‘War Memorial’: a poem by Kevin Cowdall


(Two weeks after the ‘Cuba Crisis’)

‘…the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary.’ (Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan)


It is only a small memorial –

then it is only a small village.

There are forty-six names in all;

each precisely carved into the granite plinth –

an alphabetical index of unwarranted waste.


My grandfather’s name

appears half-way down the first list:

‘Killed In Action – September, 1917’

They never found his body –

lost, they said, amid the mud

of some corner of a foreign field.


The second role is shorter and my father,

a captain, is listed fifth from the top.

I cannot remember him, of course, only a

faceless figure in uniform bending over me.

I was four when the telegram arrived,

too young to understand my mother’s grief,

but old enough to help wipe away her tears.


I have a photograph of the two;

a faded, sepia-tinged picture,

dog-eared and creased with age.

It shows them – my grandfather in his uniform,

my father, aged five, upon his knee –

proud faces set as they gazed

in to the camera’s eye.


I left the village several years ago,

moving to the city, but I return

to the memorial each November.

It is weather-worn and has

grown grimy over the years,

though the names can still be read

by those who wish to remember.


I have a son of my own now.

He is five and fascinated

by the old photograph.

Next year, I may take him with me

to the village to see the memorial.

I think it right that he should know of such things,

that he learn reality –

that guns are not just toys

and bombs vivid noises

from a child’s imagination.


One day, he may have sons of his own.

Kevin Cowdall is the author of the novella ‘Paper Gods and Iron Men’. For more on Kevin and his work, visit: