The flash, the bang, the brick dust, the smell of acrid smoke;
The soldier was just sitting there; had all that been a joke?
The instant, searing pain had gone and now he looked around;
The buildings and the streets had gone no pavements on the ground.
He looked around in panic, his comrades were not there.
The whole patrol had been as one when he’d walked into the square.
He stood and stretched and then reached down for his rifle and his pack,
The valley stretched in front of him. There was no turning back.
The grass was green, the cloudless sky was clear, but no sun shone.
No living thing, no bird, no bee, he was the only one.
The direction of the winding path he could not guess or tell.
He did not know that journey’s end was the other side of hell.
A figure walked towards him and now his spirits rose,
The man must be a soldier he was wearing soldier’s clothes.
A tunic red, a cross belt white, a musket held at ease.
He met up with our traveller beside a grove of trees.
“Hullo” said our man with a smile, “I think I’ve lost my way
I must get back to Belfast town before the close of day.”
“That’s a problem” said the other man “I’m not sure what you’ll do.
This area is for all the lads who fell at Waterloo.”
He pointed far across the vale, towards a distant mound.
“I have heard tell that others occupy that forward ground.
Just follow on until you hear the tolling of a bell
And you will surely find the route to the other side of hell.”
With a smile and a wave our soldier left his new and helpful friend
And presently the track swung left around a sunken bend.
A group of men stood in a trench, the grass had turned to mud.
They were dirty and dishevelled and one’s head was caked with blood.
“Stay down, that man!” Their leader cried, “To stand invites a bomb!
You don’t go strolling round like that when fighting on the Somme.”
“I’m sorry, Sir” our soldier said “but I think that I am lost.
I must rejoin my unit soon. I can’t regard the cost.”
The Captain frowned then crawled across to where our soldier lay.
He pulled a map case from his side and pointed out the way.
“I’m sorry if I startled you. I didn’t mean to yell,
But please keep low or you won’t reach the other side of hell.”
Our young man crawled until he felt that it was safe to stand.
Then marvelled how the land had changed, the mud becoming sand.
A burnt out tank now greeted him, two soldiers at its base.
A can of tea was boiling up, a smile upon each face.
“Na then, me lad, dost want a brew?” the grinning Corporal said.
“It’s strong and thick and would even put a smile upon the dead.”
The soldier joined those Desert Rats in that barren, timeless place;
And drank with them the tea that put a smile upon his face.
He thanked them both then asked again directions to his goal.
The smiling Corporal’s message added laughter to his soul.
“Just cross those dunes and soon you’ll get that old familiar smell,
That lets you know that you have reached the other side of hell.”
The black and threatening streets with burning cars now filled his view;
And soon, our hero saw some other soldiers that he knew.
Near seven hundred other men assembled in that place;
And others too would soon set out, the lonely path to trace.
He took his place with other mates that he would always see;
Fighting there on ghostly streets for all eternity.
All soldiers who for centuries died with weapons in their hand;
Will always have a place reserved, here in Valhalla’s land.
And whilst their earth bound friends forget the sacrifice they made;
And whilst Cenotaphs are vandalised and children’s memories fade;
The fight goes on, with soldiers new, so we will always tell,
The stories of the men who’ve seen the other side of hell.