin draped in a union jack

Is slowly carried out the back

Out of the dark and into light

Slowly down the ramp and to the right

 

The six approach the hearse all black

And place the hero gently in the back

The six then turn and march away

Their duty has been done this day

 

Politicians usually have much to say

No sign of them near here today

They hide away and out of danger

Much easier if the hero is a stranger

 

The hearse with its precious load

Moves slowly out onto the road

The floral tributes line the route

While comrades snap a smart salute

 

At the edge of a Wiltshire town

The cortege slows its pace right down

The streets are packed, many deep

Some throw flowers, most just weep

 

The crowd have come to say farewell

The church bell rings a low death knell

Regimental standards are lowered down

As the hero passes through the town

 

The cortege stops and silence reigns

The townsfolk feel the family’s pain

The nations’ flag lowered to half mast

Our brave hero is home at last

 

Sgt Andy McFarlane, 2009.

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A taste of Afghanistan

Rob Densmore first went to Afghanistan in 2004 with the US navy. he returned in 2007 as a freelance journalist particularly concerned about the effects of the turmoil on people. He then did a Masters degree in London in War and Psychiatry returning in 2008  to conduct research on mental health in private security contractors.

His stories, interviews, and poems deal mostly with the content and historical perspective of these trips - but "with the human element in mind".

 

A taste of Afghanistan

City sand has its own taste

Not the country’s dust,

But darker.

It’s stronger – bitter parts

Under infantry foot.

Under 500 years going and coming.

Kipling’s finest up and over –

Through the pass,

Through the places where soldiers stood

In stolid white snow.

Cemeteries in the pass where Alexander’s own

Fell on the square rocks.

Paved with smoothed over river rock,

This open grave – white, bare.

 

Kabul sand polishes everyone’s edges.

Tajiks sharp on the cusp

And Northern Alliance coming down

Hard in the fray.

They all want each other’s throats.

Their wives lost in the fight –

Save for pointed heels and

Gold bangled over fine red henna.

 

Eastern sand and southern sand,

Pakistan sand crooked as broken teeth,

Herati sand pure and rising to the top.

Nothing mixes and there is no space in between.

If God loved this place he doesn’t now.

If He breathed in the brass bullet casings

And the diesel air and spiteful prayers.

A place for lust and dirty children

And the things night can hide.

 

What things grown men can hide-

In the dark corners of their own children’s rooms.

In the big shadows of a capital with no master and no disciple.

No scope for all things to come together

The sand and the dust and the dirt that makes things grow-

When it is left alone.

 

But we’ve put our fingers in it

And the stirring and stamping won’t leave

Much for the growing.

Dust bowls and cyclone air will take the rest.

Every village is filled with it now –

Dust from our bombs and inside our APCs.

Dirt scrubbed from our rifle actions

And ground into our sweaty palms like Mississippi silt.

 

And still nothing grows.

I’ve taken a knee in seventeen villages –

On street corners and broken down roundabouts,

On highways and in shattered homes.

On helo pads and plywood chapel steps,

On the backs of dead men-

And screaming vile women.

 

They will, all of them, bend or break –

It is either them or me.

It’s either winning or losing

And putting in its place

What does not belong,

Sand of a different taste and hue

That cannot tell me it is sorry.

Rob Densmore, 2009

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I am with you

Hannah Carpenter’s partner is in Afghanistan and this poem records her feelings.

I am with you

As I imagine what you are doing, I feel you by my side,

like the morning when you left me, I wish I'd never cried,

for your shoulders were heavy with guilt and lots of sadness too,

Last words echoed inside my head of "I'll be coming home to you".

And there your kiss left mine until some distant day,

to be your last (you promised) that you shall never go away.

So I sit here looking out, on to fields so green,

whilst you have only dessert and views you will have only seen.

But rest assured I am with you, deep inside your heart,

I would always be your strength and angel, you knew that from the start.

To guide you through your dark days and help you with your thoughts
and have the loving memories that never can be bought.

You are with me every second; I hope you feel that too,
because when I go to bed at night, all I feel is you.

Though I wake up in the morning and see the empty space,

A smile soon returns as a photo I have in place,

just upon your pillow and there I say "Hello"

for I know you'll hear that coming and feel our loving grow.

Hannah Carpenter
May 2009

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John Bailey and The Volunteer

John Bailey is a former regular and now serving Territorial Army* soldier and served in Afghanistan in 2008.

Recently a member of his unit, Corporal Steven Boote, was killed along with four others by a rogue Afghan policeman.

He spent the day in Wootton Bassett the day their bodies were repatriated and that night he wrote this poem as a comment on TA service in general but more importantly as a tribute to ''Booty''.

 

The Volunteer

Over one hundred years we’ve been falling in

Side by side our regular brethren

By some once regarded as second rate

Our efforts overcome all derision of late

For times have changed, many wars having passed

And still we fight whenever we’re asked

One night a week, twelve weekends a year

We say our farewells and don our gear

We learn, we train, keep ourselves fit

Until the day we’re told ‘‘this is it’’

Where gaps would be we fill the roll

But on our numbers, this takes its toll

So in lining street and bowing head

We join a Wiltshire town to mourn our dead

And Padres lead us in November cold

As we march in ranks and crowds behold

Before cenotaph we bring to mind

All fallen comrades and those left behind

Or alone while reading a name on a wall

We quietly hope no others will fall

Politicians come and then they go

And we wonder if they truly know

What it takes from kin who sit and pray

Please don’t volunteer, don’t go away

But who hug and kiss and say they’ll write

Not blame us for going, as well they might

For we have a choice and we choose to serve

This takes courage, this takes nerve

Reassuring families that we’ll take care

When we know fine well it’s dangerous there

But still we’re needed and so still we go

Long may this continue, let’s hope so

For though volunteers aren’t worth ten other men

At least others aren’t called so often then

And what is asked for the service we give

No high praise or riches if we should live

Just silence from friends, our name on a wall

If this time around, it is I that fall

John Bailey

November 2009

© John Bailey 2009

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An Afghan Christmas Day

Mark Quince makes no claims to being a great poet, but he succeeds in conveying something of the scene, experiences and thoughts of those serving in Afghanistan.

An Afghan Christmas Day


From snow covered hills to dusty plains,
A FOB on the front line and a base that is Main.
A chef in the kitchen preparing the veg,
A patrol in the Sangin walking a hedge.
Clerks in the office checking the pay,
A Chaplin at altar preparing to pray.
Doctors and Nurses to rest, now committed,
Hoping a 9-liner is not burst transmitted.
Pilots and ground crew checking the weather,
Fighting the brown outs with blades that they feather.

Families at home with children excited,
Preparing to unwrap, with faces delighted,
Gifts with love that have been gladly bestowed,
From Mums and Dads and Santa who’s towed
In a big red sleigh with reindeers a-panting,
Rushing through towns and villages snowing.
As they sit to eat all gathered around,
The table with Christmas fayre abound.
A moment of silence befalls them all and one
To think of their Daughter, Mother, Father or Son,
Brother or Sister, Aunt or Uncle deployed,
In Afghanistan this Yule time, creating a void.

Our heroes away, again far abroad,
Our heroes at home at peace with their Lord.
To those that have given all that they could,
To those that still fight in a ward that they would,
Return once more to ditch and gulley,
To be with their mates in a hail and flurry.
The toast, my friends, families and lovers
This Christmas in Afghan is to our Brothers
In Arms who protect us from foes in the fray,
So that we may enjoy this Christmas Day.

Mark Quince


Mark is a serving Major with over 30 years in the Army.  He is currently the Officer Commanding of a Royal Engineer specialist unit Rear Party who are away on Op HERRICK 11.  This poem was written for the BFBS Christmas Day programme 2009.  He is very happy to receive any advice and assistance from those who do know about poetry writing.

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