The Iolaire

Aileen Shirra

It stole the flower of our island,

that distant war.

Full of joie de vivre, and bravado of youth

they left, right fine and bold,

fresh from heather covered fells,

the tang of peat smoke in their clothes,

and returning, so few survivors,

some seemed… no, not just old

but defeated, those victors

dragging ragged limbs, a breath from home,

aboard the teeming Iolaire,

with haunted eyes or startled rabbit gaze

drowning in images unbidden

of shrieking shells blooming bloody

in the fields of France

or flowering in the foaming seas.

A few would have sacrificed those limbs

to purge these horror-ridden reels

in the dying hours of that deadly year

But here no deathly shower descended,

lashing down from a queasy sky,

and then such joy! In the lee of Lewis Isle

with surely nothing left to fear

except the memories,

the nightmare memories

…and aye, perhaps the realisation

of all that had been lost

and all that yet may stray

across the eyes of loved ones

welcoming these draggled strangers.

Oh was there ever such an irony as this?

To lose their youth,

to leave their blood

pooling in the trenches of the Western Front

but haul their bodies home… to die,

the heart ripped from the Iolaire,

ravaged by the tearing teeth and claws

of the brutal Beasts of Holm

It stole the flower of our island that distant war…

But a few precious petals washed home on the swell of a New Year tide

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