DEFENDING THE WAR OFFICE

Our typewriters deserted
we form up on the roof.
‘This exercise assumes,’
we learn
‘Nazi paras in Trafalgar Square.
War Office under threat.’

Gas cape, tin hat, respirator,
unloaded rifle ready
I move to my allotted station
in  theoretical desperation.
I know my military obligation.
This must be,
theoretically,
Scott’s last stand.

Gasping for a cigarette
I stand below a stair.

Shouts there are.
Explosions too.
Nothing to do.
Nothing to see.
Hours pass. 
I need a pee.
Is everybody ‘dead’ but me?

A marshal with bright armband
looks  me up and down.
‘This stair,’ he declares,
‘has been destroyed.
You too,’ he adds.

‘Am I off duty then?’ say I.
He glares,
ascends the stair that isn’t there.
Calls back:
‘Await the burial party!’

When death is theoretical
nothing crude or gory
‘Dulce et decorum est
pro patria  mori’   

War Office, Whitehall, October 1941