In The Shadow of Empire: My Life in the Colonies by Martin Lewis

by Martin Lewis

Aden Poems 1966
These poems reflect the danger and futility of Aden just before independence, as seen by a soldier on the ground.
Dear George......
‘Dear George’ is a cri de couer to the British Foreign Secretary asking him to take responsibility for this mess. This was not the right way to hand over a Colony.

George Brown says independence will be here by ‘68.
But if you’re to ask me brother I would say that that’s too late.
For how would YOU like daily-daily being put right through the mill,
- if grenades don’t get you, the blindicides will.

With NLF and FLOSY always trying to be tough.
For us it’s unaccompanied and that’s a bit too rough.
For ninety bloody days we’ve been committed willy-nill,
- if grenades don’t get you, the blindicides will.

You can say goodbye to Aden, George - a useless sort of land.
It’s a smelly, heaving mass of unadulterated sand.
If you’re lucky you might find someone to sweeten up the pill.
- if grenades don’t get you, the blindicides will.

Daren’t think of what might happen in the coming years ahead.
Perhaps the goddam terrorists will shoot each other dead.
And so, George Brown and brothers, come out here and foot the bill.
- if grenades don’t get you, the blindicides will.

The Obelisk Blues
‘The Obelisk’ describes the wait before the action at a landmark RV.

I’ve got the Obelisk Blues
just waiting for a riot, man,
waiting for a riot,
with nothing to do,
lonesome and blue.
Won’t somebody just try to throw a stone or two?

I’ve got the Obelisk Blues
just waiting for the mosque, man,
waiting for the mosque,
when they’ll all turn out
and scream and shout,
and I hope that we can give them all a bloody good clout.

I’ve got the Obelisk Blues
just waiting for trouble, man,
waiting for trouble.
But it’s getting damn hot
and it’s all a lot of rot,
and I don’t really care if they riot or not!

Pineapple Time
‘Pineapple Time’ was written just after an actual incident. (‘Pineapple’ = grenade)

It’s pineapple time in Sheikh Othman
and all of the boys are there.
They’re thriving, conniving and priming grenades,
awaiting the fun of the fair.

Start off with a bang in Sheikh Othman.
We’ll probably cop a grenade.
The stories we tell will always go well
for at least one or two more decades.

Yes, pineapple time in Sheikh Othman.
We’re ready for action again.
But this time they’ve dropped the thing outside their house
and blown up all three of their men.

Fictional Account

They’ve been mined in the desert.
They’ve been blown up again.
There’s a chopper on the way
to the badly wounded men.

For one is sorely injured,
another’s lost an arm.
The pain is all-embracing
- they cannot keep him calm.

Patrolling in the Radfan
they were ambushed while alone.
How can people realise
what it’s like, at home.

In England now it’s raining,
there’s gales throughout the land.
But here the sun’s relentless,
there’s nothing else but sand.

The dance bands will be playing,
the girls will all be lain.
The only cry the desert hears
- the shameless cry of pain.

They’ve been mined in the desert,
they’ve been blown up again.
But the chopper never made it
to the badly wounded men.

‘I’m Sorry’
Fictional Account

He stated ‘I’m sorry I done it, sir’
as he stood with expressionless face.
A two-year-old baby he’d shot by mistake
in the heat of the nerve-wracking chase.

The grenade had come rolling toward them
- a sudden earth-shattering bang
and a glimpse of a blue-shirted dark-trousered youth
down the alleyway where they both ran.

The rest of the men hadn’t seen him
they were looking the opposite way
so the soldier gave chase through the dark-smelling place
where the sun hardly entered all day.

At the end of the alley he saw him
about to run into a hut.
He fired two rounds in the gathering gloom
but they missed with the door slamming shut.

Two children were happily playing.
One fell to the earth stony dead.
A bullet had ricocheted off the back wall
and entered the back of her head.

They found him, his rifle akimbo,
the grenadier nowhere, and then
‘I’m sorry I did it sir, really I am’
repeated again and again.

British Empire Book
In The Shadow of Empire: My Life in the Colonies by Martin Lewis



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