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Shot at Dawn

At nineteen you were still a child
hopping off to an aggrandised war
filled with romantic and exuberant air

At nineteen you travelled over the channel
to Mons, by the Belgian border marching
there receiving the horrors of humiliated retreat

At nineteen you went missing
first in Dublin taking leave without permission
now in France and sought for desertion

At nineteen you were a fugitive
hiding from town to town
filled with fear and personal loathing
without destination, without future

At nineteen you were confronted
by a baron's gamekeeper
whisked from barn to court marshall

At nineteen you met the iron will
of a military court in face of disaster
you were the first deserter to be convicted

As far as publicly convenient, within two days
without showing the world we shoot our own
At nineteen you marched out, first light of dawn

And in the half light of a new day
in an unmarked grave by the road
At nineteen ceremoniously executed and hastily buried

A queue of poplar trees with arms outstretched
lifted plaintive prayers to the war torn sky
At nineteen hope flew as far as the eye can see

Shortly before dawn, escorted by armed guards
tied to a post, blindfolded, white cloth to the heart
At nineteen your regiment paraded through gun smoke

An exemplary deterrent to all West Kents
rifles cracked from shaking arms
At nineteen you were shot at dawn

Review Request (Intensity): 
I want the raw truth, feel free to knock me on my back
Last few words: 
Pvt. Thomas James Highgate (19) Royal West Kents 08-09-1914 Shot at dawn is a poem that does poem does not condone desertion nor is it a proponent of summary execution or the use of capital punishment as a deterrent. The citizen army of August 1914 saw in its time 8Million sign up, their ensuing deployment resulting in 750,000 dead, of this 300/3000 convicted British deserters were executed. This is the tale of just one life. Lest we forget.
Editing stage: 


This is a story I hadn't heard but it is well told in your story poem, the fact that it went through Dublin caught my eye, seeing as my forebears got a free ticket to the colonies many decades ago also helped me picture this scene which my grandmother and her mother re told along with their Belfast Northern Irish background. Today has a profound effect on Australians here and everywhere in the world. It is a timely reminder how young some of these people were are how scared they must have been, going to fight and unknown enemy in far off shores. A pleasure to read.

"The perfect woman perpetrates literature as she does a small sin: as an experiment, in passing, to see if anybody notices it - and to makes sure that somebody does." - Nietzsche

thanks for the read, first up. My initial response when I first came upon young Highgate's tale is "It was because he was Irish." But then as I further studied his and many other cases I realised that there was a greater story and injustice or weakness in the legal system and its interpretation and carriage. I suspect this is so from generation to generation and would love to have the accounts perpetuated so we can learn to be better custodians of our heritage and freedom. I am glad you took some pleasure in this ANZAC Day offering.

'Break, break break on thy cold grey stones, O Sea.'

author comment

I like it too, and I like the effect of the "at nineteen", except
that perhaps you went a little overboard with it, while reading
I thought you could have joined a couple of those stanza's to
shorten that repetition, thereby making it stronger, but it is only
one old man's opinion ... thanks for sharing this bit of history.
War is never pretty, and it is often alluring to the young, I remember
my son being actually excited to join during the second Iraq conflict,
conflict not being the right word for it, maybe intrusion would be
a closer to the real truth for it, anyway, it didn't take him long before
the allure washed off with the reality of war, I suspect this is something
that has happened over and over during man's need to kill the other man.


If you are acquainted with the larger part of my poetry, they would be much more brief than this. And as I was hacking away at the 'excesses' I felt a niggling that a bit more pruning would make the repetitions blend in better and not be an annoyance. There may be a valid call to further nip and tuck at this poem but I shall give it its due and have it read in its original format for several more days. Many thanks for your observation and insight.

'Break, break break on thy cold grey stones, O Sea.'

author comment

Such a poem like this sure gets to me. I will not critique it right now for its content is of truth and it is also what still goes on in the world today. This is history and you tell the story well. It is a brave write and a good write. I agree with Moonman that you can polish this up but also know how you want it to sit for some time. It is heart wrenching for me on a personal level for all the brave men and women who starve for peace..this too happens to them...My father was eighteen, he is still here, his story I will write one day of the horrors of war and how it affected him the rest of his life..

If you like I can come back at later date and give it my feedback properly and with respect

Blessings to you Crypt
Ms Mona

I hope you do not feel it disrespectful to the memory of the person/s involved. It is the writer's craft and rendition in articulation that you will be dealing with. You know that feedback is always welcome and heartily encouraged.

'Break, break break on thy cold grey stones, O Sea.'

author comment

Please get back to me as my plate was full today and I promise I will do so. Are these your words?? Hope you feel better my friend

Bella Mia

The only person I actually knew who died in Vietnam was killed by :"noncombat related causes "........dead is dead..................stan

I have served Uncle Sam, and have looked into the eyes of death. I have to be honest I cannnot blame anyone who turns and runs. it's a hard thing to stand and wait for death, while praying it passes over.
This really moved me. because I feel that death is not the answer for those that are gripped with fear.


it amazes me that the most grounded and realistic replies to poems such as these are from those who themselves served in active combat duty. I know how important it is to find strength and comfort, even pardon and forgiveness from one's own fellow soldiers, but it is more important coming from family and the larger community. Your comment, thus makes up the other half of the poem's significance and soul. Cheers, Freds.

'Break, break break on thy cold grey stones, O Sea.'

author comment

I thank you for brinning this story to the light of day for all to see and come to grippes with its reality.
The plight the warrior lives with him/her for the rest of their lifes. it's what brings an appreciation for life after near death. How sad to come to that conclusion after the fact.


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