Remembering all who have served

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He ate too little, drank too much and, when his days were done,
They drank a toast to absent friends and those whose race was run
And a man recalled as slow to speak but quick to pay his round,
An epitaph enough for one they laid beneath the ground
  And with his absence, all things pass as though they never were,
The Dunkirk sands,' the last boat home,  the love he had for her,
And Normandy ? Somewhere a file discloses he was there
But ink-stains fade like gratitude and leave the paper bare.
Yet had they known the man he'd been some seventy years before,
They might have laughed a little less and troubled rather more
And cared enough to look beyond the frayed, dishevelled shirt
And sensed the pain in those old eyes and understood the hurt.
  What did they know of what they saw ? A name to recognise,
A sprawling thatch beneath the cap, a pair of rheumy eyes,
A glass within a trembling hand, a thirst that never waned
And sometimes, on the maudlin hour, a sadness unexplained.
That's the trouble with old soldier-boys, they lock it all away
And live without insignia or medals on display,
There's nothing to distinguish them from others in the crowd
For time reserves no favours that the rest are not allowed
  Sometimes I wonder how it feels upon a common morn
To gaze upon a careless world that gazes back with scorn,
Perhaps I, too, might seek a glass with which I might conceal
The shadows of another life and the knowledge it was real.
So when we come to meet them in the twilight of their lives,
We never see the soldier, just the portion that survives,
He may not speak of how or where he spent his fractured youth
And so we shake an old man's hand and think we know the truth.
  It's all too late for honour now, they've laid him down to rest
With terse and spartan partings, words but ritually expressed,
They found his medals yesterday with a line as his goodbye,
'They pass away as others but old soldiers never die.'

Poem By
David Prowse
Published in the Western Daily Press weekend supplement
at the time of the D-Day 70th anniversary,. June 2014
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