I am the soldier, who answered the call

by Mario Corrigan

I am the boy, who answered the call
For a King’s shiny shilling and the fun of it all
The chance of a life, adventure, a gun
To crawl out of the mire, the workhouse or slum
I’d make a fresh start, away from the grind
of the back-breaking work in the stony-hard soil
I am that boy who answered the call

I am the brother with sins to erase
Fourth in the line, no chance of the place
The boy who turned strong, stood up to the auld man
fed up with the beatings, the drink and his plan
Never knew nothing, hardship, grief and regret
‘Though the thoughts of the siblin’s, brings tears to me yet
I … am their brother, the one who answered the call

I am the father, who strove to keep pace
Torn from his darlin’ and his new-baby’s face
To stand with his comrades as he’d proud stood before
On the veldt of the Transvaal, searching for Boers
Not much choice in the matter, called up in reserve
They’ll not call ME coward, though I’ll ne’er say I’m brave
They’ll pay me money while I’m fighting away
And herself and wee Jenny a separation wage
I … am her father … who answered the call

I’m ‘Paddy’ Atkins who stood to the ranks
Just because … we’re Tommies and Paddies, Frogs, Fritzs and Yanks
I’m no King, I’m no Kaiser, I’ve no cousin a Czar
No brass hats, just men, the men, who we are
I am a man in the service of a King
An Irishman fighting, for what Home Rule will bring
I … am the Irishman who answered the call

I’m what’s left of a human, all battered and torn
In the mud in the trenches, where faith is forlorn
Arms, legs, heads and torsos, minced in the din
Make a bloody wet mist that sticks to your skin
As your friends disappear in the blast and the mud
You kill with bayonets and bullets, drown men in their blood.
Silent, fresh-mown-grass-smellin’- gas, over the top
Wind dealing death, mustard, phosgene burnt coughs?
Back in the aid stations, Pals scream loved mother’s names
Surgeons learn limbing, and to rebuild a face
I am the human … torn, battered and blind
General’s war-game Prometheus, moves on maps behind lines
I … am the revenant … who answered the call

I am the shell-of-a-man, who finally came home
To the young hungry bucks, to be shamed and ignored
To a job in the factory for a hook and one eye
A beast to be feared by the ex-wife and child
And the trite civvie diatribe, “At least you’re alive”

Yes …
Alive to the nightmares … of being buried in mud
And finding your brother by his name in his boot
Whizzbangs, Machine Guns, Rat-tat-tat-tat
An arm shot to hell and a blade in the back
I can still smell the smell of the dead in the muck
Decaying horses and men entombed underfoot

Now, unable to sleep and unable to love
Drinking and fighting and screaming at God
The madman on corners, doolally and loon
Teased and despised and pitied, and soon
the asylum and cells, climbing the walls
Reduced to a shadow of the man I once was
I am that shell … who never really came home

I am that boy who answered the call,
That son, brother, father, that Paddy; I’m all
The one who stood up, to keep you all safe,
To fight for old Ireland and a shilling a day
For the nuns and the Belgians, for comrades and faith

I was drunk when I did it!
Ah, who the hell knows?
I am the one …
does it matter at all?

The men who read books will think that they know
Why I left half an arm and an eye for the crows
Why I fought for their empire, near died for the crown
Why I still have the medals, salute flags coming down
But it was me …
Who signed up
Me, who answered the call
It was my life, that I risked
And I paid for it all
I braved the barbed wire, artillery and lead
Fearing each second of winding up dead
I washed where I could and I picked out the lice
Fought off the rats in the blankets at night
And I still see the faces of all those I killed
And those who served with me, whose spirits now live
in the wild and abandoned No-Man’s Land of my mind
Where blood-soaked red poppies weep for my kind

Pay homage to sacrifice and remember them all
Remember those madmen who answered the call.
And remember the Mad Men who forced them to fight
And the lives that it cost to put the world right.
I … am the soldier … who answered the call
I was the soldier, who was faithful and fought.

I am the sister, the daughter, the wife
The mother of children, a slave to her life
The husband is gone to where husbands go
Though he’s not the same man when last he came home
They send me a wage while he’s over there
There’s part of me hoping he stays there I swear
But each second, each minute, each hour, each day
I’m waiting on telegrams and dreading the wait
The children are killing me, the neighbours are worse
The drink calms me down but there’s trouble of course
Oh, what did we do, to be born this way or that?
That finds us in trenches or breast-feeding brats
And there’s talk of the vote and our E-quality!
But I’m still scrubbing floors and rearin’ three kids.
Them fine learned nurses, travelling to France
to comfort the brutalised, for them be it passed
Ah, just send the fool home, Lord. Send all the fools home
And we’ll pick up the pieces as we picked them before
I am the woman who never was asked
But my soul was ripped from me
… for some medals and flag.
I am the woman … whose man answered the call.

Reproduced with kind permission of the author. This poem was composed in Poetry as Commemoration workshops held at Newbridge Library in January 2023. The workshops were led by writer Debbie Thomas and archivist Karel Kiely using archival material from the Curragh Internment Camp during the War of Independence.