In Neverland – never to grow old
never to marry that sweetheart
never to have children and grandchildren
nor watch hair thin and grey.
Full of derring-do – more dash than discipline
lanky and loose-limbed they swank and saunter
not like soldiers at all
no doff the cap humility
to the old rules and distant monarchies.
From a newly stolen world
hardly secured or steady with itself
lodged on the edge of a vast continent
clinging to a rim of turquoise blue.
in the pock-holed sores of ancient lands
richly bone-dusted from time to time.
Waiting for the fight to end
to go ‘back home’ ‘over there’
to farms and factories; schools and stations.
Still there – left behind
in the archipelago of cemeteries
as far as Fromelles, Pozieres,
to Bullencourt and Paschendaele
in fields of beetroot and corn,
fields bleeding red with poppies
beside the Menin Road at Ypres
in bluebelled woods of Verdun
in the silt of the Somme
on the plains of Flanders
in the victory graves at Amiens
Monash’s boys – the lost boys
cried for their mothers
begged for water
screamed to die
hung like khaki bundles on the wire.
Commanded by Field Marshalls
who never went to the fields,
who played the numbers game
in a war of bluff and bluster,
who never touched the dirt and slime,
nor waded through the bloody slush
of broken men and boys,
never waist-deep in mud and sinking,
wounded and drowning in that shambles of a war
Wearing dead men’s boots
and shrapnel-holed helmets
tunics and leggings splattered and rotting
with dead men’s blood and brains
Some haunted boys came home
knapsacks full of secret pictures,
old rusty tins crammed with suffering
breast pockets held their grief
wrapped in shroud-shreds.
They brought their duckboard demons
to the world of peace
Gas-choked fretful lungs still brought
the caustic fumes with every breath exhaled
and from every pore the death-sweat of decay.
But most boys were lost boys
lost forever in that no-man’s land
that Neverland of lives unlived.