John-Ward Leighton

BUGLE CALLS

Photo ©Copyright 1998 by John-Ward Leighton
Photo ©Copyright 1998 by John-Ward Leighton
Reveille, 06:00hrs
the bugle snaps across the square,
slapping sleeping ears into wake.
Dazed feet seek the floor
and rubbed eyes struggle to see.

The hated voice of the COS[1]
encourages those tardy souls
who would ignore the bugle.
Reluctant to leave the warm confines
of fart-sack and morning hard-ons
they risk the confusion of a
flipped bed or the sudden painful
shock of a swagger stick applied
briskly to the soles of their feet.

Comrades in olive drab gaunch
they shuffle to the washroom in
unlaced boots clutching their shaving kits.
They line up like so many horses
in the starting gate placidly pissing.
Moving away they try to focus,
bleary bloodshot too many beer in
the canteen eyes, in the mirror.

Shaving cream is slathered onto
faces in preparation for scrapping
off teenage whiskers with a blunt
instrument known as an army razor.

A loud bang and the man
at the next sink on my left
smashes into his splintering
mirror. He recoils from the
mirror and slumps to the floor.
I flinch in horror, the left side
of my body spattered with
his blood and brains.
There is a smell of cordite
and burning hair. A man
cursing and trying to jack
another round into his
Enfield stands behind the fallen victim.
Without thinking several
of us jump him and wrestle
the rifle from his hands.
There is blood everywhere
as we attempt to subdue
the shooter and come to
the aid of victim.

Meal Parade, 06:30hrs
The COS dispatches runners
to bring the orderly officer
and an MA[2] from RAP[3].
He takes me and the man
who was to the left of the
victim to the orderly room
and leaves us sitting in our shorts
and then he rushes back to the scene
to ensure that nothing is moved.
The MO[4] arrives and pronounces
the victim dead; the provost takes
charge of the shooter and
marches him off to the guardroom.
The MA treats our powder burns
and we are questioned by the provost Sgt[5].

The Adjutant gets us to make
statements and cautions us
about what we say to the civil
police who are finally on the scene.

First Parade, 08:00hrs
We sign statements for the civil
police and then are allowed
to wash up and get dressed.
We are confined to quarters
while the rest of our platoon
goes off on training.

Officers on parade, 08:15hrs
Summoned to the BOR[6]
Interviewed by the RSM[7]
and then marched into
The CO[8]s office to repeat
the whole performance.
Through out all
The Regiment, The Regiment,
The Regiment… always
The Regiment.
The square rings with the sound
of marching feet.
Punctuated by the shouted commands
of several drill Sgt.’s and the shouted
massed voices of recruits counting cadence.
“Halt!”
shouts the drill Sgt.
“Check! one two,”
brings a marching platoon
to an orderly stop.

“Left right, left right, left right,
left right, left right, left…”
Cadence call the drill Sgt.
helping those with no internal clocks
keep in step with their comrades.

“Will advance, Leffft turn!”
commands the Sgt.
“One! two three, One!”
shouts the platoon
turning into line...
except for several of
the direction challenged
who turn the wrong way.
“Your Army Left”
says the Sgt. in his best
ironic tone as the miscreants
shuffle shamefaced into line.

We move into an
empty barrack room
provost Cpl[9] as our escort.

Meal Parade, 12:00hrs
Marched to the mess hall
seated with the denizens
of the guard room
and not allowed to talk
to our fellow recruits.

Second Parade, 13:00hrs
Interviewed by civil police again.
And sign new statements.
Spend the rest of the
afternoon polishing our boots.

Stand down, 16:30hrs
Provost Cpl. escort changes
and then marches us to the mess hall
for an early supper

Meal parade, 17:00hrs
We are marched back to our solitary barrack room
still unable to talk to our comrades.

Staff parade, 18:00hrs
Report to the OO[10] with escort.
Return to barrack room
to shine brass fittings.

Staff parade, 20:00hrs
Report to BOS[11] with escort.
Put to work shinning floors
with the defaulters as if
we were confined to
barracks for cause.

Last Parade 22:00hrs
Prepare uniforms for
morning parade.
Prepare for bed,
Duty MA changes bandages
on our powder burns.

Last Post “lights out” 23:00hrs
The mournful bugle calls out
to the living and the dead.
There is no sleep for me
whenever I drift off
I awake with a start
and see my reflection
in the mirror, the left
side of my body sprayed
with the Corporal’s blood
ears still ringing from the
fatal shot

Zero five thirty hours: I check my watch,
terrorised awake for the twentieth time.
I pick up my shaving gear
and shamble off to the washroom.
I take a corner sink where
no one can get behind me.
I put shaving cream on
the unburned side of my
face and start to shave.
Every time I look into
the mirror I relive
the shock and terror
of that fatal morning.

Forty three years later
I can let that demon
out of the shadows, but
there are still nights
when I awake
with a start and hear
the bugles call.

Webmaster’s Note: The incident portrayed in the poem did not happen to John personally [the incident happened to the guys in the platoon just ahead of his in the regimental depot]. He felt that writing in the first person made the poem more powerful and part of it has the ring of truth in that, as in the poem, he always got up an hour before reveille and made sure no one got behind him while he was shaving.