My Dad went off to fight the war
Left Mum expecting me.
Home for a hug when I was born,
Then---back across the sea.
The beach was full of noise and death
The rear guard was his post
He did his duty on that day
And stayed when all was lost.
From France to Germany they marched
Dunkirk their Waterloo
Thousands of bodies left behind
And Mum thought he’d died, too.
But a boy on a bike brought us wonderful news-
Imprisoned--but still alive!
My mother wept with tears of joy
And waited for peace to arrive.
For five long years she told me tales
About my hero Dad,
As she struggled to buy us food and clothes
With the little money we had.
But he didn’t come marching back to us.
He was on a stretcher laid;
“You mustn’t go near,” they said to me
“For him there is no aid.”
“Don’t touch him! Don’t kiss him! You stupid child!
Take her away at once.
Tuberculosis has no cure
You should know that, you dunce.”
We followed him round the hospitals
I waited outside the door
I could hear my Mother telling him
About me, as I sat on the floor.
“So bright and pretty, good as gold,”
She never said that to me.
But I saw her cry, which he never did,
And I learned to let things be.
.Too young to go to the funeral,
They left me sitting at home.
“Your Dad is gone,” they said to me,
“Your Mum is on her own.”
“Oh, no, she’s not,” a silent shout,
“I’m here—why can’t you see?
I don’t need a Dad that I’ve never had
And all Mum needs is me.”
My Mother just won’t talk of him
Her eyes they go all wet,
A widow’s pension she is given
And free school meals I get.
“Turn off that wireless-I just can’t bear
The sound of laughter here.”
I’m six years old, and the world is bleak
And full of bitter fear.
A heavy silence fills our house,
Though at night I hear Mum cry,
At school I pretend to have a Dad
Till the Headmaster says: “Don’t lie!”
No teacher ever tells the class;
‘Her dad - he died for you’.
He didn’t die on the battlefield
So they won’t believe it’s true .
I work hard and win a scholarship
To a very classy school,
And suddenly everyone’s telling my Mum
That she mustn’t be such a fool.
“Good heavens, no! On a widow’s pay,
What are you thinking of, dear?
We’ll all pretend that she didn’t pass;
It’s out of her league, we fear.”
And it nearly worked, Mum, didn’t it?
But you thought I’d like to know.
I sometimes think you were proud of me
But you couldn’t let it show.
You came from a culture of buttoning up
Of never saying ‘I care’
And you worked so hard to keep us both
As there was no dad to share.
I hated you sometimes, soldier Dad
For leaving us on our own
The other kids seemed to have it all
While we battled on alone.
But now I am older than you ever were
And I hope you can feel my pride
In having a Dad who gave his life
So his daughter could survive.
Sally Patricia Gardner