Suffering from time-lag, we are taken out of the darkness of the projection room into the intense light of a conference
room, past an array of footwear displayed on a row of tables. 'We' being mostly - apart from a handful of us - people who
remember the war.
Our guide teases us with a red shoe? What kind of person would have worn such a shoe? What was she like? Where was she
going? What was she doing? She was young! She was beautiful! She loved going out! She loved parties! She was a good-time girl!
She was dead. Killed in Bosnia.
heel high straps loosed
it wasn't found near her body
but feet away
in the group of people
blood runs cold and I weep
Grant, our guide, shows us a boot. A Blackie. We are wary now. Sensitised. It's an outdoor boot. The studs on the soles
of boots of men marching through cobbled streets would have rung like hammers on an anvil. Fighting in the Falklands, the
young man to whom this boot belonged died on HMS Sheffield. Inscribed on the boot is a name, but not his name, it is that
of the grandfather who fought in World War II.
on the western front
african feet march in black
enveloped in dust
and waiting to be rescued
hundreds of orphaned children
"This is a World War I overboot made from the hair from under a camel's chin and issued to the Imperial German Navy."
In the night of 3rd September 1916, Lt. William Leefe-Robinson shot down Zeppelin SL-11 over London. It eventually landed
in Cuffley, Hertfordshire. Himself shot down in April 1917 in France, wounded and captured, he died in Harrow on the last
day of 1918, a victim of the flu pandemic.
blazing the airship
dropped like a dying star
earthwards they fell
jump or burn came the order
singed corpses dangle from a tree
In that line of single items of footwear, a solitary pair of tiny faded blue fur slippers, made by a sailor on the N.
Atlantic run for his daughter Ann.
tossed on the high seas
a father sits and stitches
that will hug his darling's feet
till he can hold her again
Sent from Canada they arrived with the telegram announcing he had been lost in action.
Christmas Day 1942, the Russians jam the German radio. Of the 250,000 men sent to Stalingrad, 1,000 will return. The men
wear reed boots to keep their feet warm in the bitter Russian winter. They were woven either by girls from the League of German
Maidens or by slave labourers from the ghetto that will be liquidated in 1944. A German soldier heard singing the Ave Maria
is spared when he confesses to being a musician.
toiling through the snow
he hums to keep his spirit up
yielding to the wind
the frozen reeds and grasses
bend and whistle too
A sad shoe this, one that could embody all the grief that has ever been. One in one mountain of shoes found in Auschwitz.
How many times and, each time, how many desperate hands fought to wrench this from a dying owner in the hope of staving off
death a little longer? And how many hands were happy to have this shoe and its partner to patch up, again and again? And to
pass on... reluctantly... or otherwise... again and again...
signs of hope none
words of comfort too few
to be garnered here
memories in silence
sorrow in downcast eyes
It wasn't a particularly remarkable day in May. Warm but not over warm. I'd never been there before, to the Imperial War
Museum. It was much as I expected, tanks and rockets and parts of planes:
it was as I thought
full of witnesses to wars
yes a testament to the dead
but a longing for peace