Rob Cullen
May 9, 2020 · 4 min read


Present absent lost.

He was here there
but parts were absent
lost on an Italian beach
amid 90 per cent casualties.

Locked in a camp
with one water faucet
and 7000 thirsty starving men
waiting for red cross parcels.

He never wore
his campaign medals
or marched
up and down

Saluting cenotaphs
as old soldiers do
at the parades
each year in town.

We lived
with photographs
sealed in a black box
locked under his bed

Photographs taken
of pre-war days
Serpentine deck chairs
of Regents park
Hyde Park
Speakers Corner
on Sundays
and those friends

His memories
all gone
now then
and now he’s gone too

Lost in translation
the silence
of survivors
shame and guilt

And the inability
to talk
to describe
to anyone

Who’s never been
there, out there,
who can understand
without telling.

Without explaining
the emotion
the fear
and the elation.

Then the shame
and we his children
deal with
his silence.
sudden tempers
of conflict and
alone in his garden.

to silence

Of being there
but not here
except to share a past
that came before.

He returned
but he was not
the same man
they said.

I knew only
this man
that man
not the one before.

Sometimes it was like
dancing with a ghost,
the unsaid words
the brief glimpses.

And the sound
of a knife scraping
food endlessly
round the plate.

It was always easier
to eat fast and get down
and leave than listen
to that scraping knife.

Some days you became
a grey thin shadow
discernible not solid
but there somehow.

I saw you cry
after the death of your father
but it was your anger
that came back with you.

You came to me
after your mother’s passing
but you shirked the hand
I placed on your shoulder.

Present absent lost.

The photograph above was taken of my parents and my sister before my father left for France in 1940 during the Second World War. My mother and sister would not see him again until 1945. My father was captured in The Battle of Anzio or Salerno as Americans call it in January 1944. It was a battle that should never have been fought and was recognized to be a potential “blood bath” for the troops involved. It was another of Churchill’s strokes of genius like “Gallipoli” in the First World War — one that the troops involved would pay a heavy penalty.

As a child I lived with a man, my father, with PTSD before it was called that and who was completely unaware of the impact of his combat experience and being badly treated as a prisoner of war had on him. At least he never spoke about it. It is an irony that I, his son, would go on to be trained to assess and provide treatment for those suffering with PTSD including veterans and those still serving, but also the children of those men.

Today we are remembering VE Day — Victory in Europe day from 1945 and the coming to an end of the Second World War. It is also a time when we are living under the strictures of lock down as a result of the global Coronavirus pandemic. All commemorations of the Second World War bring a mixture of emotions. This year in Britain, more so perhaps with Brexit and the separation from the European Union, at a time when the world feels less at peace with itself. It is striking that leaders of the great powers have no experience of war either as combatants nor as a non-combatants. Yet we have leaders who rattle sabers and speak of war and retaliation as easily as if they were going shopping to the Mall. They know not of what they speak! Indeed one or two actively avoided going to war and serving their country when it was their turn to do so. Still that is for them to come to terms with. If they can.

I am only a person who has worked directly with former combatants in a therapeutic role. I have observed the profound impact war has had on men and their families, including their children. I would not wish to act to encourage war in any way whatsoever. Its impact has profound consequences that echo through the generations and keep echoing in uncertain ways.

At this time there has never been a greater need for peace.

First published in Rob Cullen’s first collection “Uncertain Times” Octavo Press 2016.


Resistance Poetry

Verse as Commentary

Rob Cullen

Written by

Rob Cullen artist, writer, poet. Rob runs “Voices on the Bridge” a poetry initiative in Wales. Walks hills and mountains daily with a sheep dog at his side.

Resistance Poetry

Verse as Commentary

Rob Cullen

Written by

Rob Cullen artist, writer, poet. Rob runs “Voices on the Bridge” a poetry initiative in Wales. Walks hills and mountains daily with a sheep dog at his side.

Resistance Poetry

Verse as Commentary

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