Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday Poem: The ghost of Abbassia

Why so pale, young soldier-lad
what gloominess is this?
The days are breathing summer’s heat
what can there be amiss?

The boy he gazed into his beer
then looked around real slow
before he told to me this tale
in voice that trembled low:

I was on a signals course
we was testing radio.
We drove out to Abbassia
six months or so ago.

The night was bollocks freezing
there was ice on top of snow
the mountain she was steaming
the moon with blood did glow.

We set up camp and had a feed
but not a drop of booze.
I went outside to take a leak
and saw a bloody ghoul.

His face was black, his lips was burnt
cordite stained his hands.
His battle dress was ripped to shreds
He wore a gunner’s badge.

He said to me his gun had breached
a live one up the spout.
The crew was dead and dying –
go rouse the medics out.

I looked at him and knew he was
not human any more.
The gun it did explode alright
but thirty years before.

I told the ghost to bugger off –
his crew was feeding worms.
The gunner ghoul he swore real foul
then on me laid a curse.

He told me not to venture near
the swamp at Ngamatea
‘specially in the summer
for I would disappear.

He said the swamp would swallow me
like all them sheeps ‘n cattle
my bony bits would marry theirs
and never even rattle.

I laughed away that ghostie’s curse
when we was back in base
until today when Sarge he said
with malice on his face

‘You lot is slack and need a run
stay off the smokes ‘n beer
tomorrow sharp at sparrow’s fart
we head for Ngamatea.’

I wish I’d never seen nor dissed
the ghost of Abbassia –
tomorrow I’ll be drowning in
that swamp at Ngamatea.

I wrote this ballad several years ago (apologies to Keats for the first two lines). It is based on  a couple of incidents I experienced when I was a boy soldier in the 1960s. The ghost observation was reported by several of my colleagues during training when they were based at an NZ Army satellite camp (Abbassia, near Waiouru). Research later revealed that a gunner had been killed there 30 years previously when a shell exploded in a gun barrel during live-firing practice. We were also spun many stories about the Ngamatea (Nah-ma-tee-ah) swamp and how we would one day have to run through it during our physical training. These combined in my over-active but slow imagination 45 years later to spark this poem.

Visit Tuesday Poem for more poems and where this week's post is 'News from the Island' by Tracey Sullivan.


  1. A fascinating glimpse at a soldier's imaginings, even if many years later. Those ghost stories really stick. Glad I stopped by this week.


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