Minds at War
anthology of poetry of the First World War. All the greatest war poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and war poems of over 70 other notable poets. All set in the context of the poets' lives and historical records. With historic photographs and cartoons. Edited by David Roberts.
400 pages £14-99 (UK)
AFGHANISTAN WAR POETRY
Poems by Soldiers and others affected by the war in Afghanistan
See also the 2010, 2011 and 2012 pages for more poems about Afghanistan
|Alex Cockers||The Brutal Game
Morals . . . two for a pound
|Robert Kiely||A Difference
|Chris, Kandahar Airbase||A soldier's winter
A soldier's lost love
|Phil Williams||Reality in Afghanistan|
|Mark Quince||An Afghan Christmas Day|
|Robert Densmore||A taste of Afghanistan|
|John Bailey||The Volunteer|
|Hannah Carpenter||I am with you|
|Sgt Andy McFarlane||
|Martin Harris||Marching Men|
|James T Clark||Freedom's Horror|
Alex Cockers was born in April 1985. He was a
Royal Marines Commando from 2005-2009 and served on Operation Herrick
five and seven in Helmand province for a total of fourteen months.
How he came to write his poems. He explains, "During my fourteen months in Afghanistan, I had many feelings and thoughts that I was unable to share with anyone. Under the stars; in the desert, rhymes would manifest in my head. I would write them down, construct them into poems and somehow I felt better for getting it off my chest."
The Brutal Game
I’m sitting here now
Trying to put pen to paper
Trying to write something
That you can relate too
It’s hard to relate
To my personal circumstances
I’m out here in Afghanistan now
Taking my chances
Read what you read
And say what you say
You wont understand it
Until you’ve lived it day by day
With medieval ways
Will take you life without a thought
And now we’re all the same
Each playing our part in this brutal game
My last day in the desert
My last day in this sand
I hope I never come back
To this tragic barren land
Many hot days
And many moons have passed
I don’t want to fight this war anymore
My sanity won’t last
Towns have been taken
Towns have been lost
Towns have been taken back again
How many lives has it cost?
This war will not end
The stakes are far too high
A few friends are gone already
How many more will die?
When you send a lad away
To a foreign hot land
To fight in a war he doesn’t understand
When he comes back
He brings more than just a tan
He’s probably not ok
He’s probably not all right
He’s probably in a dark place
Whether it’s day or night
Governments and Media
With their pack of lies
Will never tell the truth
But try to convince you otherwise
It feels like my eyes
Have been stretched wide open
Now and then
I have trouble coping
Images of memories
Imprinted on my mind
The boy they knew before
Is what they’ll never find
Tom was a young lad
From where I grew up
We went to the same school
Then both joined up
We became Commandos together
And never looked back
We met again in the desert
Had a laugh and a chat
I heard it over the radio
Surely it wasn’t him
I chose to deny
Until we got back in
After an hour back on base
Drapes asked for a private word
With a tear in his eye
It all seemed so absurd
I’ll remember Tom forever
And raise a glass in his name
A soldier to the death
We cry and cry again
Morals……two for a pound
I’ve been and seen
And feel slightly unclean
About the things I’ve done
Under a hot sun
Away in a place
The British public don’t understand
A place where every day
Man kills fellow man
Is it right to fight
In an unjust war?
Well I don’t have a choice
And peace is such a bore
Being paid tuppence
To put my life on the line
Trying to pretend
That everything is fine
That’s all I need to hear
Now my whole body
Becomes awash with fear
It’s been a while
Since I’ve been shot at
But the memories and feelings
Come flooding back
I flinch down inside the turret
Feeling my body change
A heightened state of alertness
Is needed for this game
I dare to put my head up
Peering over the side
My eyes dart desperately
Searching, trying to find
Bang another explosion
I flinch back down again
My heartbeats in my ears
It’s only a quarter past ten
Then I spot you running
Through the sparse trees
A single aimed shot
You drop to your knees
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.
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
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.
Bastion 1 July 2009
A Soldier’s Winter
Note: 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.
A Soldier's Lost Love
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
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
James Clark, is a Trooper of the Household Cavalry.
He sends this note. “I wrote this a month after the death of my friend
Cpl Johnathan "Woody" Woodgate, when I encountered some protesters
shouting abuse outside an Army recruitment office. One of the protesters
couldn't speak English and I was moved by both anger and sorrow to write
this, and I wish every one of those protestors would read it.”
James Clark, is a Trooper of the Household Cavalry. He sends this note. “I wrote this a month after the death of my friend Cpl Johnathan "Woody" Woodgate, when I encountered some protesters shouting abuse outside an Army recruitment office. One of the protesters couldn't speak English and I was moved by both anger and sorrow to write this, and I wish every one of those protestors would read it.”
Fate again bows its ugly young head,
as two more pine coffins carry two more brave dead,
two union jacks and the streets neatly lined,
two more proud mothers, their grief intertwined.
One was from England the other a Scot,
they both died for each other whether you knew it or not.
Well why did they go there, for the glory? The tan?
Or to protect the defenceless and to come back a man.
The uniform they wore, like a statement of our time.
It says they were different, perhaps two of a kind?
Nah just young lads in the Army, there are plenty around,
but these two now heroes, for they rest in the ground.
The same ground which you walk on when you shout and you scream,
about murder and invasion in the pay of the Queen.
Well let me just ask you, as you stand and you shout,
what freedom of speech, is really about?
When a woman is hanged, for humming a song,
when an infant is beaten for crying so long.
Does it make us lads evil for ending these crimes?
For leaving our own children to give those people our time?
When an Islamist shouts about the Infidel,
he knows he’s no true Muslim and Allah knows this as well.
To beat on your women, to rape young boys after tea,
are no things that any almighty can wish to be.
For a middle class student, from here or a foreign state,
to call a working class soldier scum, makes me more than irate.
Your own rights of freedom are paid by us scum,
who stand up against evil, in front of hells guns.
We’ve seen many things that would bring you to tears
whilst some of us have only been alive eighteen years.
So next time you start, with your rights to rant,
try and study our eyes, and I’ll bet that you can’t.
Behind them lie horrors that you’ll never see,
and the reason you won’t is the soldier like me.
James T Clark
Helmand - a poem by John Hawkhead
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
Night on the cold plain,
invisible sands lift,
peripheral shadows stir,
space between light and dark
old trades draped grey.
Here too poppies fall,
petals blown on broken ground,
seeds scattered on stone
and this bright bloom,
leaves pale remains,
fresh lines cut;
the old sickle wind
sharp as yesterday.
Marching Men - Martin Harris
Note: 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.
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
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
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
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
10 November 2009
Sunset Vigil - Sgt Andy
Note: Sgt Andy McFarlane, currently serving in Afghanistan. (November 2009)
The news is spread far and
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.
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.
A taste of Afghanistan - Rob Densmore
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,
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
I am with you
Note: 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
John Bailey - The Volunteer
Note: 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''.
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
An Afghan Christmas Day -
Note: 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 .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
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.
Three poems by Robert Kiely
Kiely is a Senior Officer with the Irish Defence Forces. He wrote the
following poems while serving with ISAF in Afghanistan in 2007. He says:
"A Difference was written for an American Senior Officer who was lamenting the fact that, after 12 months in theatre, she believed that she had achieved nothing - the fact that she had single-handedly managed to keep a particular orphanage running and funded while still carrying out her Military duties seemed to have been lost on her.
Just Twenty One was written after I was struck by the number of young, British soldiers who were losing their lives in and around Helmand Provence - really, just written in their honour.
Afghan Skies was written for my wife and just highlights what every soldier goes through when on deployment."
How can we make a difference
asked the young man with a frown
when grief and pain and sorrow
make each breaking day their own.
A world of insecurity,
a land upon its knees.
How can we make a difference,
oh this I ask you please.
How will you make a difference
the old man did implore.
Our people are forsaken,
Hearts immersed in darkness
as sunshine turns to shade,
how will you make a difference?
How will you make a change?
How do we make a difference
sighed the soldier wearily.
The battles, they continue –
Flags ‘mast in memory.
As time treks slowly onwards
like the shifting of the sand
how do we make a difference?
What is the greater plan?
How did you make a difference
said the wise man in reply.
What memory will grant to you
some future, tranquil joy?
When children’s smiles that shine for miles
light up your passing day,
you know you’ve made a difference
before you went away.
To top of page
Just Twenty One
I read one more report today.
Another flag half-mast and gun
salute, coffin draped, bearers done.
Then hear the last post bugle play
as in my mind I see his grave
stone (father, brother, loving son)
for he who was just twenty one
in asymmetric Afghan frae.
Yet did he hear his comrades call
for medic, medivac and aid,
see the Chinook rotors whir - all
dust, din and dread – confusion reign?
Or did he even feel the fall
as daylight, dreams and future fade?
Well read the prose of marching men -
once Mons, Goose Green, El Alamain,
now Helmand, Lashkar Gah, Sangin -
The soldiers’ sacrifice the same
for Queen and Country. All shall yield
in time, to time, both old and young -
except upon the Battlefield
where he remains just twenty one.
Robert Kiely's introduction to these poems appear above his first poem.