Soldier on Fire by Nick Cooke

The flames leap from him

and for a godly moment

they burn only cloth.


He started in York,

qualifying with honours,

the Catterick king


as he was then dubbed

by admiring co-trainees.

No boots shinier,


no salute sharper,

he proved a dead-eye marksman

and blazed his way to


lieutenant, earning

praise wherever he was sent.

He signed for Iraq


before a bomb fell,

little caring about those



when you had a git

like fucking Sadam in power.

A tank commander


of rare quality

and the rawest of courage,

he went to Basra


full of stout purpose,

the battle of hearts and minds

aching to be won,


and even if when

Saddam went things got hazy

on the endgame front,


he never questioned

the basic mission. Captain

now, and much revered


by all his boys, he

sent letters and snaps back home

to his proud mother


that bear comparing

with any Great War missive.

‘We’ve got to hold firm


or chaos will reign,

this folk at each other’s throats

while doomsday unless


someone’s here to keep

’em honest.’ On that last day

he sent a photo


of himself standing,

beaming, one hand clamped onto

the side of Bessie


as he always called

his faithful Challenger,

who perished with him


two hours later.

His other hand was a fist

clenched and uplifted


like an Olympian

toward the sun he never

saw set. R.I.P


John (known as Jackie)

Henn, ’81-’05.

What would you say now?


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