MINQAR QAIM, 1942
It was an inauspicious beginning. Freyberg caught
shell shrapnel in the neck.
The advance east
was late, but the scruffy trucks fell like a summer storm
on the German positions;
the storm became
a shattered mirror of trucks aflame,
the videogame fireworks of tracer fire like shooting stars
and chrysanthemums of green phosphorus,
tank noise and empyreumatic
(your ten bob word) stench:
a slow motion ecstasy of training and duty.
Snout to tail like Piccadilly,
full throttle, pedal to the metal, the Kiwis burst through
a German medical post, First Battalion of
104 Rifle Regiment, 21 Panzer HQ.
were slaughtered like mutton as they stirred
from their tents (so many in pyjamas in the desert).
The wounded were finished off with bayonets.
Rommel called them ‘gangsters’. In war
no hand remains entirely clean for long, but England
could not be disappointed.
The expression ‘friendly fire’ hadn’t been invented yet
(Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori),
but there was that in spades in the chaos of the melee.
The wadi was opened in minutes.
The Germans rallied at noon
from the laagered survivors of 21 Panzer.
The Kiwis burst through like Ezekiel in a ball of fire.
History pivoted slightly in a tense twenty-four hours;
mosquito bites distracting from the eastern front
and all for the sake of a horseshoe nail.