30th January 1972, Lagan Valley Hospital
Lisburn, Northern Ireland
You were a wrinkled bundle o’ joy when you first came along
A soldier’s bairn, your eyes squinting up at the world,
You didn’t understand the remarks being made or feel the hurt being wrung,
From the hearts of the women standing there. Anger laced every word
How could we have known that your birth would be a forerunner to such hurt.
It was bloody Sunday and, as I held you near, I knew that life would change,
But the wariness I felt as I carried you along stays with me to this day.
Who knows what made the difference between one woman and the next
But it seemed that we were all on the edge of an unstoppable swirling vortex.
How on Earth had it come to this, the troops had all been welcomed.
Tea and biscuits at every turn. Kindness had been the custom,
But that kindness was somehow changed to hatred and guns led the way.
To bloody slaughter on all sides and families having to pay
They gathered in Creggan to march that day for their basic human rights.
An end to internment and injustice were their goals and they were willing to fight the fight.
As they marched along, with determination in their hearts, the guns opened fire,
And thirteen lay dead in the tarmac and tears, making a bloodied pyre
Who was to blame you hear people shout. The cry goes up “Not me”
Perhaps it was the ministers of the kirks or the Senior officers who led the way
Did the marchers have any part to play? If yes, they paid the price.
No, it was the soldiers who bore the shame although they had no voice.
We look to our Government to clarify its aims.
But the soldiers were pawns in an everchanging game
Politicians guided by sectarian hate wouldn’t budge
Bitterness had set in and conflict was the judge
To Governments who do not value their armed forces,
Remember that, when the chips are down, your fate is on their shoulders.
Our soldiers are not the toys of fools. Their role is to protect .
The cost at times so heavy with no accolades to collect
Nearly fifty years have gone now. We have a fragile peace
But are all of our people valued, whatever colour, belief or creed
It is they who bring us “hope and glory” and this can be achieved
Through mutual respect and trust, unfettered by political division and greed.
At this time of fear and uncertainty, perhaps the old wounds can be healed.
We will enjoy peace and happiness once more and our bonds can again be sealed.
Shirley Gibson 21.03.2020 copyright
My husband Phil and I were privileged to join some of the members of the Royal Engineers Association, Dundee Branch to pay a visit to the war graves in Belgium on the 100th. anniversary of the end of the 1st World War. Following the visit I thought about the role of many women at that time who waited at home powerless to do anything directly for their loved ones. And how such a mother, would feel about her son expressing a wish to join up.
To that end, I’ve penned a wee poem and, in it, I’m thinking particularly of a Dundee Mother.
Last night I made a decision tae join the engineers
But first I had tae speak to my Maw, just tae allay her fears
Ye want tae be a sapper then ye daft heided loon
I’ll tell ye what ye’ll be dayin so just sit yersel doon.
Ye’ll be marching, saluting, standing to attention,
Bullin yer boots till ye see yer reflection
Saluting the sergeant and getting a bollocking
Then down the local for a wee bit o’ frolickin
Ye’ll drink yer mates under the table.
Then try to get a lass,,,,,, if yer able.
Does that sound good to ye son.
But a’ these shenanigans have a price
And it’s sometimes the way that they toss the dice
Yer Faither was a sapper ye see joined with his mate Peter, baith fae Dundee
Soon they were on their way to France
They intended to set Adolf a merry dance
Despatched onto the beach with much bravado and guile
looking out for each other all the while
a shower of bullets put paid to that
and Peter was down with a rat tat tat
Son, one of the reasons that I’m telling this story
Just so ye know, it’s no all glory
It’s hard graft maist o’ the time
And you’ve got to learn how to tow the line
But you’ll work as a team and make friends for life
Being careful to keep out o’ the trouble and strife
“So off ye go lad but remember this. You’re no too big for a right sloppy kiss. …come here”
Shirley Gibson 20.02.2020 copyright
From chimney to chimney the seagulls call.
They’re becoming hungry, no children at all
Where’s the curry and chips upon which they rely:
It’s not on the roadside to fulfil their cry
They all came inland when the fish became scarce,
And were fed by the children, their take-outs to taste,
But the virus is here, human friends disappear.
They must now go back to a time before fear,
When they foraged themselves seeking insects and worms,
To return to their nests with real grub for their young.
Shirley Gibson 06.04.2020
My poem is about the Clay Kickers employed, during the 1st World War, by Major John Griffith’s Company. They had worked on the Manchester sewers where the soil, like that of Flanders, was clay based. The Clay Kickers had the skills necessary to work more quietly and quickly than the German Tunnellers. 18 men were initially recruited without the usual basic Military training. Men were also recruited from the coal and tin mines across Britain for tunnelling. Many men died but, for years, remained unsung heroes due to the secrecy of the project.
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.”
“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 Costello Gibson 12.01.2020 copyright
Joe is an amalgamation of many veterans whom I have known over the years including of course our Dad: Robert Costello, Royal Engineers who served in France and Palestine in the 2nd World War. Robert is pictured between two friends Mick and Gus from Dundee REA.
What happened to Joe, my feisty old buddy
A decorated soldier no less
A wounded eagle so age defined
Sent back home to clear a space
Who had the right to make these choices
When back into homes old people were foisted
Without the necessary checks and balances
The risks were ignored with the consequent damages
And, in line with the prevailing guidance
Joe came home carrying the virus
Things soon changed, people were gone
Behind closed doors to be waited upon by ghosts with no faces,
Swishing sounds accompanied their paces
He thought of Jessie, fingers trailing ivory keys
And Willie’s tuba in the corner, polished but at peace
Mr. Jeffrey’s Elvis records awaiting collection
And Norman’s karaoke machine a treasured possession
Now joe has a cough and it’s harder to breathe
But his optimism is getting him through
He says he’s not ready for the pearly gates
And it’s not the time to say adieu“
“When Jessie gets better, we can all gather round
And sing again of the times that are past
Of our pals who were there through thick and through thin
And of our hopes that our friendships will last “
I’ve been asked to visit Joe for one last time
I see him through the window
The carer tries to talk to him but Joe is now in limbo
He is reaching for someone but is drifting away
What a pity his DCM can’t help him today
Shirley Costello Gibson 05.08.2020 copyright
DCM Distinguished Conduct Medal
Bandanas for your four legged friends. Also poo bag holders. All from Wendy [Gibberz Creations] Just clip on to your belt and off you both go on your walkies.
Thanks to our beautiful models. Troyboy’s photo now added.