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They kept their medals in a brass box – Bill James,

wounded at Mons, where defeat was clutched

from the jaws of victory, and his stepsons, George and Tom,

gassed at Ypres, where victory followed defeat followed

victory followed defeat, nose to tail, like elephants.


The box was a 1914 Christmas ‘gift from the nation’,

inspired though not funded by Princess Mary

Saxe-Coburg und Gotha.


They died before I was old enough to ask. Anyway

they had volunteered – and theirs were reserved generations.


One night in ‘64, fifty years on, outside the Philharmonic pub

on Hope Street, a slightly oiled and tearful veteran approached.

‘You’re an educated man. Why did they give us a jigger of rum

every time we went over the top? Tell me that!’

‘You know why – now,’ I said, and he laughed.




© Copyright David Selzer
3 Responses
  • Alex Cox
    August 28, 2014

    This reminds me of an auld veteran I met in the Canarvon Castle pub in Liverpool. It was shortly after 9/11 and a friend and I were talking atrocities. The auld feller in the next booth leaned over and said, “That’s nothing. The biggest atrocity of our lives was the Nagasaki bombing. Because it wasn’t necessary. They were just trying out bombs.”

  • David Selzer
    August 28, 2014

    Ah, the Canarvon Castle! Reading your comment makes me realise the veteran who spoke to me in 1964 was probably younger than I am now.

  • John Huddart
    September 15, 2014

    I have one of these boxes – passed down through my mother’s family’s ranks, though no member was involved in the war at all. It gleams with optimism. When polished is like gold. Inside, a swirl of oxide shows the copper in the brass. In it I keep a shard of shrapnel from the salient at Ypres.

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