Jean Guthrie-Smith was 22 years old when she married the love of her life, Laurence Neal, on 1 May 1918. Her husband was wounded twice in the war, surviving a sniper’s bullet to the head during the Somme. Her poem The Soldier’s Wife records her joy at the safe return of Laurence from the war, and her awareness and compassion for other women less fortunate than her. It reminds us that the living are equally the casualties of war as are the dead. A bitter lesson Jean was to experience herself when her son Kenneth was killed in Normandy in July 1944.
The Soldier’s Wife
My warrior comes from France to-night
And I, so long disconsolate,
Once more the well-beloved of Fate,
With work-scarred hands go quick to light
The red fire in the polished grate,
To set the chairs and china straight;
Turned young again, with youth’s delight
With happy dreams intoxicate;
I have a home again– a mate.
The centre of a world blown bright,
I wait – and wonder while I wait
My warrior comes from France to-night!
….. And two doors down the street, alone
A woman lies, unreconciled
To grief, whose heart beat like mine own;
Whose love came back, yet came not, grown
A stranger to her and her child.
She only said he had ‘gone wild,
Clean wild’: and with her life turned stone
She watched this man, not hers, and smiled.
….. And yet another tries to break
Pain’s barrier of silence, wears
Her sorrow like a rose to shake
To life his dead, dead laughter; cares
For naught but this, to hear him make
The old, dear jokes; yet cannot wake
For all her eagerness and prayers
The silent boy who stares and stares …..
I wait – and wonder while I wait.
My lamps are lit, my door ajar;
He nears, and yet he seems as far
And further than he was of late.
Like flower to flower and star to star
Were we; and yet how strange things are
To wait – and wonder while I wait!
From Adventure Square (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1922),
Research from the Defence Studies Department, King's College London
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