Seconds from silence

Private George Edwin Ellison of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers was shot an hour before World War One’s Armistice took effect at 11.00 on November 11th 1918.  Aged 40, he was the last of nearly a million British soldiers to die in the conflict.
The final day’s fighting resulted in 11,000 killed, wounded or missing - more than fell on D-Day, World War Two.
The peace treaty had been signed at 5.00 that morning.

A stonemason carves the last
Name in the long, long symmetry
Thinking of cool beer
Clutched in fingers
Bruised from the weight of names.

In finery of epaulettes, medals, swords,
Whiskers and cognac-breath,
The generals had already
Clutched gloved hands,
Their signatures not yet dry.

Ellison in a still Belgian wood
Thinking of Hannah, and meat on his bones
Hears his boy’s laughter through the larks
Clutches his cold rifle
Transformed to a weighty stick.

In the mist-shrouded horizon
Dissolving to men from Huns
A sniper thinks, just once more
Clutches trigger with calloused finger
Seconds from silence.