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War Story

Huge on the horizon
the cratered moon lit willows
pollarded by shells.
Private Jones shifted deeper
into the shelter of his earthwork –
beneath the surface of his sleep
home pastures open to the sea
their lapwing flocks
a slate-roofed longhouse
anchored on bedrock
above a grey sealed shore.

Was it the scream of a vixen
or an enemy shell that woke him?
Damp beneath his greatcoat
his sheepskin vest
gave out its animal smell.
He remembered
at evening stand-to
cows outlined on amber skies
and creeping past huddled shapes
headed through dark coverts
for the farmhouse’s lime-washed byre.
Its rough-planked door ajar
gave on to steamy warmth,
cows gleaming under moonlight
bedded down in straw.
His only story from that war
he shakes his head
astonished still.
“Duw Duw!
Black and white they were
piebald as gypsy ponies!
Twenty years
before we saw their like by here.
Our cows were black as crows.”

Private Jones joined up in Carmarthen for the first world war when only sixteen years old and looked after the horses that drew the gun carriages. Friesian cows did not arrive in Carmarthenshire until the1930s and caused a great stir then!

First published in Eds. Peter George & Brenda Squires. PENfro Poets 2013. Menter Rhosygilwen, 2013.

The late Ann Byrne-Sutton was born in Glastonbury and studied medicine in Bristol. She and her husband, both keen mountaineers, moved to Geneva in 1961. In 1988 she sailed the Atlantic both ways in a ten-metre yacht, as a crew to a woman climbing friend. She settled in Pembrokeshire, completed an MA in writing at Glamorgan University, published High June (2002) and Come Back to Avalon (2011). She was a founder member of PENfro Poets.