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Richard Longstaff: Beyond Watford - disability arts online
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The hidden face of war / 16 April 2014

I touched on the subject of war in a previous blog, 'Words of war' with the poem Volley of shots. It was just after writing this piece that Salerno’s Child came into my head. I don’t like writing about the same theme time and again but wanted to share this with you because it is a moving story.

My father had served in the second world war and was part of the allied invasion of Italy in the September of 1943. The Salerno Landings as they are now known in the history books. In 1983 he took the family back to Italy. We had been several times before but this time he wanted to return to Salerno in the south and to look around the town and all the places he had fought in. I have to say that at the age of 16 I found it all boring at first.

On about the third day of our visit he wanted to look at a small commonwealth war cemetery. It was mid morning and Italy was lush green in the warmth of May.

Upon arriving at the cemetery gates my father spotted a couple. An older woman and at her side, holding her hand a young man. He stopped dead in his tracks: “We’ll wait here, on the road. Let them go first, let them have the place to their selves”. I couldn't understand. “Why do they need the place, why should we wait?” I asked.

He smiled. “They have a good reason, see the wooden cross in her hand? That's for someone in the earth, in there. I reckon from her age it could be a husband and the young fellow with her could be the son”. He lit a cigarette and leaned on the wall. “That son is the hidden face of war. The dead of the battlefields get a stone, the poor sods left behind get nothing”.

Later, after the couple had gone we walked the rows of stones. Ages from 19 to 43, Australian's and New Zealanders, British and Indian. It was powerful and must have rested deep in my mind until I wrote the blog 'Words of war'.

My father was right, there is a hidden cost to any conflict and we rarely get to see it. I hope by sharing this with you the true cost of war will be a little clearer. Who ever the couple was I dedicate this to them. From somewhere up North, Love peace and poetry to all, Richard.

Salerno’s Child

South of the Salerno Road stands
one hundred and two white teeth of war;
spine straight, neat rows
with cherry blossom for company;
defying the landscape.
Her son’s hands firm up; lift the latch
to seek the father he had never seen,
May gentle upon their backs, slow
soft steps on the lush
green turf.
 
Grip tightens at row six
and the sight of the shadow cast by his stone,
killed in September forty three
and still the ghosts of grief
plague her waking day.
Will his name and number stab home
the loss so keenly felt as a child?
Tears for tears sake as the winds come
in from distant hills; swirling
red earth.
 
Push the cross and message deep,
bow your head,
promise made and kept, this your child,
your living flesh.
Silent souls left, beyond the walls
a world never known;
laid to rest the book you wrote
and the mind of the walking word
you made.