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New poems by Peter Ray



Annie Souls


A letter from the Prime Minister,
Expressing sorrow,
Would be consumed by the flames,
Along with the previous documentation
And the confirmation of their deaths:
Including her sons’ pitiful names.


A shilling from the King,
Remunerating for losses,
Would be scorned by the neighbours,
Along with the spurious vilification
And the defloration of their friendship:
Ignoring her sons’ lamentable labours.


An insult to the Monarch,
Apportioning the blame,
Would be instituted by the mother,
Along with the furious disrespect
And the neglect of her duty:
Interring her sons, one after another…


A candle to Frederick,
Burning for life,
Would be confounded by the disappearance,
Along with the nauseous trace
And the face of her boy:
Invoking her son’s fate of abhorrence.



She lost five of her six sons during the First World War, the other falling to illness soon after the hostilities were over. Frederick was never found, along with a handful of others, who were defending a position at the Somme. His mother kept a candle burning in the window in a vain hope that he would return. Given a shilling for each son’s death, Annie was shunned by villagers in Great Rissington, due to jealousy over the pensions she was receiving. She would no doubt rather have received her boys home.

She blamed the King. Apparently she refused to stand for the National Anthem. The family burned documents and moved away from the village.

Can’t blame her…




Mousehole V.C.


A Mousehole lad, educated in Paul,
Joseph Trewavas’ life panned out to enthral;
The sea had beckoned,
The Navy, he reckoned
Would be his vocation
And his first embarkation,
Aboard ‘Agamemnon’, a steamship heavily armed,
Took him to the Crimea, his life utterly charmed.


At Sebastopol and Inkerman with the Naval Brigade, he fought,
Saw the diseased, the deceased, the damned and the distraught;
The Straits of Genitchi beckoned,
In the Sea of Azov, he reckoned:
This was his vocation,
On HMS Beagle, his embarkation,
For him to implement the imminent destruction
Of a supply-line, a pontoon, a Russian construction.


Densely defended, the floating bridge was heavily protected,
Three previous excursions had been successfully rejected;
The pontoon thus beckoned,
An axe, Joseph reckoned:
This was his vocation:
In a gig, his embarkation,
Led to shock, if not incredulity from the Russian massed defence,
As the craft was rowed forward, the axe lifted and tense.


Joseph leapt from the gig and hacked at thick rope,
To sever the great hawsers, his forlorn, buoyant hope;
Broken cables beckoned,
One more swipe, he reckoned:
This was his vocation:
Would there be embarkation?
He scrambled aboard, Russian expressions agape,
A musket ball to the shoulder sadly baulked his escape.


Excruciatingly embedded in flesh the missile became,
Bullets holed the gig, as it was rowed towards fame;
The Beagle’s safety beckoned,
Trewavas would live, he reckoned:
This had been his vocation,
A momentous embarkation;
The bridge was adrift, the Russians forestalled,
Joseph was victorious, his enemies appalled.


The Cornishman was honoured by the Queen, in Hyde Park:
A Victoria Cross medal, a measure, a mark;
An esteemed life beckoned,
Of fishing, he reckoned:
This would be his vocation,
Quaint Mousehole his embarkation;
A quiet married life, he expected,
‘Agamemnon’ his vessel, his presence respected.

A life which spanned some sixty-nine years
Became affected by paralysis, frustration then tears;
Termination beckoned,
A cheese-knife, he reckoned:
An end to his vocation,
A final embarkation;
The blade slid mortally across an ageing, bloodstained neck
And he slipped away a day later, a hero, a sad wreck…



Joseph Trewavas is celebrated by a plaque upon an outside wall of the Mousehole house he had lived in. He was quite a hero.

On 3rd July 1855, the Russians were too surprised to fire at the small gig at first, containing only five men but were too late to decide that the threat was serious. The gig nearly capsized and Joseph’s shoulder injury wasn’t serious and he was eventually lauded, winning the Legion of Honour from France and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, as well as the Victoria Cross. He returned to the ‘Agamemnon’ in November, 1855.

He committed suicide in July 1905.




Souls Never Found


Displaced, he rose,
Caked with the mud and debris of the summer Somme:
Helmet misplaced,
He scratched his infested hair,
Blinking in the quiet, strange light,
Barely noticing the flies in cadavers
And the rats feasting upon comrades’ flesh,
The fetid stench, the groaning undead,
The vomit, the contortion, the waste.


Displaced, he stepped,
Baked in the location of his absent battalion:
Rifle misplaced,
He sought his injured brother,
Slinking into Rouen’s hospital post,
Hardly noticing the legless torsos
And the bandages congealing on comrades’ eyes,
The putrid stench, the shrouded dead,
The tears, the distortion, the distaste.


Displaced, he hovered,
Slaked with the sweat and adrenalin of the rush of war;
Pain misplaced,
He watched a writhing embolism,
Breaking his brother’s youthful heart,
Barely noticing the healing leg wound
And the matron’s helpless pleas,
The scribbled postcard, the urgent treatment,
The shock, the agony, the haste…


Displaced, he wept,
Flaked with the contusion and horror of his harrowing loss:
Life misplaced,
He meandered an aimless path,
Walking with smitten, crushed limbs,
Hardly noticing the passing days
And his own torn, lifeless body,
The filth, the pervading evil,
The need to be found, the need to be chaste…



Frederick Souls: if his soul’s seeking had found his brother, injured nearby, being treated for a wound to a leg but dying from a blood clot to the heart on the following day… Frederick wanders still…



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