November 11th is Veteran’s Day in the United States. For much of the rest of the world and especially in Europe, it is Armistice Day, the day that marks the end of World War I. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when the armistice was signed, over 20 million people had lost their lives.
I am humbled and honored to present to you a guest post by my friend, Paul Griffiths – The Birkenhead Poet. Dedicated to the young boys who lost their lives, he calls it “Shot At Dawn”; I call it perfection.
Shot at Dawn
I was not yet sixteen when I joined the army. I wanted to fight.
To do my bit for King and Country, to be on the side of right.
Both my brothers had signed up so I lied to my dear old mum.
I even forged her signature; I was foolish young and dumb.
From fifteen years to nineteen years I aged overnight.
I sailed right through the boot camp, I was so eager to fight.
The things that I know now I wish I knew back then.
I was too full of bullshit and bravado wanting to be one of the men.
I was a big lad for my age but I wasn’t very bright.
Why didn’t I listen to my Mother? My Mother was always right.
I thought I was born to be a hero, to wear medals on my chest.
Instead I am nothing but cannon fodder damned with all the rest.
I soon lost my rose-tinted glasses; they got trampled in the mud.
At the sight of so many bodies, all this carnage and the blood.
I’m freezing cold and hungry, too tired and scared to even sleep.
I’ve been on sentry duty now for the last two weeks.
I’d never heard anything like it when the enemy barrage fell.
Hiding like a rat under the ground – it was three nights of living hell.
The ground shook all around us and I was terrified.
A shell exploded right above the trench top, we were all buried alive.
My eardrums were bursting, my mouth was full of clay.
Please God, come and save me. Don’t let me die this way.
Then I heard the sergeant in the darkness counting who had died.
When he finally called my name out, I broke down and cried.
I don’t know how long I was buried down there; it felt like an eternity.
When they finally dug me out of that hell hole something died inside me.
My days collided in on themselves; I was in a total daze.
I felt confused and frightened lost in the fog of war’s damned malaise.
The Captain wasn’t bothered about me; he just didn’t want to hear.
He sent me back to the front line with a bollocking and a flea in my ear.
Sergeant said “If you want to be a hero lad, now you’ll get your chance.
The orders are just in, we are pushing forward for the big advance.”
All I could do was find a quiet corner to sit alone and weep.
I couldn’t function properly anymore, I’d cry myself to sleep.
I told the Captain how old I really was; he didn’t care about my age.
He said he could only go off what was written on my signup page.
I was scared sick to the pit of my stomach, I was absolutely terrified.
Thinking back to the day I signed up, wishing that I never lied.
I knew what lay above the trench top and it was worse than bad.
The Sergeant said “Don’t be scared, son. Keep your chin up lad”.
As the Sergeant took a little look above the safety of the parapet
A bullet hit him right between the eye’s; it must have his name on it.
He fell back right on top of me; man, he nearly knocked me out.
I was pinned down under his dead weight, I couldn’t move about.
By the time I wriggled free of him the other guys had gone.
To be mowed down by machine guns, all I could do was look on.
Then I heard the Captain screaming, calling out my name.
He called me a damn young coward to my eternal shame.
I tried to explain about the Sergeant and getting stuck in the mud.
The Captain was deaf to any reasoning, my excuse did me no good.
Captain put me on field arrest and I was immediately taken off the line.
I was told my court martial hearing was to be held in four days time.
I told the panel my true age, about my actions and exactly what I did.
They said I was just another lying coward who had run away and hid.
The verdict they passed was guilty, the sentence was death.
I screamed for mercy to deaf ears until I couldn’t catch my breath.
The weight of the world sat on my narrow shoulders. I was all alone.
Knowing I will never see my Mother again or my family back at home.
It rained all week relentlessly but the sun rose on that fateful morn.
Today is to be my last day on earth; I will be shot at dawn.
I felt the warm sun on my face but the air was bitterly cold.
They marched to a post against a wall and tied on my blindfold.
My body shook uncontrollably with fear. I was absolutely terrified.
Innocent yet guilty and about to be shot by my own side.
I prayed to God to save me, to give me a second chance.
When I heard those words “Ready, Aim” – I’m sorry, I pissed my pants.
I didn’t hear that final word of “Fire!” I don’t think I felt any pain
As bullets tore through my body time and time again.
I died branded a coward, my service forever put to shame.
To be remembered as a black mark on my family’s good name.
The records show I died aged twenty though I’d barely turned sixteen.
Labeled as a coward in the great war; but what does cowardice really mean?
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