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Families' stories
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The Gulf Between
by Keith Hilling

The first and last time I held a gun
was in my final year at school. A green
bag by the door, remember the holidays
in Switzerland some years before. New bikes
for Christmas, mum and dad holding hands, trips
to Barry island with girls too shy to ask,
"could we ride on roller coasters?" Ice mornings,
excited by cold, summer all year long. 1990, I was 15.

'91 was different if only at the time,
when war shook dad from behind the sofa,
"Gas! Gas! Quick Boys!" Revising lines October
1917. Dad was shipped off nowhere fast, beyond reach
of mum's arms, brother too young to understand

why mum cried alone. How do you explain
her tears and fears for the Six O'Clock news?

"Time for Scud alerts: Bio Hazard broadcast live!"
Kitchen too small for us all, let mum alone.
At school no one understood, just teachers,
what do they know about 1917?
An ecstasy of fumbling in open air fields
I partied to escape. "Ban the Bomb"
stickers on Renault Fives, so many you'd think
they could see through their blindness. Made eyes
at some, lashed out at others. Fake nothing,
nothing except hate. My friends watched as I
embraced dad and then I remembered the old lie
Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.

(It is sweet and honourable to die for one's country)

Keith Hilling


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