Remembering the Somme

I am writing this late at night for the simple reason that I had quite simply (and rather shamefully) forgotten that today is the 104th anniversary of the first day of the Somme offensive. Now that the centenary of Armistice has passed, one imagines that such events will be consciously recalled with less frequency until they are of interest only to students of history and remembered through the notoriously unreliable lens of folk memory.

Thiepval Memorial: Image by Richard Woollett from Pixabay
The Somme has traditionally been well remembered due to the reputation of July 1st 1916 as being the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. On that day, the British suffered 57470 casualties, of which 19240 were killed in action. Most of the casualties occurred on the line of advance from the Albert-Bapaume Road and Gommecourt, where the British attack was largely defeated without a breach of the German defences.

It is often forgotten (if realised at all), that the Somme offensive continued through three phases that ran from 1st July until mid-November. Whilst British casualty rates for the first day were horrendous, the total casualty rates for all sides in the entire battle mark it out as one of the bloodiest in human history: of the c.3 million men committed to battle, around a third were killed.

Arguably, it is the first day of the Somme that has done the most to cement some of the most deeply held misconceptions about the Great War in the public psyche; brave working class lions led by uncaring donkeys who knowingly sent thousands of men to the slaughter. While historians such as Prof Gary Sheffield, Gordon Corrigan and others have also done much to offer a counter narrative to the popular view. There are several factors that will have impacted on the outcome for the British: compromise, failure to exploit success and a weaker force than planned.

There is now evidence that German Intelligence was forewarned of the attack in the Gommecourt area through information obtained in the interrogation of British prisoners; with the knowledge that an attack was imminent, the Germans were able to prepare themselves, robbing the British of the capacity to achieve surprise.

Where there were successes, the British were unable to exploit them – inadequate communications, and the mechanical breakdown of tanks, used for the first time, meant that German depth positions were not penetrated; a common feature of early British armoured operations that was seized upon by Guderian in his 1938 treatise Achtung Panzer.

The final limiting factor was imposed upon the Allies by Germany’s offensive on the French line at Verdun. When the Somme offensive was agreed in a 1915 planning conference at Chantilly, it was intended that the main effort would be a simultaneous attack by the Russians in the East, the Italians in Italy and the Franco-British forces in the West. Despite the Russian Brusilov offensive demanding the redeployment of German troops earmarked for a spoiling attack on the Somme, the German offensive at Verdun meant that the Allied Grand Strategic vision of a decisive attack in the west became an action by a much smaller force with a more limited aim of relieving the unrelenting pressure on the French at Verdun.

If the Allied plan for 1916 was to decisively defeat the Germans, it is fair to say that the German High Command wanted to impose similar conditions on the British and French. Falkenhayn’s plan was to drive a wedge between the French and British and defeat them. When we view history, our judgement is impinged by the fact that we already know the outcome. We forget that the enemy always has a vote and that every action by a General will be reciprocated by his adversary. We ‘know’ that the Somme was a ‘bad attack’ with a flawed plan, conveniently forgetting that those in command at the time did not have the full picture. We ‘know’ that poor Generalship was to blame, yet we forget that the British attack was compromised and worse still, forget that the attack was a multinational effort in which a German Army was displaced by the attack in the French sector. We ‘know’ that 1st July 1916 was a day of failure, steeped in blood (it was), yet we forget that the offensive raged on well into the winter at which point both sides, exhausted, turned their efforts to enduring the harsh winter weather. The human cost of subsequent actions in the Somme offensive was high, with some Divisions suffering casualty rates that were comparable to those of the first day, yet the French held on at Verdun and the entente did not collapse.

The story we tell ourselves of the Somme is one of costly failure, perhaps it is time to reframe that narrative?


Never Such Innocence

It has once again been a great honour to join the poetry judging panel for the Never Such Innocence competition, an international poetry, art and music competition for children and young people.

The competition was established by Lady Lucy French, great granddaughter of Field Marshal Sir John French, to commemorate the passing of the centenary of the Great War through the artistic endeavours of children from all around the world. Now that we have left the centenary years behind, the competition has evolved to encourage children to create works that consider conflict more broadly. The 2019-20 competition featured art that drew inspiration from contemporary conflicts around the world and the conflict that occurs in our own communities. Unsurprisingly the worldwide battle against COVID-19 was reflected in many entries.

Coming together with the other judges to spend a day reading and listening to poetry is usually one of the highlights of my year. Sadly, the lockdown meant that this could not happen and the judging took place remotely via email and video conference calls. Hopefully we will be back to something that looks like normal next year!

Each year, I am amazed at the standard of entries and the maturity with which the young entrants write about conflict, and this year has been no exception. While I love reading the poems, it is always great to marvel at the entries to the art and music competitions. I would say that this competition will produce some stars of the future, but that would be doing an injustice to the entrants; so many of them are stars now! Witnessing our winners present their work or speak in public at The Guards Chapel, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey with a poise and confidence that would credit most adults has been an immense privilege.

You can find out more about Never Such Innocence and this year’s winners here.

If you are a teacher, parent, or a youth leader, please keep an eye out for details of the 2020-21 competition and encourage your young people to take part. 

Armed Forces Day

Tomorrow is Armed Forces Day, a UK National event which celebrates the Armed Forces by enabling the Great British Public the opportunity to show their support for the Armed Forces Community.

2020 has been a tough year for many, and sadly, I do not see it getting easier. Whilst I am ever hopeful for a bounceback from the impact of COVID and the associated social, economic and emotional upheaval that it has caused, the chances are that we will not go back to life as it was before. Therefore, one might ask ‘What is the point of marking Armed Forces Week?’ I would not be surprised if calls arise from some quarters for the whole thing to be shelved owing to it being an affront to modern day liberal values. Readers will be unsurprised that, as a former Army officer, I wholeheartedly support Armed Forces Week, to find out why, read on.

As we enter the third decade of the 21st Century, our Armed Forces are at their smallest since the Second World War. Veterans currently make up around 5% of the population, a figure that will diminish significantly as the last of the World War 2, and National Service veterans pass away and go to the big reorg in the sky. In 2020, the vast majority of those who live in our country will have no relatives with a history of service, much less know anyone who is currently serving. This has far reaching and potentially calamitous implications.In the minds of many people, the Armed Forces will not be ‘theirs’ but will be an organisation of ‘others’ who are viewed as a potential instrument of oppression by the State against the people. This sentiment is perhaps best illustrated by the panic that consumed some when, during the earliest stages of COVID, a proliferation of images on twitter showed a convoy of left-hand-drive European military vehicles driving on the right hand side of the road accompanied by a message warning that lockdown was coming to the UK and that the Army would be on the streets to enact martial law. Whilst many of us with military experience found this amusing, the sense of panic and fear that it inculcated was genuine and understandable.

To understand the importance of this, we need to look at Clausewitz’s Trinity, which tells us that to be successful in war, there must be political will, military means and the support of the public. In an era in which some feel that defacing the cenotaph and attempting to set fire to the Union Flag is an appropriate form of protest, I’ve a developed a sense for the first time that the bonds of trust between the military, the people and government are at real risk of unravelling.

Events like Armed Forces week are one of the few means of maintaining those bonds of trust. So take the time to look at the national events online, perhaps run a socially distanced street party or hold a virtual Big Brew Up in aid of SSAFA . However you do it, take advantage of this once in a year opportunity to support our Armed Forces. They are here for you and they are from among you.






The medical team at the end of Op Bataka: RAMC Medical Officer, Me (Nursing Nursing Officer) and 3 x RAMC Combat Medical Technicians

Thirteen years ago this week, I was involved in an Op Bataka, an operation in Southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan. There were five of us in the medical team that provided support to troops from the Grenadier Guards and the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters (WFR) who were tasked with crossing a canal using infantry footbridges and securing a bridgehead on the far bank to cover the Royal Engineers who built a Bailey bridge to enable vehicles to cross the canal and dominate territory that had previously been in enemy hands. The bridge was built at night and at great speed. This was the first time that a Royal Engineers unit had undertaken such a task under combat conditions since the Korean War.

The operation opened shortly before last light with an artillery bombardment from the 105mm Light Guns of 19 Regt, Royal Artillery. This sought to deter the Taliban from mounting any attacks that night. Once the bridge was built, at first light the infantry commenced a clearance operation of the village on the far bank of the canal to dislodge any enemy that remained. As the troops cleared through, a single Taliban fighter was killed; his comrades had fled, leaving behind their weapons and still-hot kettles of water to brew their tchai.

The clearance operation was something of an anticlimax and a relief at the same time. Once the troops had cleared the village, we received orders to return to our base, patrolling back over the newly built bridge. On our return to our base (FOB Delhi), the artillery once again fired into known enemy positions. Later that morning, a local man brought two children to the base who had been injured as a result of the artillery bombardment. We treated them and arranged for them to be transported to hospital. To see such horrific injuries inflicted upon small children was sickening, especially considering it was our artillery strikes that had been responsible.

The operation was deemed a success and we were told that as well as enabling ISAF to dominate the ground and provide security to the local population, the bridge would also enable trade at the local market. The following day, our medical team accompanied the Grenadier Guards company back to Camp Bastion, leaving a new medical team in place with the troops from 1WFR.

Years later, I understand that the NATO plan was to quietly abandon all of these outlying locations to focus on providing security in the main towns of Sangin, Gereshk and Lashkar Gar. Now, fifteen years later, I wonder who holds sway in this town, and what became of the wounded little girls. Did they survive? If they did, they will now be young women. What would they make of the day that 200 British soldiers tore up their town to build a bridge?



In acknowledgment of Mental Health Awareness Week, I am posting ‘Adjustment’ – the final chapter of my book On Afghanistan’s Plains. Twelve years on from my deployment to Afghanistan I still have occasional bad days and every so often my sleep will be punctuated by a terrifying nightmare that sees me back in the midst of the fighting in Mazdurak. The best thing about these nightmares is that in them, I am always with the truest of friends; men who I know will have my back.  

The army has a policy for soldiers returning from operations, known as normalisation. The first stage of this is decompression, which involves a stopover at one of the British Sovereign base areas in Cyprus.

Decompression is a combination of military administration, organised fun and a reintroduction to alcohol consumption in a controlled environment. The whole idea is aimed at reducing post-operational stress and discipline problems by providing a pressure release before soldiers go home, the idea being to prevent them from getting into drunken fights as soon as they return. Whilst decompression may be of some benefit, I’m not convinced that it is entirely effective. More than a century may have passed since Rudyard Kipling penned ‘Tommy’, his timeless tribute to the British soldier, but single men in barracks remain unlikely plaster saints and their ‘conduck’ is definitely not always ‘fancy paints’. To use a barrelful of clichés: drink is drink, boys will be boys, the nice (and not so nice) girls will always love a soldier and their boyfriends will usually get jealous. Whether or not you let the boys have a few beers in Cyprus, there will still be hassles when they finally get back to the UK.

When we return to Browning barracks, a small welcoming committee of regimental personnel and families are there to meet us. Before I go anywhere or do anything, I have to hand in my weapon ancillaries: cleaning kit, rifle magazines, bayonet and scabbard. There is a little bit of administration to be done and then I am free to go – not on leave, but for a long weekend. Lisa drives me home where we have a small celebration of my homecoming.

As the remainder of the regiment comes home over the next two weeks, we are kept occupied with low-key work aimed at reintroducing us to normal life. There are sports competitions, social functions, a regimental photograph and a service at the garrison church. Although it is now late October and the weather is damp and cold, we continue to wear our desert combat uniforms in accordance with policy for units returning from operations. I think that this is so that we can be recognised as returning heroes. Once we have been normalised, we are free to go on leave: five weeks initially, followed by a week back at work for the army’s rituals of pre-Christmas celebrations. There is an ‘officers’ mess vs warrant officers and sergeants’ mess’ football match, ‘officers’ mess to warrant officers and sergeants’ mess’ exchange of drinks and a junior ranks’ Christmas luncheon, which sees them waited upon by the officers and sergeants. This last event usually sees more than a few Brussels sprouts being used as indirect fire. All in all, it’s good fun. After the silly season we go on leave for Christmas itself, returning to work in mid-January.

During my time off I become a house-husband, caring for my baby boy and two stepdaughters while my wife goes to work. Intending to write about my experiences, I find that between washing, cooking, cleaning, nappy changes and the school runs, my days disappear, leaving me no time to do so. I am also beginning to discover the toll that six months on operations has taken on my body, mind and spirit. I’m exhausted and find myself sleepwalking through each day, longing for the moment when I can return to bed. It is as though each of the energy slumps that I experienced following an adrenalin surge on the battlefield was a mere precursor to the fatigue I now experience. If I let myself, I could drift on a sea of exhaustion to the ends of the world and beyond. I’m utterly drained.

A few days after my return, I open my large holdall and Bergen rucksack with the intention of sorting out my kit. Opening the bags, I am hit by the unforgettable smell of Afghanistan. The musky odour of desert sand and stale sweat overpowers my senses and I am immediately transported from leafy suburbia to a dun-coloured, bomb-blasted compound in Helmand, where I am fighting to save the life of an ashen-faced youth, the air around me thick with acrid smoke and the rattle of small-arms fire carried on the breeze. The vividness of the scene that unfolded in my head having taken me by surprise, I close the bags and take a few moments to compose myself. Picking up Pandora’s holdall and rucksack, I throw them back into the box room to leave them for another day.

Over the following months, I am constantly ill. By the time of my return to work in January, I succumb to flu-like symptoms every Friday afternoon, recovering in time for work on Monday. This goes on until March, when the symptoms are so severe that I am admitted to hospital. I spend a week at Frimley Park hospital, being submitted to all the investigations that the consultant physician can think of. When all the tests come back negative, I know what I don’t have but the cause of my recurrent illness remains a mystery. I am discharged, and after a month of rest begin to feel like my old self. I am running every day and have the strength to do some gardening. I am physically on the road to recovery but, as I later discover, there are some monsters hiding in my subconscious which have yet to make their presence known.

Eighteen months post-tour, I’m plagued by nightmares and flashbacks and have developed a quick temper. I book in to see the doctor and request a referral to the mental health services. For a period of about three months, I see a civilian mental health nurse named Matt. Matt reassures me that I am not mad and have simply experienced some extreme life events. I concur. We have a few counselling sessions, and it seems that the events during the raid on Mazdurak are central to my problems. Matt asks me to write an operational-style report of the raid, the idea being to encourage me to think about the events in a dispassionate way. This leads him to take me through a program of eye-movement desensitisation therapy. Don’t ask me to explain how this works, but it does seem to be effective. During the course of the therapy it becomes apparent that the most likely cause of my symptoms was the act of burying terrifying thoughts and emotions deep into my subconscious to enable me to do my job. Although I feel much better and manage to get discharged from the psych. clinic, I’m still not fully recovered.

Four years later, I have been promoted to major and have responsibility for the management of a team of thirty military nurses working on the surgical wards of a large NHS Hospital in Portsmouth. The ward is over-stretched and under-resourced, which results in a high-stress environment; it is not uncommon for distressed male patients to cry out in pain, which transports me back to Helmand. There are days when the mental and emotional demands made upon nurses in this environment are almost on par with those of the battlefield. In my mind, Mazdurak has become the yardstick by which I measure how tough a day I’m having.

One weekend I purchase a copy of the Sunday Telegraph. In one of the supplements, there’s a piece about modern war poetry written by British soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. As I read the article, it emerges that there is a competition to select poems for an anthology of modern war poetry. The panel of judges will be General the Lord Dannatt (former chief of the general staff), Carol-Ann Duffy (poet laureate), Simon Duffy (former presenter of Poetry Please on BBC Radio 4) and John Jeffcock (poet, entrepreneur and former captain in the Coldstream Guards). The project is John’s brainchild. I am hooked.

I write a number of poems over the course of that weekend, the first of which tells the story of the raid on Mazdurak. It joins the action at the point after C and A have been evacuated and focusses on the hectic events in the walled garden compound. I make a couple of amendments and give it a title: ‘Care Under Fire’. Writing the poem proves cathartic and I feel that it has helped exorcise some of the demons that stayed behind to fight a rear-guard action following my time with the psych. team. I submit all my Afghanistan poems to the competition.

A poem entitled ‘In Memoriam’ is my tribute to the memory of Dave Hicks, who was awarded a posthumous Military Cross for his gallantry in attempting to continue to lead the men of C Company in the defence of patrol base Inkerman, despite being mortally wounded. ‘Courageous Restraint on R&R’ seeks to put the reader into the position of a young soldier who resists the temptation to get into a bar brawl during his two weeks at home from Helmand. The poem is not written with anyone in mind, but had my nineteen-year-old self been deployed to Afghanistan, it might have been about me.

After a wait of several months, I am pleased to discover that all my poems have made the cut. Invited to attend the book launch at the Cavalry and Guards club in Piccadilly in November 2011, I have the pleasure of meeting John Jeffcock and a number of the other poets. John introduces me to a young guy named Matt, who works for BBC TV and is very keen to interview me about my poetry for the One Show, a weekday magazine show that airs at 6 p.m.

After jumping through hoops with my chain of command, Matt and his team interview me on camera and film me reading an extract from ‘Care Under Fire’. The interview airs the following day. Unfortunately Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson is also interviewed for a different topic on the same show and famously comments that public service workers who are on strike should be ‘shot in front of their families’. Whilst this has no impact on the success of the book launch, it does mean that this particular episode of the One Show never makes it onto BBC iPlayer.

Twelve months after the publication of the anthology, I receive an email from BBC Radio 4’s The Today Show, inviting me to be interviewed about modern war poetry. The email arrives on a Thursday evening and the producer wants me to come to the studio in London on Saturday morning. There isn’t enough time between the arrival of the email and the filming of the show to obtain the necessary permission from the army to be interviewed. To say that I’m disappointed is an understatement. Radio 4 is the station of choice for thinking Britain, and Today is its flagship morning current affairs show; I have been an avid listener for years. Life is too short to deal in ‘what ifs’, but I do occasionally wonder what might have happened had I been able to accept the invitation for an interview.

My time in Afghanistan has left an indelible mark upon my soul. Although there were some very near misses, I came home in one piece, which I sometimes find miraculous. To the outside world, I came home without a scratch; nevertheless, I was wounded inside. My mental wounds have largely healed, but scars will always remain. That’s the thing about scar tissue: it grows fibrous, thick and gristly to heal the wound, but never acts in quite the same way as the original tissue it replaces.


Bistro Birthdays

The running continues to go quite well. I can cover 5km ten minutes more quickly than my first attempt at running a few weeks ago, and I have had a wonderful week of celebrations. First, my daughter’s 18th which we celebrated with a spa day in Bath for the ladies of the household (gentlemen were at work and school respectively) and a family meal at Comptoir Libanais in the evening.

After a quick turnaround on my return from work, the boy and I arrived at the restaurant to find the ladies looking revitalised from taking the waters at this historic place. The food at the restaurant was great and reminded me of some of the exotic tastes that I experienced during my time working in Qatar. The mixed grill and the mezze plates are highly recommended. I was a little sad that culinary delights of elsewhere in the Middle East were not available ( the famous Egyptian Umm Ali dessert, to name just one).

This reminiscence prompted me to look up how this delicious pudding came by its unusual name (Mother of Ali). The story of this dessert comes from an episode of intrigue and violence in 12th Century Egypt that is worthy of a Game of Thrones plot line. Umm Ali  was the enterprising mother of a new Sultan (Ali) who engineered the untimely demise of her rival Shajar al-Durr at the hands of maidservants who reportedly beat her to death with her own shoes. In celebration at the death of her rival, Umm Ali ordered her cook to make the most delicious dessert. When she served the dish to her courtiers, Umm Ali had a Shajar al Durr gold coin placed in each bowl, prompting them to chant her name.

The weekend saw us travel to East Sussex to celebrate my father’s birthday. This brought my brothers and I together for the first time in several years. We had a great time with a rather excellent meal at Rosetto; arguably Eastbourne’s best Italian restaurant. The service was second to none, with plenty of bonhomie from the waiting staff.

All of this celebrating and the fact that I have spent the weekend mostly sitting in a car means that I must double down on my commitment to reducing my girth and improving my fitness. With three months to go until the next family birthday, I have plenty of opportunity.




My Inspirational Mystery Runner

There is someone who lives near me who has had a great influence upon me, yet we have never met and I have no idea who they are. I shall call them my Inspirational Mystery Runner (IMR).

Last summer was a hot one and after several years of being desk bound at work and restricted to long commutes by car to get there, it is fair to say that I had turned into a fat knacker. I blamed my work routine, the weather and just about anything else for my predicament

Throughout last year’s heatwave, at about 0530 every morning, I would be woken from a fitful sleep by the rhythmic slap, slap, slap of running shoes pounding the pavement outside my house.

The first time I heard it, I thought nothing of it. But having heard the sound of this unseen athlete’s morning thrash on repeated occasions, I thought, “Well if they’re doing it, I should be getting out there too.”  So a few days later, I pulled on my running kit and hit the road.

Over the next few weeks, taunted by the daily foot stomp of the IMR, I trained progressively to reach the point at which I could run 3 miles at a half-decent pace and took part in a couple of Park Run events. In late September, disaster struck in the form of a ‘flu-like illness and a run of subsequent heavy colds. I soon settled back into old habits.

It is now January and I have managed to fit in five runs since New Year’s Eve with a sixth scheduled for Friday. A week ago, my running closely resembled dying in an upright position while moving in a vaguely forward direction. This week, I have managed to rise early and run before work. On both occasions I have completed a 3 miler in a manner that felt like and hopefully looked like running. I have not heard or seen the IMR for weeks, but as I work to regain a reasonable standard of fitness, I know that I owe them a debt of gratitude.

adult architecture athlete boardwalk

Photo by Pixabay on


Johnny Came Marching Home

I wrote this poem four years ago, but in light of the alarming number of veteran suicides this year, it sadly seems as relevant as ever. I dedicate this poem to my brothers and sisters in arms, many of whom are still fighting the wars of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere despite having returned home. Please check out Trevor Coult MC, on twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Trevor is a veteran and author who is devoting his life to helping veterans in need and campaigns on tirelessly on veterans issues.

Please, no political rants in the comments section, I am just an ex-military poet sharing his poem. If you like it, please comment and share with others. If you don’t, please keep your comments to yourself. Blessings to all.


Johnny Came Marching Home

No one said it, everybody knew
War had changed him
All pretended it hadn’t
Happy he was home

Time was not a healer
Carried on fighting the war
Anger fuelled by drinking
Violent outbursts

Battered, shell-shocked wife and kids
Soldiers all, in their own way
‘They also serve who stand and wait’
That’s what they used to say

He did what soldiers shouldn’t do
Retreated, cut off, by the foe
Low on supplies and ammo
Trapped in no-man’s land

He foraged and found an abandoned cache
Grabbed hidden liquor and pilfered pills
Trapped by the barbed wire of his mind
He left the war behind

February Update

Poetry might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but most people like a cup of tea, or coffee. To reach a wider audience, I have decided to launch a brand that will see my poetry and designs featured on a variety of products ranging from ceramic coffee mugs and travel mugs to iPhone covers, and pillows.

The brand, Buddy’s Pantry is named after Buddy,  my stepdaughter’s adorable, but mischievous border collie who has a love of food, which he will help himself to if he can get away with it! In time, I will be setting up an online UK store and sourcing quality goods specifically for the UK market. In the meantime, I am testing the market with some ideas using the online store Society6. Society 6 caters for the US and international market and offers an impressive array of products to which those with a creative bent can add their designs. 

I have used some of my more light-hearted poetry and have included verses and stanzas from Need for TweedFour Little Paws and Together Forever. Four Little Paws has not yet been published or posted and is a short poem inspired by Buddy’s penchant for sneaking into my stepdaughter’s room for a cuddle on her bed.

I recently had confirmation of my invitation to join the judging panel for the 2017 Never Such Innocence First World War poetry competition. This excellent competition is open to children aged 9-16 from the UK, Ireland and Commonwealth countries. It is a huge privilege to be invited to judge and I am looking forward to reading everyone’s entries. The closing date is 10th March, so if you or anyone you know wants to enter, you need to get your entries in soon – you have to be in it to win it!

Paperback sales hit a spike in the run up to Christmas, but have dipped since; thankfully e-book sales continue to be buoyant. I am struggling to find the time to write at the moment, but am planning to have a new book of poetry and memoir out before the end of the year. In the meantime, it would be lovely to think that some of my friends and readers are supping their morning coffee from a mug that has carried my words into the world!

Buddy’s Pantry on Society6

Never Such Innocence Competition




A Subaltern’s Love Song Redux

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. I thought I would share my tongue-in-cheek re-working of Sir John Betjeman’s famous poem. Note to non-UK readers, a Subaltern is a term for a junior officer in the British Army. Aldershot, also known as The Home of the British Army is a Garrison town near the border between Hampshire and Surrey.


Miss J Hunter Dunn, Miss J Hunter Dunn

Alas no more found under Aldershot sun

Your like has been gone for many a year

Place taken by loud ‘ladettes’ drinking beer


Innocent courtship of tennis has passed

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn would I’m sure be aghast

Down roads ‘not adopted’, woodlanded ways

After dark in the car park, ‘dogging’s’ the rage


Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn

The Surrey Heath drug dealer’s armed with a gun

Late night in Camberley, oh what a sight

The shock of a violent closing-time fight


Miss J Hunter Dunn, Miss J Hunter Dunn

How mad I am, sad I am to see what’s become

Once-pastoral Surrey, all gone to seed

Your letters from ‘Betjers’ by burglars thieved


With speed and grace, you played on the court

On a warm summer’s eve, who would have thought

That in verse you’d be immortalised, forever young

A pure ‘English Rose’, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn


© Barry Alexander 2016 (with gratitude and apologies to Sir John Betjeman)