Twenty Nine

It Started

It is just twenty-nine short years ago,
a conflict over sovereign soil; a war
we had been forced to join, and what is more
we knew him through his brother. So we know

how close we were to being there to pay
our debt, to take up arms, to test our steel
no truth was there so graphically revealed
than those who paid their ransom on the day.

We watched the daily news reports and felt
our chests fill up with so much pride, but most
of all, with choking sorrow at the ghosts
of harrowing life lost; what blows were dealt.

On the night of twelfth of June it was,
irony to say, a “silent night attack”.
But that is what they called it, no way back
for Four Platoon from B Comp’ny that does

not do retreating, second thinking, when
even tough, gut-wrenching work will cost
a life to gain control of hill once lost
that once regained, will look too low a fen…

too low a fen to ask of men to drown,
not in water, nor in bog, but hail;
a mighty storm, a holy cross of nails
that bring the mightiest men to ground;

that bring the bravest to their final test
of courage, and the currency of true
heroes, that history does our souls imbue
a view of these great men who did their best.

Whose duty in the field is marked by stope
for graves, but far too little memory
of their names, rough cut in masonry,
but for one treasure they leave for us… a hope

that every day we try to take their lead
that we may see the need for all of us
to find a little courage, and do not fuss
on things that threaten not our meagre needs.

The Conclusion

So they, pinned down, bereft of their advance
on Longdon Mount, crucial for Port Stanley,
were threatened with an idle fate, less manly
than they would want to be. But one last chance:

Commander down, the sergeant, left in charge,
Converts reconnaissance into attack.
So he, with only three men at his back
broke cover, and enemy emplacement barged.

He had no second thought, no looking back;
no thought for safe return or fate to come;
no thirst for beer in mess when day was done.
Though he was so aware, he stayed on track

until he’d reached the offending gun position,
who, ‘till that moment, felt impregnable,
but in their well armed strength, a Tower of Babel,
a blinding sting completed their transition.

But at the moment of his finest hour
Ian McKay, lay slumped on their defences
His present, in a moment, became past tenses;
his glorious, heroic feat turned sour.

One consolation, if there could be one
that he, without a single doubt did save
many lives on route to their own grave;
precious lives were spared by deed so done.


Remember only this, that we shall ever
allow our heads to bow, and fill with tears
the cup of life’s great mercy; recall what sears
the heart and shall not dim their great endeavour.

It is just twenty-nine short years, now spent,
since conflict over sovereign soil; a war.
They, in their pain wouldn’t ask for any more
than that we will remember how they went.

(Read the author’s commentary on this poem)

© 2011 John Anstie

About PoetJanstie

“Life is short and art long, the crisis fleeting, experience penniless and decision difficult” ~ Hippocrates. As a young man, John was sporting and fit. It was then as much his recreational therapy as a cappella harmony singing, music, walking in the hills and writing is now. Playing Rugby Union for over twenty years, encouraged in the early days by a school that was run on the same lines and ethos as that famous Scottish public school, Gordonstoun, where our own headmaster had been as a senior master. This gave shape and discipline to a sometimes precarious early life. His fitness was enhanced not only by playing rugby, but also by working part time jobs in farming, as a leather factory packer and security guard, but probably not helped, for a short time, selling ice cream! His professional working life was spent as a Metallurgical Engineer, Marketing Manager, Export Sales Manager, Implementation Manager and Managing Director of his own company. Thirty five years spent, apparently in a creative desert, raising a family, pursuing a career and helping to pay the bills, probably enriched his experience, because his renaissance, on retirement, realised a hidden creative talent as a writer of prose and poetry. He also enjoys music, with a piano and a fifty-two year old Yamaha FG140 acoustic guitar. He sings bass in three a cappella harmony groups: as a founding member of a mixed voice chamber choir, Fox Valley Voices and barbershop quartets. He is also a member of one of the top barbershop choruses in the UK, Hallmark of Harmony (stage name of the Sheffield Barbershop Harmony Club), who, for the eighth time in 41 years, became UK Champions in 2019. He is also a would be (once upon a time or 'has been') photographer with drawers full of his own history, and an occasional, but lapsed 'film' maker. In his other life, he doubles as a Husband, Father, Grandfather, Brother, Uncle, Cousin, Friend and Family man. What he writes is sometimes autobiographical, often political, sometimes dark and frequently pins his colours to the mast of climate change and how a few humans are trashing the Earth. In 2013, he published an anthology of the poetry (including his own) of an international group of poets, who met on Twitter in 2011. He produced, edited and steered the product of this work, "Petrichor Rising", to publication by Aquillrelle. His sort of strap-line reads: “ iWrite iSing iDance iChi iVolunteer ”
This entry was posted in age, courage, Heroes, Hope, melancholy, poem, poetry, sadness, story, War and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Twenty Nine

  1. Pingback: The Evolution Shall Be Blogged: Our “Poets Against War” Wrap-up and Collection | INTO THE BARDO, A BLOGAZINE

  2. The style may be reminding of W. B. Yeats but the poem’s thread is all you, Poet! It is amazing your strength of mirroring your feelings, exhausting your ideas until the essence flood the whole poem, capturing the words to rhyme ( this is my wonder!).
    Where is the book of poems with your name on it???I want to feel its scent of a new born Poet book…


  3. John, this reads so much like one of the classic hero poems of Yeats or one of those “boys.” Very well crafted and a worthy subject, for sure.


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Yes I love those “boys”, particularly W B Yeats, lyrical poet extraordinaire. I admired Tennyson, whose close friendship with Arthur Henry Hallam, in turn whose premature death lead to seventeen years of labour by Tennyson, putting together the most epic of all elegies that was ever written! Hence my use of his rhyme scheme for my own elegy for a soldier. “Twenty Nine” is slightly different in its metre, however, Tennyson’s was in tetrameter, mine is pentameter. I think pentameter is better for storytelling. Thank you so much for you kind comment, Victoria.


  4. angelique says:

    This is masterful writing. The structure works well for your topic; I find the rhyme scheme difficult to pull off with as much skill as you show here. I found this piece painful to read, as it should be.


  5. zongrik says:

    very tender descriptive writing

    pedestal ivory goddess


  6. claudia says:

    twenty-nine…and many of them even younger…gave their life for others…we def. need to remember.. very fine write..


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Thank you Claudia. I will surely never forget. I lost an Uncle in WW2, whom I know only through anecdote and his own diaries. His brother, my Father, was also in the RAF, a Spitfire fighter pilot, who was himself shot down (an account of which I just remembered I’d posted on my other blog last year) – both my heroes. I always bring them, all of those who paid the sacrifice, to my mind on 11/11 each year.


  7. I need to wipe mine eyes, and I shall see hehee. It’s the “small lives” sacrificed that always bring a tear, these people without great fame nor fortune who sacrificed for us. Ian McKay was one such man, not a martyr, a brave honest hard working man.

    Loved the Tennyson esque rhyming scheme too, very fitting for the write John.


  8. a touching tribute john. enjoyed the journey thru the lines. 🙂


  9. brian says:

    it is def a moving account and well versed…29 is far too young, but it happens daily, sadly…i too read the commentary first which made it all the more so…followed over from Joe Hech’s place…


  10. Jess P says:

    A very touching piece. Having read the commentary first, it means even more.


  11. Sammy Sutton says:

    John, this is amazing…The emotion your message evoked has me struggling to see the screen. My heart and thoughts go out to Ian McKay, and his legacy, which lives within you and your art.


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Sammy, I was remiss in not responding to your comment. Thank you. I guess if it invokes your kind of response, then the poet has done his job (isn’t that cruel!). But thanks so much for popping by to read it.


  12. Sometimes wasted lives are not wasted at all but spent in the knowledge that through sacrifice and heroism those left behind can spend a little more freely. a life that cost so much.


  13. Kim Nelson says:

    This touching tribute is powerful both in message and in form. The rhyme scheme and flow carried me like a song, albeit a very sad one. I then clicked over to the Wiki article you cite to better understand the references and learned so much. Thank you for getting in touch. Thank you for writing so eloquently about heroism in it’s truest form.


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Thanks for your comment, John. And yes, there is that additional fact that heroic sacrifice can enable our freedoms.

      And thanks too, Kim for paying me a visit. Glad you appreciate the poetic form, which was influenced by the structure of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s epic elegy “In Memoriam A.H.H.”. This had four line stanzas with the rhyming scheme ABBA, as does mine. The only difference is that, whilst his meter is tetrameter, mine is pentameter.


Don't leave without letting me know your feelings...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s