Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets
1st Aug 2014Posted in: Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets 0
On Active Service

On Active Service

Oliver E. Baillie
Canadian Field Artillery

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The nations had pledged their honour
    That the lamb should not be shorn,
When a shot rang round a startled world,
    And a scrap of paper was torn.

And Liege flamed up as a beacon,
    A call for help in the night,
Where Belgium fought like a lion,
    For Honour, God and Right.

Then roused Britannia proudly,
    And her glance flashed o’er the sea,
“Sons I have loved and cherished,
    Say, do ye stand with me?”

“Will we show the Teuton bully
    That the bond of the blood holds true,
Who touched the mother of lions,
    Toucheth the lions too?” [unnumbered page]


From the vales of British Columbia,
    From the mill and from the mine,
We have rushed at Britain’s peril,
    To join her battle line.

From the far edge of Alberta,
    Where the solemn Rockies guard
The range of the mighty cow herds,
    We have come at Britannia’s word.

From the fields of Manitoba,
    Where we left the golden wheat,
Ready and waiting the sickle,
    We have come with hurrying feet.

And old Ontario’s best are here,
    From city and farm they come,
In thousands, mother, they heard your cry,
    And march to the sound of the drum.

And all the Provinces by the sea
    Have answered in haste your call,
Armed and ready for fight you’ll find
    Sons of the Saxon and Gaul.

Our drill may strike you as rotten,
    We may fail at the drill sergeant’s test,
But you’ll find in the day of battle
    We can fight and die with your best.

So give us a chance at the Germans,
    That’s why we crossed the sea,
To uphold the power of our Empire,
    Old England, to fight for thee.

   Salisbury Plains, 1914. [unnumbered page]


Dear sir, these lines will let you know
How things in dear old England go,
And that the source of all our woe
     Is not the b—— Kaiser.

We thought at home, when at our ease,
An arboured pub, with bread and cheese,
When served by dainty maids, would please
     The stomach, and the eye, sir.

The bread and cheese, we’ve found, ah me!
Developed to the nth degree;
The rose-clad pub and maid, say we,
     Were both a wild surmise, sir.

The English beer is strong in cheer,
And makes a soldier’s feet act queer,
And in the morn he sheds a tear,
     His clothes are such an eyesore.

Old England’s jam has made no hit;
In fact, ’tis but a counterfeit;
The turnips in it are but fit
     For bombing Bill the Kaiser.

At home, we often sat and dreamed
Of England’s shady lanes, where beamed
The moon, and happy lovers seemed
     In rosy bow’rs to sigh, sir.

We’ve found the lanes, too true, too true;
The shade is there, the mud is too;
Nor roses bloom, nor lovers woo,
     To please the passer-by, sir.

Alas! ’Tis but a dismal plain
Or rather, sea of mud and rain,
Where language that is all profane
     Shoots hot as any geyser. [unnumbered page]

The King’s review!—but what’s the use?
He tried to see us through the juice;
For love of Mike, just cut us loose,
     And we’ll review the Kaiser.

If this is war, then roll on peace,
Give us the chickens, cows and geese,
The dear old farm, sans mud, sans grease.
     You see, we’re growing wiser.

Within an old cathedral dim,
We thought we’d sing an old world hymn,
Where ages long, folks worshipped Him,
     Their father’s God on high, sir.

Our church is no cathedral rare, 
We find it in God’s open air;
But in the mud and rain we dare
     Ask Him for strength to die, sir. 

So, with the mud we’ll take our chance,
And hope for better luck in France,
And save our grouch; some day perchance
     We’ll slip it to the Kaiser.

   November, 1914. [unnumbered page]


Johnnie Canucks, our time has come;
Enough we’ve had of fife and drum;
Stern is the work where bullets hum,
     That leads to victory.

Johnnie Canucks, we’re now in France,
(Gun and bayonet and shining lance),
Marching on to the Devil’s dance,
     On Belgium’s blood-soaked lea.

Johnnie Canucks, right from the start
We’ve tried our best to play our part;
Now, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, 
     Till Belgium shall be free. 

Johnnie Canucks, our country’s fair;
May the thought of her be as a prayer
To help us do our duty there,
     Oh, Canada, for thee.

Bravely facing death we’ll stand,
Doing our bit for the Motherland;
Oh, God, the issue is in Thy hand;
     We place our trust in Thee.

   In a box car, St. Nazarre, The Front. France, February, 1915. [unnumbered page]


Mourn for your dead, oh Canada,
    Yet not as the hopeless weep;
In a noble cause, for a country’s love,
    They passed to their quiet sleep.

Pray for your dead, oh Canada,
    Yet not as the hopeless pray,
For theirs was a death for a living hope;
    They died for the coming day.

Remember your dead, oh Canada,
    Yet not as the hopeless mind,
For the God above saw how they died,
    And the ways of His judgement are kind.

Think on the words, oh Canada,
    Christ died Himself to send;
No man hath greater love than this,
    That he giveth his life for his friend.

   Ypres, April 26th, 1915. [unnumbered page]


Oh, many there be who came with me
    On a venture far from home,
We crossed the sea in merry glee,
    Glad of the chance to roam.

We thought of war as it was of yore,
    Of charges and red high lights,
Of the battle’s roar, with the flag before,
    And the chance of a thousand fights.

We knew we came, in our country’s name.
    To fight our country’s cause,
In a glorious game to win our fame
    And our homeland’s wild applause.

But now, alas, it comes to pass,
    We fight not with ringing steel,
And the colours bright fade out of sight
    In the mud of the battle field.

In helmets for gas, with their isinglass,
    We parade at the dawn of day,
With a curse of hate for our respirator
    We march to the field of fray.

A curse on the Hun, who spoilt the fun,
    May he perish with all he has;
In the depths of hell may he always dwell
    And strangle forever in gas.

We fight like the mole, in the gloom and the cold,
    Our battles are underground;
Romance’s day has passed away,
    With the cheery bugle’s sound.

Farewell Romance, with the shining lance,
    The flag and the pennant flying,
When a day of life in the glorious strife
    Repaid the trouble of dying.

But we should worry, or seek to hurry
    To join those warriors bold;
In a hundred years they’ll repeat with tears
    That we were the heroes of old.

   Ploegstreet, August, 1915. [unnumbered page]


Oh! God of Peace, Thou Who has made
The earth in beauty, wonderful and calm,
With towering mountains, pointing to the sky,
Serene and beautiful, protecting all
The valleys nestling ’neath their shelt’ring care,
Where little rills rush joyfully to join
Their waters in the calm majestic river;
With shady woods, where helpless things may hide
In happiness, from every foe secure;
With rolling prairies, bright with wondrous flowers,
The granary of ages yet unborn;
The heavens filled with starry lights,
Mysterious and full of peace,
A rest for man’s tired eyes,
A hope and inspiration for his Soul.

Why hast Thou then, in all Thy works,
Taught man the tranquil joys of peace,
And yet, with that same teaching, him inspired
With love so fierce, of country and of home
That, rise a breath of danger threat’ning them,
And he becomes a madman, wild with rage,
Bloodthirsty, fearing naught in life or death,
Throwing himself upon the threat’ning foe
With utter disregard of Death’s dread shape,
As other times would hold him helpless and o’erawed?

And still, oh God, he feels in heart and soul
And every fibre of his throbbing being,
A surety that Thou approvest what he does,
And that Thy Son, the Prince of Peace, looks down
And contemplates his death with loving eyes,
So that he fights in fairness for his home.

Oh God of Peace and Love, Who gave
An only Son, that we might learn to love,
Didst Thou not also give this instinct, old as life,
That tells us we must keep inviolate our land,
And live our lives in our own way beneath Thy guiding hand,
And firmly hold the freedom, made sacred by the blood
Of countless generations gone before? [unnumbered page]

Oh, God of Peace, and God of Nature, we
Look on Thy works, and scan in helpless maze
Thy Book, in this, affliction’s hour.
Have we then blindly through the ages wrought
Another Tower of Babel, while thinking that we built
A temple unto Thee, and that the time was near
When peace and brotherhood would span the world?

Thou art our only hope, and even now,
While striking for our lives and all we love,
We lift our faltering prayer, and ask that Thou
Wouldst touch the heart of man, and rend the veil
Of ignorance, that hides Thy face from him.

God of Mercy, God of Love,
Hear us as we humbly cry,
Comfort those we leave behind us,
Closely hold us, who must die.

God of Battles, give us courage,
Truth and justice to maintain,
May our sacrifice be holy,
May it not be made in vain.

   Cuinchy, June, 1915.


Canada, Canada, sing we to thee,
Lads on the battle line, far o’er the sea,
Song of a love that grows with the years,
    Love that dispels all our terrors and fears,
Love that has brightened the path we have trod,
    Love that is sacred as love for our God,
Love that is life to thy sons on the field, 
    Helping them conquer, never to yield;
Love of the land of the dear Maple Tree,
    This is the song we are singing to thee. [unnumbered page]

Deep in our hearts thine answering song
    Strengthens and heartens us all the day long;
Winds of the sea to us softly bring
    Wonderful songs that thy great rivers sing.
From mountain to sea, they sing as they roll,
    Each sweeping turning new beauties unfold;
Beautiful rivers, so pure and so free,
    Memory’s echo, dear country, of thee.

Stern are thy mountains, mighty and grand,
Singing the strength of our own native land,
Strength that thou gavest to us with our breath,
    Strength that has held us strong, even to death.
Song of the prairie, songs of the hills,
    Song of the forest, songs of the rills,
Song of the farm, of the mill, of the mine,
    Song of the breeze, blowing soft through the pine.
Song of the bird as it sings in the tree,
    Sweetly the wind wafts them over the sea.

Hear we another song, far, far the best,
Fail ne’er to bring it, dear wind of the west,
Song of the hearts that are loving us yet,
    Hearts that are bleeding, that never forget,
Hearts that are aching for lover or son,
    For the dear one whose fighting forever is done;
Hearts that encircle us still with their love,
    Love that is pure as the angels’ above,
Tender as pure, yet wondrously strong,
To guide us aright, to hold us from wrong.

Hearken our country, again to our song,
    Song of thy sons, the free and the strong,
Song of all songs, as old as the earth,
    The love of a man for the land of his birth.
Freely we’ve bled, that thy freedom might live,
    Gladly we’ll bleed while we’ve still blood to give,
All that thou gavest us, our gift shall be,
    Canada, Canada, all, all for thee.

   Petit Pont, Belgium, January, 1916. [unnumbered page]

(After Short Leave at New Year’s.)

Dear Auld Reekie, dear Auld Reekie,
    On your hills sae fair an’ grand,
Hoo my heart to ye is turnin’
    Frae this far, ootlandish land.

Hoo I’m yearnin’ for a sicht o’ ye,
    Sae grey an’ misty dim,
Wi’ your castle pilin’ skyward,
    On its rock sae dour an’ grim.

Wi’ your churches an’ your palaces,
    An’ beer shops side by side,
An’ your bric-a-brac on Calton Hill
    To mind ye o’ your pride.

Wi’ your guid folk gaein’ douce to kirk,
    Speakin’ aye in solemn tone,
An’ your whisky voices chauntin’,
    New Year’s nicht aroon the Tron.

Lyin’ in a trench in Flanders,
    Come ye aften to my min’,
An’ I dream I’m wi’ my dearie,
    As in days o’ auld lang syne.

Hand in hand we sit thegither,
    On my cheek I feel her breath,
Till I wauken wi’ a shiver,
    To resume my trade in death.

Dear Auld Reekie, guard her tender,
    For she’s a’ the warld to me;
Keep her safe to bid me welcome
    When I’m hame frae ower the sea.

   Romarin, France, January, 1916. [unnumbered page]


When the last tin of M and V rations,
    Has joined all its friends gone before,
And McConachie’s name but reminds us
    Of the terrible horrors of war;

When we’ve ditched the last tin of bully,
    Made way with old Tickler’s jam,
And cursed the last box of hard tack
    With a hearty unanimous damn,

We shall feed, O ye gods we shall need it,
    Just eat for an aeon or two,
And when they all think we have finished
    We’ll start in and eat anew.

And those that were starved shall be happy,
    They shall sit in a big morris chair,
They shall drink long drinks out of glasses,
    Of vintages old and rare.

They shall find real eats to feed on,
    Chicken and turkey and goose,
Till the whole of the feathered creation
    Shall think that all Hell is turned loose.

They shall never grow weary of feeding,
    But shall eat on and drink without end,
Until at the last they grow sleepy,
    When they’ll sleep and start feeding again.

And no one shall kick at the cooking
    Of mother or sister or wife,
But each shall be pleasant and happy,
    While wielding his fork and his knife.

And no one shall talk about warfare
    Or the troubles of days gone by,
But of sleeping and drinking and eating,
    Of real decent beds and of Pie.

   Ouderdom, Belgium, April, 1916. [unnumbered page]

11. TO MY VALENTINE, 1916.

There’s a song, little sweetheart, a song I love well,
It rings in my heart like a sweet silver bell,
Its burden I need only three words to tell,
     I love you.

There’s a song, little sweetheart, I hear in the wind,
And, search through the world, I never could find
A song that sounds sweeter or more to my mind,
     Than I love you.

There’s a song that the burn sings to you and to me,
Though many have heard it, I guess only we
Know that it sings on its way to the sea,
     How I love you.

All nature is singing the song everywhere,
The flowers in the field, the birds in the air;
Oh, lassie, the song has a throb like a prayer,
     I love you.

Oh, the burn in the dell and the flowers of spring,
The breeze as it blows and the bird on the wing,
Are all my good friends and to you they will sing,
     How I love you.

Altho’ I am far, far away from your side,
And between us there flows war’s terrible tide,
I know they will tell you, whate’er may betide,
     I love you.

   Fletre, France, February, 1916. [unnumbered page]


Oh, we’re the First Contingent boys
    To leave our native shore;
We’ve pot-lucked with the devil some
    Since first we came to war.

We’ve been in every rotten plight
    An army yet was found,
From camping on the ocean blue
    To living underground.

Altho’ we never signed the pledge,
    We never tasted booze,
But drank our tot of ginger pop,
    A-cursing old samyooze.

We fought the dirt, the lice, the mud,
    On plains where all was juicy,
The only music we e’er heard
    Was C. sub-cursing “Lucy.”*

We always tended church parade,
    Except when voluntary;
Said “Thank you,” for our mulligan
    And jam extraordinary.

But when we struck old London town
    Our joy was wild and free,
We germanized the poor old burg
    And put it on the Spree.

We said good-bye to England’s shore,
    What-ho, for Sunny France!
Were we down-hearted when we left?
    No chance, old man, no chance.

We showed the world what we could do
    At Ypres, when all seemed lost,
We held the line, we saved the day,
    But, God, at what a cost!

And then again at Festubert,
    Fritz minds the place full well;
’Twas there we gave the Allemands
    A little taste of hell. [unnumbered page]

In the mud and blood of Plugstreet,
    Where the summer passed away,
And the cold and rain of winter
    Turned the country dull and grey,

We made monkeys of the Bosches,
    Bombing sprees ’mid falling flares,
Giving Fritz the dope he needed
    To forget his earthly cares.

And then we had a little rest
    At good old Bollezeele,
Where we practised standing gun drill,
    And the booze was almost real.

Now at St. Eloi we’re resting,
    Just a moment on our way,
Where the Pats won death and glory
    On a dollar-ten a day.  

Here we’ll hold the b—— craters
    Till all hell is frozen fast;
We’re still the First Contingent,
    And we’ll stick it to the last.

We’ve done the b—— circuit
    Of the whole damn British line,
And we’re still a-busy waiting
    For “The watch upon the Rhine.”

Our comrades’ graves dot Flanders soil,
    From Bethune to the sea;
They died like men, and while men live
    Shall ne’er forgotten be.

We’re still the First Contingent, lads.
    To leave our native land;
Come rough or smooth, we still can say
    We’ve always played our hand.

   Dickebush, Belgium, April, 1916.

*Pet name for unpopular sergeant. [unnumbered page]

13. “13.”

I’m writing with my fingers crossed,
    I’ve a black cat on my knee,
A horseshoe hangs on the dugout door,
    And I’m touching wood, you see.

But even at that the rhythm is lost,
    And the rhyme is terribly free;
I don’t think I’ll try to do anymore.
    Or “13” will do for me.

   Ouderdom, Belgium, May, 1916. [unnumbered page]

(A free translation of verses found on the body of an unknown German soldier.)

Sing of the glory of battle,
    Praise ye the pride of war,
The blood of the millions fallen,
    The ruin of millions more.

Sing of the courage our heroes
    Show on each stricken field.
In the glory of king and country
    Death reapeth a bountiful yield.

Sing of the honours that pay them
    For the chances they took with a smile;
Are the medals and crosses of iron
    Really the things worth while?

Many rewards hath the battle
    For the man who fights as he should,
But death knoweth no distinction
    When awarding the cross of wood.

Hero or coward, he gains it
    Who giveth his life in the fight.
Ah! See in the fields of Flanders
    How they paint the greensward white.

Can a man have heart in the fighting
    When his children are starving behind?
Surely we’re reaping the whirlwind,
    We who have sown the wind.

Babes of the mothers of Belgium,
    Slain in our drunken pride,
Babes of the Lusitania,
    Sobbing beneath the tide. [unnumbered page]

What have we done, Almighty?
    What are we going to do?
Have we thought we dealt with an earth power,
    To find we must deal with You?

Perchance that our cause is righteous,
    For the life of our race we fight;
But our foes still thicken around us,
    Give light, oh God, give light.

Darkness behind and before us,
    Sorrow enfolding our land;
Lord, in Thy mercy, send us
    A sign we can understand.

   Ypres Salient, May, 1916. [unnumbered page]


Let not your heart be troubled,
    Lift up your eyes to the hills,
Through the sorrows and blood of the nation
    Christ healeth the world of its ills.

Let not your heart be troubled,
    For those who fall in the strife,
For Christ Himself hath spoken,
    “I am the Truth and the Life.”

Let not your heart be troubled,
    They follow the path that He trod,
And Christ for them hath prepared
    A place in the House of God.

Let not your heart be troubled,
    Trust in His tender care,
Fear not the terrors of battle,
    Jesus Himself is there.

Comforting, loving and tending
    Those who may fall in the fray;
“Peace, My peace, I give you,
    Come to Me, I am the Way.”

   Dickebush, Belgium, April, 1916. [unnumbered page]


Were you ever up against it, with your belt’s last hole drawn in,
And the shrapnel and the splinters flying round like merry sin,
And you couldn’t hear your rifle for the high explosive’s din,
And you knew that things could get no worse, and then you had to grin?

Were you ever up against it, in a shell hole for a while,
With the Willies searching for you, with all their measly guile,
And your tongue swelled up for water, and the water half a mile,
And you knew it was the limit, and then you had to smile?

Were you ever up against it, when the chuck was cut in half,
And the lice were thick upon you, like a blinking general’s staff,
And the Allemands had shelled the rum before you had a quaff,
Then you knew the worst was over, and you had to have a laugh?

But if suppose you hadn’t grinned, but just sat down to cry,
And by shifting your position got a nice one in the eye,
Not “a cushy,” or “a blighty,” but a one that made you die,
Don’t you think the smile, or grin, or laugh, were better than the sigh?

   Bollezeele, France, February, 1916. [unnumbered page]

(Dedicated to those who are making fortunes out of war contracts and to a dear old lady of eighty years who sent us a much-needed parcel of socks.)

I hate to think, in Canada, that grafters ply their trade,
That out of blood and suffering great fortunes can be made:
That we, who for her honour fight, should have to share the stain
Of those who smirch her honour, with their filthy love of gain.

I love to think, in Canada, a dear old lady sits,
And weaves a prayer in every pair of soldiers’ socks she knits,
For we, out here in Flanders, know her thoughts and ours are one,
That each is glad to bear a share of work that must be done.

Oh, dear old lady, knitting, we fight the same good fight,
Our youth we give our country, you give the widow’s mite,
And God, who seeth all things, and judgeth from the heart,
Will place the loving knitter and the Judas far apart.

   The Salient, July 4th, 1916. [unnumbered page]


So young, you say, to die, yet of his best
Each gave, and fully earned his right to rest.
Their souls return to God, war worn but clean
And holy in His sight, in honour dressed.

What matter if they’ve missed a day or two
Of life on this torn earth? Why should we rue
That early they have passed to their reward
Beyond those portals that we all must through?

Each man has his allotted part to play,
In God’s great plan, to toil his troubled day.
His life is perfect when his share is done,
He might but mar his work if he should stay.

So some we loved, the bravest of the brave,
Who life and fortune for their country gave,
Sleep here in peace, their sacrifice complete,
To rise triumphant over death and grave.

Their lips are locked, think you that they repine
Beyond death’s door, their sacrifice divine,
Or that, were life anew to call them forth
And freedom called again, they would decline?

As fire the metal proves, or pure or base,
So war in men proves honour or disgrace,
And they at God’s high altar now can stand,
Nor tremble when they see Him face to face.

   The Salient, August 5th, 1916. [unnumbered page]

19. L’ENVOI.

Good-bye, little verses, away you go,
    Over the seas to a land I know,
And you’ll tell the folks that you find there
    We are thinking of them, in France, somewhere.

But first you must go to London town,
    Then take the first train north,
With never a rest until you stop
    At the edge of the Firth of Forth.

And in Auld Reekie’s mist and rain
    You must seek and you must find
And give my love to the dearest girl,
    The girl that I left behind.

And then you’ll on to the dearest land,
    Over the ocean blue,
Where the folks will know and understand
    The message I send with you.

Away, little verses, adieu, adieu,
Each night, in my dreams, I’ll follow you.

   Ypres Salient, May, 1916. [unnumbered page]


1—The Call.
2—Canada’s Answer.
3—A Letter From Salisbury Plains.
4—Johnnie Canucks.
5—To the Canadians Who Fell At Ypres.
6—Romance’s Day.
7—A Soldier’s Prayer.
8—A Song of the First Contingent.
9—A Memory of Edinburgh.
10—A Soldier’s Dream.
11—To My Valentine.
12—The First Contingent in Action.
14—Quo Vadimus?
15—“In My Father’s House Are Many Mansions.”
16—The Optimist.
17—Beauty and the Beast.
18—In Memoriam, Our Fallen Comrades.

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