30th January 1972, Lagan Valley Hospital Lisburn, Northern Ireland You were a wrinkled bundle o’ joy when you first came along A soldier’s bairn, your eyes squinting up at the world, You didn’t understand the remarks being made or feel the hurt being wrung, From the hearts of the women standing there. Anger laced every word How could we have known that your birth would be a forerunner to such hurt.
It was bloody Sunday and, as I held you near, I knew that life would change, But the wariness I felt as I carried you along stays with me to this day. Who knows what made the difference between one woman and the next But it seemed that we were all on the edge of an unstoppable swirling vortex.
How on Earth had it come to this, the troops had all been welcomed. Tea and biscuits at every turn. Kindness had been the custom, But that kindness was somehow changed to hatred and guns led the way. To bloody slaughter on all sides and families having to pay
They gathered in Creggan to march that day for their basic human rights. An end to internment and injustice. They were willing to fight the fight. As they marched along, with determination in their hearts, the guns opened fire, And thirteen lay dead in the tarmac and tears, making a bloodied pyre
Who was to blame you hear people shout. The cry goes up “Not me” Perhaps it was the ministers of the kirks or the Senior officers who led the way Did the marchers have any part to play? If yes, they paid the price. No, it was the soldiers who bore the shame although they had no voice.
We look to our Government to clarify its aims. But the soldiers were pawns in an everchanging game Politicians guided by sectarian hate wouldn’t budge Bitterness had set in and conflict was the judge
To Governments who do not value their armed forces, Remember that, when the chips are down, your fate is on their shoulders. Our soldiers are not the toys of fools. Their role is to protect . The cost at times so heavy with no accolades to collect
Nearly fifty years have gone now. We have a fragile peace But are all our people valued, whatever colour, belief or creed It is they who bring us “hope and glory” and this can be achieved Through mutual respect and trust, unfettered by political division and greed.
At this time of fear and uncertainty, perhaps the old wounds can be healed. We will enjoy peace and happiness once more and our bonds can again be sealed. Shirley Gibson 21.03.2020
My husband Phil and I were privileged to join some of the members of the Royal Engineers Association, Dundee Branch to pay a visit to the war graves in Belgium on the 100th. anniversary of the end of the 1st World War. Following the visit I thought about the role of many women at that time who waited at home powerless to do anything directly for their loved ones. And how such a mother, would feel about her son expressing a wish to join up. To that end, I’ve penned a wee poem and, in it, I’m thinking particularly of a Dundee Mother.
Last night I made a decision tae join the engineers But first I had tae speak to my Maw, just tae allay her fears Ye want tae be a sapper then ye daft heided loon I’ll tell ye what ye’ll be dayin so just sit yersel doon.
Ye’ll be marching, saluting, standing to attention, Bullin yer boots till ye see yer reflection Saluting the sergeant and getting a bollocking Then down the local for a wee bit o’ frolickin Ye’ll drink yer mates under the table. Then try to get a lass,,,,,, if yer able.
Does that sound good to ye son. But a’ these shenanigans have a price And it’s sometimes the way that they toss the dice Yer Faither was a sapper ye see joined with his mate Peter, baith fae Dundee
Soon they were on their way to France They intended to set Adolf a merry dance Despatched onto the beach with much bravado and guile looking out for each other all the while a shower of bullets put paid to that and Peter was down with a rat tat tat
Son, one of the reasons that I’m telling this story Just so ye know, it’s no all glory It’s hard graft maist o’ the time And you’ve got to learn how to tow the line But you’ll work as a team and make friends for life Being careful to keep out o’ the trouble and strife
“So off ye go lad but remember this. You’re no too big for a right sloppy kiss. …come here”
From chimney to chimney the seagulls call. They’re becoming hungry, no children at all Where’s the curry and chips upon which they rely: It’s not on the roadside to fulfil their cry
They all came inland when the fish became scarce, And were fed by the children, their take-outs to taste, But the virus is here, human friends disappear. They must now go back to a time before fear, When they foraged themselves seeking insects and worms, To return to their nests with real grub for their young. Shirley Gibson 06.04.2020
My poem is about the Clay Kickers employed, during the 1st World War, by Major John Griffith’s Company. They had worked on the Manchester sewers where the soil, like that of Flanders, was clay based. The Clay Kickers had the skills necessary to work more quietly and quickly than the German Tunnellers. 18 men were initially recruited without the usual basic Military training. Men were also recruited from the coal and tin mines across Britain for tunnelling. Many men died but, for years, remained unsung heroes due to the secrecy of the project.
Johnny’s Mam Johnny’s away to the Army. He’s joined the Engineers. From Manchester’s sewers to Flanders Fields’ And he says he’ll be back in a year.
Apparently he’s working in trenches. He says it’s really good. “It’s just like working in the underground And they’ve all got plenty o’ food. They call them the sappers [Something to do wi’ spades] But I’m glad he’s coming home soon. I’m busy counting the days.”
“I think I’ve reassured me Mam that this hell hole’s a piece o’ Heaven, But we really work in a secret place. We call it Armageddon. It’s under the trenches, far from the day, Where we’ve got to dig out the bloodied clay.”
They needed our skills to work quiet and fast So they sent us to Chatham and made sure we passed We’re the 170th [Tunnelling] Company Royal Engineers Sounds a lot better than building the sewers The wage is six shillings, a fortune indeed So I’ll send it to me Mam for the bairns to feed
We’re lying in the tunnel Andy and me Wedged between the trolley and the wall Filling and loading the bags o’ clay For the Trammer to make his call Our mates are on their crosses, kicking irons In the cloying earth And the Infantry pump in the air so we can catch our breath
Jerry is doing much the same on the other side of the wall They’re not really any different from us We all answered the call They’ll also be young lads pulled away from their norm And, Just like us Brits, they’ve had to conform
But we’ve got to fight for every inch Or so our superiors say So we will stay in the shadows meantime Kicking and digging the clay Until the day dawns when peace is here We can go out into the sunset free from fear
Further up the line, the listener lifts his hand I can hear a wsht wsht sound coming from the sand Andy says “It’s your heart beat, pounding in your ears” “Now go and take a deep breath and dry away your tears”
I see a trickle of debris falling from above The candle flickers and stops Then comes the sound of thunder I can’t feel the props “Run lads, run like hell”
On all fours along the passage Trying our best to escape the gases But our way is blocked, dust clouds rise I feel for Andy and close his eyes I lean back against the crumbling wall And feel cocooned in the sinking shawl
Now all is still, me Mam is here She takes my hand to ease my fear I’m safe and sound in the sunset glow And know that, at last, I can safely go Shirley Costello Gibson 12.01.2020 copyright
Joe is an amalgamation of many veterans whom I have known over the years including of course our Dad: Robert Costello, Royal Engineers who served in France and Palestine in the 2nd World War. Robert is pictured between two friends Mick and Gus from Dundee REA.
What happened to Joe, my feisty old buddy A decorated soldier no less A wounded eagle so age defined Sent back home to clear a space
Who had the right to make these choices When back into homes old people were foisted Without the necessary checks and balances The risks were ignored with the consequent damages
And, in line with the prevailing guidance Joe came home carrying the virus Things soon changed, people were gone Behind closed doors to be waited upon by ghosts with no faces, Swishing sounds accompanied their paces
He thought of Jessie, fingers trailing ivory keys And Willie’s tuba in the corner, polished but at peace Mr. Jeffrey’s Elvis records awaiting collection And Norman’s karaoke machine a treasured possession
Now joe has a cough and it’s harder to breathe But his optimism is getting him through He says he’s not ready for the pearly gates And it’s not the time to say adieu“
“When Jessie gets better, we can all gather round And sing again of the times that are past Of our pals who were there through thick and through thin And of our hopes that our friendships will last “
I’ve been asked to visit Joe for one last time I see him through the window The carer tries to talk to him but Joe is now in limbo He is reaching for someone but is drifting away What a pity his DCM can’t help him today
Shirley Costello Gibson 05.08.2020 copyright DCM Distinguished Conduct Medal