Whistle for the Somme, Rodborough Churchyard, 1.7.16

Whistle for the Somme, Rodborough Churchyard, 1.7.16

Sunlight flashed across the churchyard yew trees
As the whistle blew at half past seven,
Children scattered poppies in the rain soaked grass
(Who can forget the innocence of Mrs Yolland’s reception classes,
Twenty years ago and more at Rodborough School:
‘I can run through a field of poppies’?),
Wreaths were laid at the graves of two Somme victims of this parish:
A commonwealth war grave for William Stevens of Rubble Hole, Little London,
And a home-fashioned iron cross for Charles Burroughs,
Of Court Bank, Butterow.

Traffic hummed in the streets – or was it horses’ hooves?
A skylark soared and sang on Rodborough Common,
The same song as on the Somme a hundred years before,
Clouds scudded along Ivor Gurney’s Severn,
Fifty people made their solemn way homewards, to school, or to work.

We passed Rodborough’s Whistle for the Somme notice board,
Or was it the MR James’ ghost story –
Oh, Whistle and I’ll come to You, my Lad …
I left for work on my bike, drifting through overheard conversations:
‘What have I got to worry about, compared with that?’
Then in the shop, getting my newspaper, a mum chastising her child:
‘Oh you are grumpy today. It’s not the end of the world.’
I got to work and filled in an official form with the bald date:
1.7.16
And heard my gramp singing to me from
‘Somewhere in France’,
His old music hall Christmas routine:
‘Where do flies go in the wintertime?
Do they go to gay Paree?
When they’ve finished buzzing round our beef and ham,
When they’ve finished jazzing round our raspberry jam,
Do they clear like swallows every year
To a distant foreign clime?
Tell me, tell me, where do flies go in the wintertime?’

Oh, Whistle and I’ll come to You, my Lad …