No holly bush is here; no ancient yew tree;
Strange stones embedded in the salt marsh stand,
And rusted by the sun, the cypresses,
Like swords erect and planted in the sand.
And underneath the slender crowns of cypress,
Deep in the earth beneath the flagstones laid,
In order by battalion and by squadron,
The British troops are drawn up on parade.
The heavy lilac bushes break the sunlight
And rustle, moving in the wind, the while
The caretaker, on hands and knees beside them,
Cuts short the turf into the English style.
To soldiers resting in their final dwelling,
A ship from Devon brought a load of tiles,
A prickly blackthorn hedge was planted round them,
And flowers came, from seven thousand miles.
The soldiers far from home will sleep more soundly
Knowing the sheltering mounds above their heads
Are roofed across with tiles from distant England
And English grass is planted round their beds.
On dusty granite pyramids above them,
On plates of brass on which the writing fades,
An English craftsman has engraved in detail
Their numbers and the names of their brigades.
But yet, before they loaded up the vessel,
In fear of foreign treachery and hate,
They hurriedly translated into Russian
The sad descriptions of the soldiers' fate.
The villainous translator made a garble
Of putting into Russian as he must
The words in which the mourning English widow
Implored us to respect her husband's dust.
"Here lies a sergeant. In the name of Heaven,
Bow down your head before this holy cross!"
So many miles from England! Such a distance
From wives and girls who must endure this loss!
On foreign soil they might insult her husband -
Plough up the land and break his tombstone there!
His wife, his mother beg you not to do it!
In heaven's name, please listen! Do not dare!
No need to fear! The date's already fading
On monuments above their silent bed.
The British soldiers sleep in peace in Russia.
We never wreaked our vengeance on the dead!
© 2019-20 Mike Munford