After the halting journey from Calais,
via Waterloo and the main line north,
to be carried that autumn afternoon
in the estate’s wagons through the park gates,
past the grazing deer, to be greeted
on the front steps by his Lordship himself
with a small speech about sanctuary,
the first of the curable invalids –
trench foot, shell shock, TB – must have thought
they were in some temporary heaven.
They called it ‘Blighty Ward’ – the Garden Salon
with windows that overlooked the parterre
where the last of the roses were blooming.
Brisket, pork and occasional venison
and chrome ash trays to stub out your fags
and the always pretty nurses smelling
like girls, even his lordship’s own daughters,
they knew were too cushy by half for them.
Fattened, in spring they returned for the big push.
Those who survived would never tell, had no
permission to speak, were silent to the grave.
Someone still puts a small wooden cross
among the ferns in the Orangery
for the Gardener’s boy lost at Paschendaele.
No one ever spoke of the Cook’s conchie son –
of his courage refusing to bow
to the bidding of the officer class,
refusing to take the tainted shilling.
The red poppies grew in the ravaged soil.
They did not grow because of the dead.
They have been purloined – men and flowers.