He’s sixteen.

Should be drinking in the park

Get pissed on cider from a neon can

Discussing which band’s good and which sold out

And scoffing at sad, bland pop music fans.

At least, he should be sneaking into bars

Where everyone can tell he’s underage

With fake ID swiped from his brother’s room

Or ordered from a magazine’s back page

He should be stacking shelves on Saturdays

And hiding his hangover from his mum,

Or playing sport, or in a band with mates

And feeling nervous when exam week comes.

That khaki jacket with its stains of mud –

It should be worn at gigs watched in the rain;

Those heavy boots should be a Camden thing

Or be reminders of some outdoor game.


But that is now. For times were different then –

They say –  concepts of ‘teens’ didn’t exist:

Sixteen year olds were practically men –

They say –  and all were desperate to enlist.

These pretty lies won’t mask the long-dead sounds

Of young men’s screams on bloody battlefields,

Won’t change the roll call of the millions dead,

The ‘shell shock’ and the wounded left unhealed.


And now he’s just a name chalked on a stone

Where annually people might convene

With well-meant ceremonies of regret

Young soldier – killed in action – aged sixteen.

Read about the ‘ghost soldiers’ project #wearehere  – a powerful and moving tribute to those killed in the battle of the Somme.


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