Armistice Day Assembly

 

An unseasonably warm autumn.

The sports hall heat stifling

As they march in, single file,

Form ranks to Nimrod’s strings.

 

A thousand boys, regiment -strength,

Ordered in yearly battalions.

The scrupulous gaze of the Headmaster,

The green blazers with a hint of khaki.

 

As Elgar fades, the Head recites

An address two weeks’ in the planning –  

Rousing oratory: the Glorious Dead,

The trenches, the shell-holes, the sacrifice,

 

The serious stuff of national grief.  

Swaying in their scuffed brogues,

The ranks smother their yawns.

Dry coughs puncture the elegy.

 

Unseen, one lad suddenly falls:

They heard the dull, sullen thump

Of cranium meeting concrete, then

No more. Sandbag-still he iies,

 

Until two teachers bear him out.

The Head continues, raising his voice

To drown out the groans of another

Boy, dropped stone dead, prone

 

At base of his lectern. He wavers

But doesn't falter as wave upon

Wave falls, gasping for life, holes

Torn in the serried ranks. Still on

 

He goes, boys as threshed corn

Toppling around him. Reaching

His rhetorical close (there remain

Barely enough boys for a First XI)

 

The borrowed clothes: “Age shall not

Weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning

We will remember them. Amen.”

 

Blinking profoundly, he turned

And strode from the hall,  

Out into the untroubled light

Of a clear November morning.