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

W.M.D.

 

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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