We met first day at school.
Play time he knocked me down, so I knocked him down.
Both got the cane.
Best buttys ever since, through thick and thin.
Scrumping apples, knocking on doors and running off, climbing the wall to see the match for free, always together.
Because where Billy went I ‘ad to follow.
Shared our first cigarette, both of us puking up afterwards, back of the chapel.
‘ad our first working day at the same factory, the same time.
Our first pint at the Working Men’s. Together.
Our first kisses, with those awful Probyn sisters, down the Tanky Woods.
Whatever Billy did, I tagged along, and he didn’t mind.
We signed up, pals in the Pals’ Regiment, me hoping I wouldn’t get rejected if he was accepted.
Trained together, trying to outdo each other at drill, or spit and polish.
Stood in the same holding trench at Mametz, me behind him, the only one who could see behind his jokes and his games and spot the fear.
Said to him, “I’m here, Billy, it’ll be alright,” meaning, “I love you, butty, as a man loves a maid,” only I couldn’t have told him.
Woke up in hospital, half my leg shot away.
Couldn’t find out if Billy ‘ad gone where I couldn’t follow yet.
Next morning, he’s there at the bedside, arm and head bandaged up.
“I was wondering where you’d got to, you silly sod,” he said, meaning, “I love you Harry, but I can’t say it here.”
Only I didn’t find out that was what he meant until later, after; “Seeing as we’re two cripples, the sort a maid would never look at, just as well we’ve got each other isn’t it?” and, “Neither of us could look after ourselves so we’d best look after each other.”