My father lost two older brothers in the war; both were in their early twenties. This must have had a profound effect on him which at the time I didn’t fully appreciate. As far as I can tell he wrote this poem in his late sixties or perhaps even in his seventh decade. It was published in a Quaker booklet in 1975. (He and my mother joined the Society of Friends [Quakers] in the 1950s.)
The toy soldiers stiffly stand
the picture horses prance;
Established Persons of our Land
assume the ritual stance.
As dank November drizzle falls,
Cenotaph an ageing ghost,
sharply a brazen bugle calls
living and dead to a Last Post.
The stale and spectral pageant past,
strained puppets break their string;
the tired flag creeps up the mast,
and swinging London resumes her swing.
But a distant summer day I see,
an anxious schoolboy, when my mother
steadied a hand against a tree
and told me I had lost a brother.
So comes it every drear November
I cannot stiffen to command;
so many days when I remember
a mother’s voice, her deathly hand.
Fred J. Nicholson