Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Twenty Nine... Too Young to Die

(Remembering Sergeant Ian McKay VC)

My son turned twenty nine this year. So too did his best friend and namesake, who is currently serving with the RAF on a four month tour of the Falklands.

I was writing an e-Bluey to my son's friend (that is the modern digital means of communicating with service men and women, around the world, by that organisation known as the BFPO - British Forces Post Office). In this I had written some news and inserted the first of my two articles on the London riots, "London's Burning...". Whilst I was writing this e-Bluey, I remembered an event that led to a young Army Sergeant sacrificing his life to save others in the battle for Mount Longdon on 11th/12th June 1982. His heroic deed that night lead to his being posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross; the highest military award for gallantry. This very moving story is told here.

The fact that I worked for a few years with his younger brother, and therefore came to hear about Ian's fate through him, makes this story resonate more powerfully; as does the fact that my son and his best friend this year turned twenty-nine years of age, the same age that Ian McKay was when he died. That the Falklands war, short as it was, began and ended twenty-nine years ago is coincidental, albeit a little spooky. So at the time of Ian McKay's death, the Falklands war was at its height and shortly after came to a conclusion. For the two and a half months of its duration from April to June of that year, it almost completely took over the news.

This combination of facts, feelings and memories are responsible for the poem, which, I think was accompanied by more than my usual degree of feeling on the subject. I still find it hard to read without choking a little, even when I was still focussed on constructing it.

For poets, who may be interested, the poetic structure and rhyming scheme were chosen deliberately, being strongly influenced by Alfred Lord Tennyson's epic elegy "In Memoriam A.H.H.", which was written in four line stanzas, with a rhyming scheme ABBA, throughout its length. Incidentally, "In Memoriam" comprised of one hundred and thirty-three separate sections, each of which contained anything from three to thirty stanzas; well over two thousand lines; phenomenal! Whilst we are in the mood for coinciding numbers, it has to be said, the seventeen stanzas in my poem took less than seventeen hours to write, but, whilst it is neat, it is not associated with the seventeen years it took Alfred Lord Tennyson to complete "In Memoriam", which was published in 1850.

The title of my poem chose itself before I started writing it. It was originally "At Twenty Nine", reflecting the age Ian McKay was at the time of his death. I shortened it because it had a better feel that way.

I hope you enjoy reading the poem, "Twenty Nine".


  1. A very powerful poem, John...& touching too. A fitting tribute. I particularly loved the stanza about the storm...some really great imagery there. I'm currently researching & writing a novel set in WW1, so the subject of young men dying for their country really resonates. I remember the Falklands War well...can't quite believe it was so long ago. You have a real gift & flair.

  2. Thank you once again Rachel. This poem moved me greatly.

    Hmmm WW1, there are so many great WW1 poets, not least of all the ubiquitous Wilfred Owen, of course.


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