States of Poetry 2017 - ACT | 'No name or rank supplied' by Geoff Page

No name or rank supplied

We’re looking down the barrel of
a.303 Lee Enfield,
standard issue through until

the early 1960s.
The others in the firing squad
have all been cropped away, it seems.

He is an officer, we think –
that small, smart cap betrays him.
His hair’s well-trimmed and business-like;

he seems somehow unduly clean
to be an executioner.
The scene, most likely, is in England,

following some short appeal.
We hear the heel-click somewhere.
Fifteen foreshortened yards

are whitely stretched between them,
this man who wields the rifle and|
the man who will be killed,

hands behind his back
and tied there to a pole,
a white patch on his heart,

the blindfold also white.
The photograph is all perspective;
it offers nothing else.

We shape a story for ourselves:
the crumpled wretch, a miner
collected in Lord Derby’s Scheme,

that final German barrage
proving one too much,
the officer, an ‘Eton man’

but maybe that’s that’s not right.
The victim could be stooped with Classics,
‘unsuited to the field’,

the shooter, an ambitious clerk
who’s clambered through the ranks to be
one of all those subalterns

flattened in the first few weeks.
The caption says just: ‘British soldier’.
No name or rank supplied.

Geoff Page


I agree with T.S. Eliot that the poet should never ‘explain’ his or her poem but it may be relevant to note that WWI is an issue I’ve never quite been able to escape. The current centenary has, of course, revived interest. The injustices of the war are innumerable but the execution of ‘failed’ combatants by their own side is one of the more notorious. As far as I know, Australia was the only participant never to do this. ‘No name or rank supplied’ is a meditation on an interestingly ambiguous photograph – Geoff Page