A surgeon soldier, he surrenders with the rest
at Singapore. An empire, and an army, on its knees
before the bicycle army of Japan, neck stretched
and naked for the sword. In Changi, his baffled
tired men are told they are dishonoured
in defeat. Outside his prison, the kempetai chase
down for slaughter Chinese, Malays, whose tongue,
tattoos or faces pronounce them less than beasts.
A civil army, servants, refugees, they die
with no one there to see their fate. Their bodies
clog the beaches, and the nearby straits, and then
are gone. In gaol, white men whose European codes
and voices mark them down for cocktails in the club,
expect Genevan limits to their captivity.
But evident brutality becomes a fact, and they
are starved, and sicken, or are worked to death.
Confined in their infirmary, and using instruments
saved, made, or found, the doctors do their best
to mend or make men’s pitied bodies whole.
Each case or corpse is given care, and written up
to show the treatment needed to perform
the miracle again, or present the case for murder
at whatever end to war a peace might bring.
The suffering Japan might feel, is quick. No fever-feeble
dysenteric end for it. 2 bombs shake loose
their wrath, and all war’s children die. Demobbed
and suited back to home, he takes his papers and his box
of surgeon’s tools and keeps them till he dies.
Each futile case or life he’d rescued at its edge,
preserved as evidence for good, or cause enough
to gain a gallow’s pledge. The moment never comes.
He never has the chance to speak, and breaks
the grave promise he has kept those years. The notes
are thrown away. His children keep the case
of tools. And silence comes to make amends.
Each scalpel, saw, and knife their only cenotaph.