Leaving home

editorial image

I’m not as old as my brothers,

I know nothing at all about war.

I believed whatever they told me,

As I followed them out of the door.

Under my arm was a parcel,

Of brown paper tied up with string.

I was holding my worldly possessions,

Including my gas mask and sling.

Mother walked us to school that day,

A most unusual thing.

She’d never done that for many a year,

Be it winter, summer or spring.

We all lined up in the school hall,

And the teachers called out our names.

They made us put on our gas masks,

And said: “We are just playing games.”

Next they pinned a label on me,

Through my jersey and two layers of skin.

On it was written my full name,

My age group and next of kin.

Then off we went to the station,

Like the children from old Hamlin town.

We just followed the sound of the teachers,

As the tears rolled gently down.

I’d never been away from home

For more than an hour or two.

And therefore could not understand

The reasons, the whys or the who.

The station was dark, wet and crowded,

Our mothers nowhere in sight.

My sister and brothers stood around me,

All crying and shivering with fright.

We were pushed and pulled then counted,

Then herded onto a train.

Our mothers stood behind barriers,

Waving, crying and shouting in vain.

The train then eased out of the station,

Heading south for somewhere unknown.

Its carriages loaded with children,

All crying and feeling alone.

We grew up to be children of others,

Those at home we quietly forgot.

Father time is a gentle healer,

And of time we had quite a lot.

Much later we had to adjust again,

And rejoin our real families.

But we never forgot the others,

Knowing not our true loyalties.

Albert Armstrong,

Percy Street,