Alec McHoul grew up in Oxton and Prenton, and recalls reading Wilfred Owen’s poetry at Oldershaw Grammar School, Wallasey. This poem is about Wilfred Owen and his childhood friend Alec Paton, who like Owen was a pupil at Birkenhead Institute. You can also read an article about Owen’s Birkenhead years by clicking HERE.
Wilfred and Alec Before the War
“Owen”, “Sir”. “Paton”, “Sir”.
Even then, summons-response,
Clipped from officer and man
To boy. No joy, no nuance
In this ritual of the Institute,
Lacking only the stiff salute.
At dinner time, the air is rife
With talk of films like Army Life.
Then after school, ties falling slack,
They horse-bus back: A Tranmere table
And a simple snack from Mrs Paton,
Scoffing fast as they are able.
With tired old dog and gas aflame,
Toy soldiers is their favourite game;
Heedless of chlorine, gangrene, morphine…
The obscene tropes of nineteen-fifteen.