drove ambulances during the first world war,
her story, smudged in newsprint, suspended
between the arms of commuters, red poppies.

She found men over twice her age
crying, shell-shocked, gassed.
She gathered whole, dead and dismembered
bodies into communal graves, before stone crosses grew.

The diary of a young Corporal reveals
how once, as a teenager, he crept around a camp
at midnight, while Winnie and her girlfriends
shared their secret space under canvas.

He describes antics with his mates acting like cattle,
mooing, stifling laughter, imagining the girls sheathed
in sleeping bags, sensing the tension in their legs,
not knowing how wild boyish pranks might become.

Never imagining the wreckage of shells,
flailed skin, mud and bone, how, eighty years
later, fatuous sunbeams continue to shine
glinting on aerospace steel, as Generals
battle TV wars, and we, the public
celebrate victory in our living rooms, remote
with no sense of the taste, or touch, or smell of it.

© Steve Walter
2nd Prize. Ottakers Poetry Competition, Tunbridge Wells, 1999.

Winnie Deacon