Mines | Steve May

Contains reference to Naziism death and suicide

1945. 2000 German POWs were forced to clear 2 million land mines from Danish beaches. A little known footnote. Over half the Germans were killed and many more maimed in this toxic operation. The logic was, they put them there, so it was their job to clear them. The logic of war.

There were many atrocities on those beaches. They hated us, said the Danes, so we hate them. Par for the course; the logic of war. It seems that many teenagers, with no experience of bomb disposal, were drafted in to swell the numbers. Well, they were Germans after all; that was what mattered.

What went around comes round. All’s fair in war and love and there’s no love here; that’s par for the course. War logic.

But look at the hollow faces of these German teenagers; hear their infant cries, as they call for far away mothers. These boys. Are they Nazis now? Were they ever? And see the cold, unflinching gaze of the Danes; are they victims or aggressors, monsters or robots? Getting their own back. Righteous retribution. War logic. Two sides: same caps, same uniforms, the masks of war; only the colours changed, to set them apart.

Who dare stick their neck out to save a young life, when the slightest show of humanity’s a treasonable weakness? Let them starve; let them spew their guts out on the sharp sand; let them weaken by the day. And if they blow their brains out, there’s plenty more.

So the Danes had the power and the Germans, without it, lay face down on land-mined sand, fumbling with clunky detonators; held their lives in shaking hands. Waiting for some sort of end.

Contextual Note

During the mine clearances of 1945, ex-prisoners of war were made to decommission land mines along the Atlantic Wall. Among them were teenagers who had been forcibly conscripted into service at the end of war.

Born in Coventry, Steve May worked extensively in the field of drama-in-education, including winning  an Edinburgh Fringe First with Wigan Young People’s Theatre and leading a Performing Arts Department at Sunderland College. He regularly performs his work around the NE of England and further afield. He has had poems and stories published in a number of magazines and anthologies, including The Writers’ Café, The Wellington Street Review, Gentian, Sonder, New Voices Anthology and Prole. He won the 2019 Shelter Poems for Home Competition, judged by John Hegley; was runner-up and also commended in the Prole 2019 Poetry Competition and shortlisted for the Anthony Cronin International Poetry Award 2019. He is a Poetry Society member.

He is on Twitter @s_may_uk


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