( After seeing a photo of one of the wards from the Liddle Collection. My granddad, who was from Cumberland, and at Beckett’s Park recovering from a wound, met my grandma, who was in service nearby. This is my fantasy about how they might have met.)
Dear Lily, I’m pleased enough I’m here,
can almost walk now with the crutch.
Sleeping’s still a swine, this long hut
packed with men. Any minute of the night fear
can wake me; four or five’ll be snoring
like the troopers they are. But I’m glad
to be here, away from there, though the bad
smell comes back sometimes, rank in the webbing,
seeping from the wool in our mud green jackets.
Every kind of man here, a proper mess of manhood;
local lads, loads of them, accents like spanners,
jocks and cockney boys, geordies, taffs and scallies.
I’m happy enough, and yesterday hopped
like an old ‘un down to the gate;
stood a long time smoking, waiting,
marvelling that life goes on, the strollers and the shops.
And Lily, don’t know how to say it, I met this lass,
a bonny thing, wi’ long brown hair,
and a brassy laugh like she doesn’t care,
says she’ll look out for me when she next goes past.