First World War Poetry Digital Archive

The Oldest Soldier

THE OLDEST SOLDIER by ROBERT GRAVES

The sun shines warm on seven old soldiers Paraded in a row, Perched like starlings on the railings--- Give them plug-tobacco!

They'll croon you the Oldest-Soldier Song: Of Harry who took a holiday From the sweat of ever thinking for himself Or going his own bloody way.

It was arms-drill, guard and kit-inspection, Like dreams of a long train-journey, And the barrack-bed that Harry dossed on Went rockabye, rockabye, rockabye.

Harry kept his rifle and brasses clean, But Jesus Christ, what a liar! He won the Military Medal For his coolness under fire.

He was never the last on parade Nor the first to volunteer, And when Harry rose to be storeman He seldom had to pay for his beer.

Twenty-one years, and out Harry came To be odd-job man, or janitor, Or commissionaire at a picture-house, Or, some say, bully to a whore.

But his King and Country calling Harry, He reported again at the Depôt, To perch on this railing like a starling, The oldest soldier of the row.

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