Teacher, thank you very much
opening my eyes.
Mother, Father, I must go
to a red sunrise.

Ten score little innocents
gather to be schooled
in the glorious task ahead
childhood overruled.

Teachers drew us pictures
of what lay in wait
on the classroom blackboard
presaging our fate.

Mr Honda drew a trumpet
Mr Ishihara – a plane
Miss Tamaguchi – Mt Fuji
Mrs Ito – a ship aflame.

They drew cherry blossoms too
fluttering to the earth
symbol of young sacrifice
for our land of birth.

Three giggling girls in pigtails
Miko, Kaho, me
gathered seashells on the shore
by a baleful sea.

Kings we’d had to govern us,
in the days of old.
Governed now from far away
where winter is cold.

Cherished by the Emperor
(so the story ran)
jewel upon the lashing tail
of fearless Japan.

They took away our blazers
took our cotton socks
took away our childhood too
gave us nurses’ smocks.

We were angels sent to tend
honourable wounds
blossoms of the cherry tree
fluttering to the ground.

What’s the use of nurses’ smocks?
angels’ wings as well?
Horns and whips will serve you best
when you’re sent to hell.

“Hospitals” are nothing but
caves of mud and yells.
We bury limbs and bodies torn
culled by mortar shells.

Ninety days the enemy
mash our soldiers’ brains.
Cyanide in milk we give
when but death remains.

“Children, thank you very much”
all the Captain said
ten score hopeless little wraiths
told to join the dead.

Not to join the enemy!
that were shame indeed.
Out onto the battlefield
we were sent to bleed.

Miko chose to jump a cliff
Kaho chose a bomb.
Only me out of us three
chose to stumble on.

Now I’m old… and times have changed!
Fate has had its way.
Possibly there’s still for me
something yet to say:

Our order was delivered
by our foes in bombs.
But it was paid and signed-for
in our own schoolroom

when Mr Honda drew a trumpet
Mr Ishihara – a plane
Miss Tamaguchi – Mt Fuji
Mrs Ito – a ship aflame.


Maxwell and Ian Clark (writing as earthspot.)
2016, 2019.

(For some background to this poem, see: Battle of Okinawa.)