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The Manchester Moles

Johnny’s Mam
Johnny’s away to the Army. He’s joined the Engineers.
From Manchester’s sewers to Flanders Fields’
And he says he’ll be back in a year.

Apparently he’s working in trenches. He says it’s really good.
“It’s just like working in the underground
And they’ve all got plenty o’ food.
They call them the sappers
[Something to do wi’ spades]
But I’m glad he’s coming home soon. I’m busy counting the days.”

Johnny

“I think I’ve reassured me Mam that this hell hole’s a piece o’ Heaven,
But we really work in a secret place.
We call it Armageddon.
It’s under the trenches, far from the day,
Where we’ve got to dig out the bloodied clay.”

They needed our skills to work quiet and fast
So they sent us to Chatham and made sure we passed
We’re the 170th [Tunnelling] Company Royal Engineers
Sounds a lot better than building the sewers
The wage is six shillings, a fortune indeed
So I’ll send it to me Mam for the bairns to feed

We’re lying in the tunnel Andy and me
Wedged between the trolley and the wall
Filling and loading the bags o’ clay
For the Trammer to make his call
Our mates are on their crosses, kicking irons
In the cloying earth
And the Infantry pump in the air so we can catch our breath

Jerry is doing much the same on the other side of the wall
They’re not really any different from us
We all answered the call
They’ll also be young lads pulled away
from their norm
And, Just like us Brits, they’ve had to conform

But we’ve got to fight for every inch
Or so our superiors say
So we will stay in the shadows meantime
Kicking and digging the clay
Until the day dawns when peace is here
We can go out into the sunset free from fear

Further up the line, the listener lifts his hand
I can hear a wsht wsht sound coming from the sand
Andy says “It’s your heart beat, pounding in your ears”
“Now go and take a deep breath and dry away your tears”

I see a trickle of debris falling from above
The candle flickers and stops
Then comes the sound of thunder
I can’t feel the props
“Run lads, run like hell”

On all fours along the passage
Trying our best to escape the gases
But our way is blocked,
dust clouds rise
I feel for Andy and close his eyes
I lean back against the crumbling wall
And feel cocooned in the sinking shawl

Now all is still, me Mam is here
She takes my hand to ease my fear
I’m safe and sound in the sunset glow
And know that, at last, I can safely go
Shirley Gibson 12.01.2020 copyright

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