Michael Longley on Remembrance Day



Ronald Colman

My dad served with Ronald Colman in the Great War

And laughed at his daydream of Hollywood stardom.

London-Scottish kilts looked frumpish after battle,

Blood, mud and shit bespattering handsome knees.

My dad lost all his teeth before he was twenty

And envied Ronald Colman’s spectacular smile.

He watched him trimming his moustache in cold tea

At a cracked mirror, a thin black line his trademark.

Wounded at Messines – shrapnel in his ankle –

He tried in his films to cover up his limp – Beau

Geste, Lost Horizon – my dad would go to see them all.

Did he share a last Woodbine with Ronald Colman

Standing on the firestep, about to go their separate

Ways, over the top, into No Man’s Land, and fame?

Second Lieutenant Tooke

I should have commemorated before now

Second Lieutenant Tooke who helped my dad

Rescue Nurse Moussett of the French Red Cross

At Paris Plage in June nineteen-seventeen.

He was swept away by currents and drowned.

My life-saving dad just made it to the shore.

Not once did he mention the unlucky Tooke.

This was a breather before Passchendaele.