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TORONTO: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY OF CANADA LIMITED, AT ST. MARTIN’S HOUSE
PRINTED IN CANADA
T.H. BEST PRINTING CO., LIMITED
I do not seek to stir an old stern sorrow Nor probe old wounds of grieving and of pain; I only write that my old mates may borrow A glimpse along their old trails once again. [unnumbered page]
“And You!”, the favourite retort of the private soldier, is title to this collection of verse. Despite being on a man’s job, the soldier was pure boy. And like a boy he loved to jeer. The meeting of rival services on the roads was the signal for a flow of exceeding offensive, though always good-natured unpleasantries, anent each other’s ancestry, appearance, and past performances. The least fluent, had been a boy, might have retorted, “You’re another!” And the soldier, when he could find no fitting response, fell back upon “And you!” His vocabulary of revilings was full, but “And you!” was a last resort—a satisfaction and the sign of his devil-may-care heart.
Many of the verses in this volume have appeared at various times in The Evening Telegram, Toronto, and many others in Canadian War Stories. Occasionally verses have appeared in Willison’s Monthly, the Toronto Star Weekly, the Legionary, the Veteran, The Mail and Empire of Toronto, the London Free Press, the Goat and Carry On. The author appreciates permission to republish them.
The author also wishes to thank Fredrick B. Strangways for his valuable assistance. [unnumbered page]
Laddie O’ Mine
OH, Laddie, good-bye—ah, now, you’re gone, Gone with your jacket and gay bonnet on; They all grew the same, first ‘twas the school— Stay with your mither, ah, but it’s cruel— You’re ever so little, too little for school. They all had your eyes, they’d twinket with glee, Twinket with laughter when they were but three— Oh, laddie, my laddie, why can’t you stay wee? Oh, laddie o’ mine, then will you not stay? You must be a sojer, and must be away? Stay with your mither—the times we have had— You’re ever so little— you’re no but a lad! Oh, laddie, you’re gone—ah, then, you’re gone; Gone in your khaki with proud bonnet on. Oh, laddie, your eyes, ah, how they shone, Shone at your mither and twinket with glee, Twinket with laughter when you were but three— Oh, laddie, my laddie, you would not stay wee! [page 1]
BEYOND the clouds of conflict; beyond the crimson ways; Beyond the shock of battle; beyond the reddened days; Beyond the crash of combat; beyond the peaceful stars; Beyond all sounds of struggle await the Sons of Mars! Oh! Not for common souls do such strong men arise, But now the order rolls beyond those ‘sundered skies; “Men of war, make way! A fighting chieftain comes! Hark to the wailing pipers! Hark to the sobbing drums! Herken now, each rank!”—the thund’rous echoes run— “Men of war, make way!— Ho! Valhalla! Shun!” And here are prideful heroes who had no fear to die; And here are souls who suffered to hold their honour high; And here hearts of laughter with mirth to meet red rage; And here are kings and captains from every roaring age! Oh! Not for puny dead do such souls stand aside, But every rank gives head to swell his heart with pride: [page 2] “Men of war, make way! A master leader comes! Hark to the mourning pipers! Hark to the muffled drums! Hearken now, each rank!”—the sounding orders run— “Men of war, make way!— Ho! Valhalla! Shun!” And first to pay him homage as they who knew his worth; And they who by his order were hurtled from the earth; They tell their chieftan’s story, and loud approval runs And rolls, and throbs and echoes like thunder of his guns! Oh! Seldom fighter’s life has known such proud acclaim, As these, who died in strife, saluted as he came: “Men of war, make way! A mighty marshal comes! Hark to the wailing pipers! Hark to the sobbing drums! Hearken now, each rank!”—their warrior-greetings run— “Men of war, make way! Ho! Valhalla! Shun!” [page 3]
The Song of Death
A FEAR-BORN host attacks! A cold, scared rifle cracks! A startled star-shell soars! The trench eyes strain and peer As the shadows slip and smear On the haggard, forlorn floors! A toc-toc chatters high! His craft, across, reply; The peace of night’s swift gone, For the Devil’s Roaring Choir With a storm of frantic fire In the Song of Death sweeps on! A sheeting white-flame stuns, From shudd’ring sky-line runs The warn of awful joining of the guns! A clap of thunder jumps From a thousand back-line clumps In crimson, crashing chorus of the guns! The field guns snarl and bark, Their tonguing thrums the dark, Till the mighty jabber swells, As “How’s” dread dooms are thrown With a spanking baritone And the whamping echo dwells! Nine-inchers belch applause And droop with gasping jaws, And the pack is in full cry! [page 4] The gun-pits sweat and slave Till the frenzied drummers rave And the Song of Death rolls high! A Chord of Doom deep runs, Beneath those bedlamed ones, A grim sonorous timing for the guns; As the blasting navals pant Their steady, pulsing chant ‘Neath crimson, crashing chorus of the guns! The front-line dugouts shake! The puny timbers quake! The candle flames and falls! The crowded stairways rock To the rend and pound and shock, But the sentries hug the walls! For the martyrs wait without Where the goring geysers shout And the foolish trench-work goes; Where the hurtled horrors crash In a sudden, spouting splash And the Song of Death fierce flows! The mad crescendo runs On the woeful, waiting ones; The huddled world is writhing ‘neath the guns! The detonations blend Till the split sky-moorings bend In crimson, crashing chorus of the guns! [page 5]
BLAST it, Chet, come on, come on, I’ve a five-franc bill or two; We’ll buy some beer from little Yvette, We’ll try to forget, forget, forget, Come on, come on, and we’ll try it, Chet! … God, and poor Danny’s gone! Down in a dawn set-to! Him with the laugh and the guts of ten— Guts in a dawn stand-to! Little Yvette, she’ll miss some men Who crowded her place for a month or so, Scott and Walkie and Varney and Yank— Why IS it always the best that go? God, for one finger of rum! Don’t take it like this, old man; Come on, come on, and we’ll try it, Chet! We’ll try to forget, forget, forget, Your brother would like us to see Yvette, That’s waiting at Ouderdom! …Say, he went game, did Dan! He went for six at the hedge ahead, Heart of a fighter had Dan! When Dan was here it was him that led The gang to Yvette’s of an afternoon, Come on, sing, here’s little Yvette— Yvette, Yvette, we’re the whole platoon! [page 6]
A KNIGHT of the Air’s in the wraith-wisps, Riding the vapouring spires, He’s screaming alone through the cloud void, Scolding with snickering wires; He roars through abysses of blueness; Scorns down the empty, cold miles; His motors start howling in anger— “Black Cross” is in his blue aisles! He climbs for the roof of the darer; Scraping the gray floors of space; Relentlessly banking and turning; Whining with glee in the chase! He dives with a sun-glinting belly, Steep on the tail of his foe; His gibbering guns spurt a death-stream— “Black Cross” spins flaming below! Down, down, where the cobbles are snaking, Marked by the poplars that line, He’s smoking and flopping and twisting— Crashes! And crumples his spine! A cheer faintly floats toward the victor; Faces are blurred round the huts; A gambler collects on the dog-fight— “God! But that lad has his guts!” [page 7]
The First Gas
Before St. Julien, the Canadian soldier carried on the war with his enemy without bitterness, simply believing that a job must be done.
WE’RE back of a copse an’ we’ve dug a hole For six of the men from “D”, An’ there ain’t no band to play Whilst we’re layin’ them away —God an’ just us will see! The cowardly bastard! He done this job; They’re strangled an’ choked wi’ gas; An’ they had no chance to croak Like a fightin’ sojer broke —God’ll never let this pass! The Sergeant, he rifled their pockets clean; Their faces are bloated blue; An’ we cringe beside the grave But the padre, he’s more brave —God’ll see His Pilot through! We didn’t come hating an’ thought that War An’ battle was just fair fight; But we’ll stick him just like swine An’ we’ll break his bloody line —God’ll help us put this right! The parson, he’s chokin’: “Thy Will Be Done”. But this wasn’t done fair-play! Yes, he’s sobbin’: “Dust to Dust!” But they broke the Fighter’s trust —God! Give us strength to pay! [page 8]
Four years the cavalry waited before flowing through a gap into the open country beyond. But, during the dead-locked period, they were given many tasks and not the least was a valiant aid as emergency stretcher bearers when the flood of wounded was heavy.
CHEATED of the chance to ride Plunging and thund’ring through; Troopers dreaming the Trooper’s Dream: Ride! Ride into the blue! Sweeping into the distance, Straight for a cloud-hung spire, Surging into the smoke-wreath Rimmed by spirtles of fire! Waiting the warn of the trumpet, Woeful, they serve betimes— Sweating the broken sloggers down Out of the crimson climes!
* * * * *
The fight is done and the high ground taken; Chalk-white masks stare up to the moon; See! They’re dotting that God-forsaken Hillside, there, where they’ve lain from noon! ‘Tis night, and truce, and the ghoulish shadows Peer at the dead on the shambled plain: See! They’re prowling those riven meadows Seeking for life in the sprawling slain! “… Hurry, Danny, I felt him heaving; I heard the sob of a breath in him! God! Too late! ‘Twas life just leaving— I heard the soul soughing out from him! [page 9] Shift him Danny, another’s under— Hurry, hurry, the sky grows gray!” (But Trooper Danny is retching yonder— He took an arm and it tore away!) “Hearken, Danny, there’s something moaning; Look, look there where that coal-box hit! Was it the wail of the wind intoning? Or choking gasps from yon crater pit? Damn! It’s dark, and he’s in a puddle; His ribs are bashed and he’s bleeding bad; There’s his Loot in a lonesome huddle; Hustle him onto the stretcher, lad.” They fumble and bind in fitful darkness A writhing thing that whimpers and twists, And in a rocket’s revealing starkness They clinch a thong on the ragged wrists; And gently they strain and lurch and carry; The dressings already a darkening stain; He raves at them that they will not tarry And let him sink in his fog of pain! “Look out, Danny, a salvo’s coming— Shove him into this trench awhile! Wonder why all the line is strumming, Drumming it up in that wind-up style? Come on, Danny, to hell with cover— Easy, easy don’t jar him now! We’ll take him down and we’ll fetch another, He who screams on that redoubt’s brow. [page 10] “Whew! But that is a stiff strafe blowing; Wipe the blood from the stretcher, there; Snipe your gasper and let’s get going, Trouble is thick on the anxious air! Blast it! There go the clustered Vereys— Yellow and green—now hell with blow! Ah! But when will we ride for the Jerries, Flank to flank as we thought we’d go?”
* * * * *
Cheated of the chance to ride Gaily and blithely through! Troopers dreaming the Trooper’s Dream: Ride! Ride into the blue! Chafing and champing and eager; Taut for the reeling lists— Sink the spurs to the rowell-hub, Ride for the spurting mists! Hurl on the Uhlan Squadron— Lunge for the “Leutnant’s” roan— Feeling the stinging sabre Crunching through the bone! [page 11]
“Battal—yun! SHUN!” THE too taut back of the youthful Loot Eased on staccato command: “Battalion will move in column of route—“ Steady the companies stand! “Form—FOURS! RIGHT!” The Regiment turns as a cadent mass; Smartly the movements run; With click and a step and glint on brass And steel in the dropping sun. “Left—WHEEL! Qu—ICK—MARCH!” The pipes come in with a skirl and flair. The drums boom--boom on the word. The heads are high as they swing to dare Where threat of the night runs blurred.
* * * * *
In the quiet pall of the aftermath That follows on every storm, The remnants are taking the outward path And, thin, on the square reform. “Battal—yun! SHUN!” The silence waits! The lines of brown In weariness weave in their ranks; The Colonel’s eye runs sorrowing down And men fall-out on the flanks. [page 12] “Call the roll! Report Comp’nies!” The Adjutant’s white as the answers fail. The sergeants make bitter notation. The Captains’ voices in grim tell-tale Come hollow in swift rotation. “Dis—MISS!” The ranks fall-out and straggle and go To sleep in relief from strain— The Major mutters: “Thank God, they don’t know, At daylight—it’s ‘IN’ again!”
A BATTERY brawls miles to the northward; “Toc-toc!” a lone Lewis berates; Then silence ‘tween far-off horizons; Brooding, the afternoon waits; Till limbers dare day down the cobble; Curses are urging each moke; A scream and a crash—and they’re spotted! Thunder rolls out from the smoke! The skinners pull whip in a panic. “Blast it! The gun-pits are short! “It’s bloody-well through hell-for-leather! Through, or go down like a sport!” The splinters zing-zut on their metal; Frenzied, the crazed column runs! The drivers lean low the saddle! Reeling, they swing to the guns! [page 13]
IN a château as safe as a cellar in Galt And twice as bomb-proof as St. Louis, The Brass Hats arise for the war about nine, And pray that the day will stay peaceful and fine, And groan: “We must visit our section of line— “Our G.O.C.’s horrible to us!” Now be careful for God, King and Country, by gad, Ah, what are those thunderous snorts? —There’ll be an offensive “too-sweetly”, my lad, When Brass Hats are seen in supports! Then they call on an outfit that lies in reserve; They’re certain no outfit is tougher! “Kar-umph!” says a Noise with an Iron Pig’s bile! “Kar-ung!” says another in Woolly-bear style! “We’ll go!” says Brass Hat—and the Line for a mile Starts begging old Fritz to get rougher! Oh, they hustle for God, King and Country, by gad, They puff with a panicky grunt! They’ll report with a proud, gallant, flourish, my lad; “Sir! We have toured round the front!” [page 14]
WE found him in the morning, When the strafe grew still, Lying with his comrades Where we took the hill; They looked like lonely rag-dolls, Still, there in the sun; Flung down, then forgotten, When the game was done!
* * * * *
We buried him that night, with the silver loops of light, Threw brooding shadows ‘cross that brow of tears, While a Boche machine-gun’s tongue, as its menace coldly swung, Was jeering at his grave with cackling sneers. No word of prayer we said, we did it fast, in dread, Then swaying on its steel his rifle stood, To mark him on his hill, while we paid off his bill— Oh, we paid it off with interest, when we could! He was honest; he was clean; so we couldn’t do it mean; His fighting and his living he did square; He was so straight and fine, that we old sweats, in wine, In after days, have wished we’d played life fair; Have wished we’d gone, quick, clean—to go we’re not so keen— We know we wait our turn to fry The Grid; But we think of him and know that he never squealed to go— Oh, he made a pukkha soldier did the kid! [page 15]
YOUNG dreams had these of the tides of tang, Of storm and a wild wind racing; Of the lost, lone lanes Adventure sang, Of the thrill of a hazards’s facing; Sang of the lure of a world to round, Of trails to the world’s end swinging; Of the deeds of men that still resound And still set a young heart ringing! So swift they sprang, as the swept sky swings, To add to their decade’s story, That a lad may sail on his silver wings To the golden rolls of Glory! For here was their Viking dream come true, A risk for a blithe heart’s scorning, To lift alone to the endless blue And fade on the Wings of Morning; Pass in the path of the bannered sun, With God and the gray cloud witness, That dream of a young high heart is won; To die with a brave man’s fitness! From the fogs of doubt to a sun-bright strand On the Sparkling Shores of Splendour; Where Christ is taking the Sky-man’s hand, For the Brave Man’s God is tender! [page 16]
THREE rollicking, reeling roisterers Came rolling up the Strand, The threat of the Gun’s behind them, On leave on the King’s Command! Three rollicking, reeling roisters, Released from War’s alarms, Shall drain the dregs of London Town In the comradeship of arms! “We’re three buccaneers, three gay cavaliers, Swashbucklers come straight from the Line! We’re heedless, we’re breezy, we’re careless, we’re easy, We strut and we swagger and shine! Ho! Landlord, we thirst! Fill high! ‘Tis the first! Drink hearty! To-morrow—who knows?” (A harlot’s hard smiling, the buckoes beguiling) “—No, dearie, don’t tell us your woes!” “There’s kilts with a swing and there’s spurs with a ring— The artillery supports on the right! We’re swanky, we’re loud, we’re cocky, we’re proud, And we boast of three regiments’ might! Oh! We meant to stay sober and view London over, The Tower, Tussaud’s and the Zoo, But a life can be brief and the flood of the relief Has us toasting each service in brew! We’re drunk and we leer and we crime-sheetwards steer, We’re certain to see Bow Street clink, But ages of strain and of fear and of pain Take high payment in living and drink! [page 17] Ho! Living is laughter! Forget the Hereafter! Don’t hamper, don’t hinder our play, There’s half of it gone and we’re soon passing on— Don’t blame, don’t condemn if we’re gay! We’re the Colonel’s disgrace and we’re hitting the pace; Drink merry while time there’s to spare! One year we’ve had strife—Ho! Ho! We have life! Fill high and we’ll banish dull care! We’re soon below sod but the sojerman’s God Understandingly judges of wrong— He knows that war breeds both great and week deeds And impulse that’s reckless and strong! Ho! Landlord, we sorrow, fill high, for to-morrow High Life and the furlough’s no more; To-morrow we travel, our Fate we’ll unravel, Fill high, for we’re sorrowing sore. Ho! Ho! Join our song for we’ll soon pass along To be gulped in the Fight of Fights, And a spectre of dread is astir in each head —Drink merry to-night of all nights! The morning breaks gray and we’ve little to say And remorse is beginning to sear; A gripping chill starts into three leaden hearts And it’s hopeless and secret and sheer; But we whistle quick-time to Bow Bells on the chime And we laugh and we chaff as we dowse, Though, we’re lonesome, not gay, need comfort, not play; Dream of Mother, not wanton carouse. [page 18] Trench mud’s on the packs that we curse to our backs, Our train for Southampton’s at two— Who’ll know how we feel when we merrily reel Down the platform at old Waterloo?
* * * * *
The Channel lies grim and our mirth has gone dim For black are the shadows ahead; Yet we grin and pretend that we’re still on the bend Though pacing dark decks with our dread! We roar one more tune at the damned leering moon, That jeers, for he knows what’s before, And the whimpering breeze, fresh in from clean seas, Meets laughter from three bound for war! Ho! Ho! For a year, for it’s inwards we steer! Ho! Soldier! To-morrow—we know! We know, but who cares? We’ll handle Fate’s shares! Sing merry! We’ve lived! Cheer—i—o! Three rollicking, reeling roisterers Went rolling down the Strand! Lived on the red for a fortnight Then back on the King’s Command! Three rollicking, reeling roisterers With gallant fighting hearts, Went back to death, defying dread, The dread of the Fighting Parts! [page 19] There’s Laughter in the Graves of The Old Contemptibles GALLANT men and gutful men, whose drums dared battle; Gentlemen, rapscallions, all swinging to the beat; Scorned men, contempted men—the bold-locks rattle, Holding well the battle till the dreaded word: Retreat! Back they went and blasting it, the gray hordes swarming; Crashing on the stubborn wake that guards the ordered flight! Scorned men, contempted men, the gray waves storming, Whelming down the sacrifice, and bitter wells the fight! Back and back and cursing it, the night-rims burning; Fighting now and fleeing now and crimson rise the days; Scorned men, contempted men, the slow miles turning, Slogging it so wearily all down the woeful ways. Foot by foot and hating it, the red wrath flowing, Roaring from the stricken skies across the pleading land; Scorned men, contempted men, the lone mounds growing, Dying there and wondering—until the Stand Command! [page 20] Gallant men and gutful men, those lone mounds after; Gentlemen, rapscallions, who would not ask for more; Scornful and contemptuous now—those grim graves’ laughter— Mocking on the clamoured cries of those that “Won the War”!
Where the Best Men Ride
THE wind of the Fall has a rollicking rune And a wintry threat and a strident croon, And the mad trees writhe to the trumpeting tune; But these are the things that my small son hears And sees in the night where his bright eye peers— Oh, he doesn’t know that to dream is vain With a small nose pressed to the window pane! There’s a clanking of sabre to the charger’s prance And tossing of plumes as the blown leaves dance Where the troopers swoop on a warrior’s chance, And he’s in the van where the best men ride And his lance is bright and he bursts with pride, A Knight faring forth on a brave man’s game— Oh, he doesn’t know that world is tame! He’s a man amongst men, where the brave have lined, And he’s out in the night with his face to the wind, And he cows down the craven self that whined! And he makes a vow and a brave young plan That he’ll be a man when he is a man— Oh, it may be that to dream’s not vain With a small nose pressed to the window pane! [page 21]
1—WAITING FOR ZERO
LOOK at ‘em! Whole damn trench with the shakes! Waiting, waiting, Wondering, wondering— Look at Harry—silly smile he’s got. Good lad, Harry. Look—Mutimer—looking brave— Feels like hell, really; There’s Cap Girvin, Synchronising watches; Soon, soon, the sky-line’s lighter! Burr-r—I’m cold! (Five Minutes) Harry’s writing—silly ass! Somebody else’ll mail it maybe. First time for Harry—got a kid, too! Damn it, don’t think, don’t think, All be a dream to-morrow, Crazy dream Or nothing! CHRIST! I’m scared—so’s Harry— Keeps wiping his mouth! Dread drips, drips, drips on my soul! Soul? Don’t think I’ve got one— Rotten one anyway! Wonder will I snuff it like a man Or a dog? Dog I guess—knees all watery! [page 22] Ha, ha, got a medal last time— For bravery! Ha, ha, Brave—hell! (One Minute) God I’m dry— The Loot’s swanking Else what’s his voice for shaking for? (Thirty Seconds) God I’m dry! No drink now dammit! Luck, Harry boy! Christ I’m dry! Where’s that foot-hold? Where’s that—LOOK OUT? Where’s that DAMM—Oh, God!—Now! NOW!
2—HOLDING THE NEW GROUND
Cringing, cursing, aching hours; Waiting, waiting; Screaming, gasping, hideous hours, Pound! Pound! Pound! The mad world shakes and shivers Shock on shock! My left-flank bay’s a gruesome hole, A tin hat, battered, tumbled back, Clotted hair clinging! Harry holds the right alone Praying, praying! [page 23] CRUNCH! —damn silly knees Won’t stop! Think, damn you, damn you! Think, hard, hard! Hug the wall— What’s that? Who’s blubbering? Jim? Big Jim? Shell-shocked—laughing—crying— Krunch! KR-ANG! Stop him! STOP HIM! Stop his gibbering! Get him out! Get him out! Think, you fool, think! Think of anything! Pacifists, that’s it, Think of pacifists! Ha, ha! Good thing to think of, Pacifists! Won’t fight—wrong—wrong— Do anything—steal—murder— Won’t fight! Turn cheeks— Get slapped, too! Ha, ha! KAR-ANG! Ha, ha! Where’d these bastards go then? Silly blithering fools! Silly knees stopped—mad now! [page 24] Somebody must fight—way things are— Stop business— Stop wars then—mebbe— Silly fools! KAR-UMPH! Krang! Damn silly knees— Think, think, hard, hard! Oh, God—how long! Don’t care! What’s use caring? —Down, down into oblivion! Raving, raving into oblivion! Roaring, crashing, screaming oblivion! CHRIST! I’m scared! KRUNCH! KARANG! Gibbering all over! Can’t stop! Get relieved to-night Or be in Germany Or Hell! KRANG! LOOK OUT!—it’s in—it’s in! It’s RIGHT IN! CHRIST—It’s Harry— GOD DAMN THEM!—Harry—Harry— [page 25] Look! His shoe—red, messy stuff—inside—
* * * * *
Chubby little fellow, Harry’s kid— That day we came away He said: “Don’t let them hurt my daddy!” KAR-UNCH! KAR-ANG! Ha, ha,—silly damn knees Won’t stop—
The Carrier Pigeon
STREAKING the red tongued gloaming Dauntless thy beating wings! Straight for thy haven homing— Loosed in a roaring chaos! Crossing a flame-lanced sky! (THE FLANK CUT OFF! SURROUNDED!) —God guard thee passing by! Taking the tale of disaster; Begging the batteries’spite; Bringing inferno for answer— Bitter the roused guns smite! Leaping into the azure! Messenger into the blue! (WIRES ARE DOWN IN THE ACTION!) —God grant thee passage through! [page 26] “Damn-Damn!” Says the Infantree WHEN the rations ain’t at the rendezvous ‘Cause the quarter-bloke can’t make it through— Damn-damn! Says the Infantree! When the water-tin’s all kerosene And there ain’t no rum, tho’ the weather’s mean, And Leave is stopped by the submarine— O! Damn-damn! Says the Infantree!
And the buck he damns his sergeant And the sergeant damns his Loot, And the Loot he damns his Colonel And his Adjutant to boot! Battalion damns the Brigadier, Division damns some more, Till the whole damn-damning family’s Damn-damning clean to Corps! When the eighteen-pounders fire too short And them batt’ry guys just call it sport— Damn-damn! Says the Infantree! When the right-flank outfit up and runs And won’t hold on ‘cause they’re lousy sons And you can’t get through to the damn-damn guns— O! Damn-damn! Says the Infantree!
And the buck he damns his sergeant And the sergeant damns his Loot, And the Loot he damns his Colonel And his Adjutant to boot! [page 27] Battalion damns the Brigadier, Division damns some more, Till the whole damn-damning family’s Damn-damning clean to Corps! When relief is late and it’s near dawn-black So they spot you right as you’re hobbling back— Damn-damn! Says the Infantree! When you dream of flow’rs round your billet door But the guides get lost and your feet get sore And it stinks like a damn-damn abattoir— O! Damn-damn! Says the infantree!
And the buck he damns his sergeant And the sergeant damns his Loot, And the Loot he damns his Colonel And his Adjutant to boot! Battalion damns the Brigadier, Division damns some more, Till the whole damn-damning family’s Damn-damning clean to Corps! When orders come that you must shine brass And square-push round like a draftee class— Damn-damn! Says the Infantree! When rumour says that the Hun’s done brown; But it’s proven “bull” when the word comes down That the Virgin’s hanging in Albert Town— O! Damn-damn! Says the Infantree! [page 28]
And the buck he damns his sergeant And the sergeant damns his Loot, And the Loot he damns his Colonel And his Adjutant to boot! Battalion damns the Brigadier, Division damns some more, Till the whole damn-damning family’s Damn-damning clean to Corps!
A SHADOW slunk to a carrion meal— A sentry jumped to a corpse-rat’s squeal. The wind was stirring thro’ to the old line’s stench And a sergeant dreamed of his last-weave wench. The night fell still where the ogres rose; A far gun spoke through a sentry’s doze; A snore came up from the fire-step plank Where a sergeant dreamed of a crown and rank. A rifle cracked in the cold dawn dark— The front was alive on the rocket’s arc— A sergeant bellowed to his bomb-post crew And from bay to bay, chilled the cry: “Stand to!” [page 29]
THE CHAPLAIN’S MAN
A NOTION came to us one day, ‘Twas in a Warloy ‘staminay, While we two mourned above our beer For all the mates who’d vanished clear, (That Somme, it was one blasted part, It well nigh broke our ruddy heart) Says Spinks to me: “The bloody lout! “He’ll soon be snuffin ‘of us out! “He’s downed the gutfullest and best— “Why, even Jim went sudden ‘west’!” And there we sat for round on round And thought of him, cold in the ground, And knew we’d soon feed rats as well— A comp’ny-buck’s plain S.O.L. Says I to Spinks: “That’s bloody true, “There’s only us what’s not napoo! “This war is growin’ too excitin’, “It’s jake with me to cut the fightin’; “Me bloomin’ guts is gone, I tell ye “These days I’m quakin’ in me belly!” Says Spinks just then: “Here, half a mo’; “Your guts was never much, you know.” Now Spinks, he was a friend of mine And so I didn’t start no shine; I only cursed and give a grin And said I’d bust his dial in. So to the Ord’ly Room we went And called on Colonel “Charlie” Bent, [page 30] To get ourselves some cushy times And buckshee francs in peaceful climes. We thought we’d choose the Salvage Corps Or help some “Y-guy” tend a store. The sergeant said: “Sir, these two guys “Are windy to the bleeding eyes!” At that the old man gives a laugh And then he told us off, not half; He said we was a damned disgrace And called us cowards to our face. But yet he smiled and seemed less stern And said: “You’ve done a goodly turn.” As we slunk out to blind him blue, To grouse about and say “And you!” O’course it some surprised us twain When ordered to H.Q. again, And there a shined-up swanky slob Said we two blokes had got a job. Go’-Blimey! But I gives a yell When told to go to La Boysell To find a padre, name of Scott— His other batman, he got shot. (‘Twas self-inflicted, you surmise, As batman ain’t where hot lead flies.) I stopped at Albert on the ways, I guess I stayed about three days, At least until a “Sixteenth” friend, Had blowed what Francs he had to spend— (To leave that bloke it were a shame, He run a Crown and Anchor game). [page 31] I found my padre’s deep dugout Where old front-lines was all about; He gave me of his kit to clean And never asked where I had been, But hoped a right good time was had, To prove he was one pukkha lad. I felt as striker I’d do fine But wondered why so near the line? And likewise, why his trews, all mud, Had funny spots what looked like blood. I wasn’t long in finding out. Next day the guns went on the shout, And my safe-feelin’ got a crimp And crumpled like a punctured blimp When “Hush-hush” blokes, all mystery, Just stopped to gab and pity me; They shook their heads and said: “Poor lad, “You must have wisht to pop off bad.” And sure enough I’d heard aright, He said: “Let’s watch the Red Patch fight.” And off went we; he whistled gay, As slow we wended Centre Way, With him in front of me behind To where Death Valley big stuff whined. I couldn’t see how he’d save souls By pokin’ round where battle rolls; But what I didn’t learn about it I think as I can do without it A bandage here, some choc’late there, A cheery word, a little prayer, And now and then a tot of rum To soothe poor blokes to Kingdom Come, [page 32] And honest tears I almost shed To see them bless his old gray head. But I was sick and I was tired, By night my dogs was fairly mired; I’d never clumped it half so far Nor seen such after-mess of war, Nor ever been in parts more hot Than at the heels of Canon Scott. But I’d been watchin’ all the day And knew whereat my own lot lay; I said I’d go and say: “Bon jour!” He never knew what he said: “Sure”, That I preferred to chance what luck Might come to just a comp’ny-buck That was fed-up with being scout An’ huntin’ lads to help pass-out! Old Spinks, he almost croaks right off, Says he, “I thought you was a toff “What stays ten kilomeets behind “And keeps yer One Star Wonder shined?” —Just then he cussed and glared around— A chorus came from ‘neath the ground: “Nah, don’t forgit to feed ‘im, love, “An’ chynge ‘im, too, the ‘ittle dove.” Away Spinks rushed like on a raid— Them blighters dubbed him Nursymaid. And then I saw what caused the rage. His funk-hole held a homer cage, And Spinks, he was their Pigeoneer— ‘Twould spoil a blighter’s taste for beer. [page 33] Ow! He was wild; he damned them squabs And said: “To hell with bomb-proof jobs!” And me, I thought of Canon Scott And of that batman as got shot. Says I to Spinks: “You’re bloody right, “Us bleedin’ blokes was meant to fight!”
* * *
We found a werry pleasant way To join our company to stay— I spied a certain lance-jack tyke Whose manner I did much dislike, And his platoon, they gleeful grinned, To see me kick him in the wind! And Spinks, he did some F. P. too— Them squabs, they made a tasty stew! [page 34]
THE star shells, like the souls of men, Are gleaming through the gloom, A lovely radiance shudd’ring up Above a foul, grim tomb, To hang in brooding brightness till The fall brings black of doom.
The Watcher for the Judgment Day
In million drops of white;
A sparkling splendor in the sky,
A brilliant loop of light—
And murder’s in yon rifle spurt
The stabs the aching night!
The slinking shadows stretch and race
A-down the writhing floors,
As up the jet walls of the night
The silver seeker soars,
And hovers, while the far guns roll
Like threat from Heaven’s shores!
The peering sentries strain with eyes
That rim the sandbag tops;
The toiler stays his hand and stills
And quakes and all life stops,
Till back the shadows shrink and merge—
And blacker blackness drops! [page 35]
A Carrying Party
IT’s damn the wet Frog-weather; it’s damn the cold-foot guide; It’s damn the “Sub” in charge and damn the war; It’s stumble, fall, and blunder, and wish you were down under; And damn the mate who wonders: “How far more?” You’d ditch your load and beat it, but don’t know where to go; The guide is groping, lost, and wand’ring round; There’s rebellion in your heart but the “Sub” he knows his part; He neither answers back nor hears a sound. The U Frame cuts your shoulder or the bath-mat breaks your back; You whimper out with rage when you go down; You’re weary past conceiving and tired beyond believing; And the holes are almost deep enough to drown. The battered trench is cluttered; you hear a dead man—sq-ush! Your profanity turns near akin to prayer; But your every muscle aches and control it nearly breaks And you’d bless the Fritz that laid you peaceful there! The mud is to your arm-pits; the slime seeps to your heart; You’re sobbing, mumbling out as down you go! “Go slow ahead, you blighters!”—and they call us Noble Fighters— But like a fool you’re up and on you go! [page 36] The line is disconnected; you curse them when you’re joined; The fitful black is loud with crimson spurt; But at last you dump your load—and all back the homeward road Your secret mind is storing one more hurt.
THE bugle! A rush for the cook-cart for tea; And grousers get going anon— The issue of jam’s Plum an’ Apple again And eight-to-a-loaf ain’t no bloody well bon! —Eight! Eight! Ain’t bloody-well bon! There’s “Tiddle-um-buck” in the boozers and huts While volunteers watch for M.P.’s; “Oo says the Spyde?” drones the spieler, and adds: “A canteen o’ beer if I turns it up Threes!” Beer! Beer! A canteen for Threes! A barn has a mouth-organ minstrel at work And trilling “Gray Home in the West”; And a lad has his brimming eyes hidden alone, With tug of heart-strings in his homesick breast. —Home! Home! His Home in the West! Then “Lights Out” in silver note lingers and hangs And quavers and fades in sweet flight; And laughter and tales leave the braziers now For the weary are sleeping in peace for to-night! —Sleep! Sleep! And peace for a night! [page 37]
New Year’s Eve
NIGHT, red night, world wide throbbing! Dark, fear-filled, the batteries lobbing The chant of the guns for the Old Year sobbing! —Red-flecked etchings of Terror and Might On ebon canvas down the walls of night. Shell-pocked road, red tongues flashing! Roar, deep toned, the monsters thrashing; The rush and the scream of swift doom crashing! The numb and thrill of the danger spell In charnel chaos of a Page of Hell! “In-between”, star shells dipping! Weird wind’s moan, the horrors dripping; The gloom, death-laden, and the shadows slipping! —Spirits, dread-wrought, that gibber and pass Like childhood ogres in the blood-wet grass! Shattered walls! Towns down tumbling! Towers aquake! The dead streets rumbling! Whisper of ghosts and a troubled mumbling! —A stricken city of pity and awe, A victim city in War’s glutton maw! Then valley mists! Gorged guns slowing! Grim in the shadow! The dim hills showing! Dawn on the rims like the bright blood flowing! —A cleansing sun coming up to scorn The tortured beauty of a year’s First Morn! [page 38]
A Letter to a Friend
“Where shell-hole scum had an evil green, By grim rib-cages, rat-picked clean; Where winds go moaning by; Where feet stuck out of that parapet, too, And nudged at you as you stumbled through And nobody tarried nigh; “Well, a Heinie’s hand stuck out a ways And I shook it, just for ‘lucky days’, And lucky thing I did! It stiffened like a traffic cop’s And so, of course, McDuffy stops And sits on his tin lid. “For long I squatted there below Whilst waiting for the signal: Go! And night and day went slow; But the devils left for hotter climes When It rose and fell just thirteen times Then jerked its thumb to: Go! “Oh, I was weak and I fell and fell— A back barrage had been raising hell— But san-ferry-ann—it’s BLIGHTEE! And I see signs of a pint o’Bass And visions of greeting your last-leave lass— Compree? Toodle-oo! McDuffy.” [page 39]
The Immortal Salient
STRAIGHT, sentinel trees to guard the path, Beyond the Gate* to the rims of wrath; Shell-pocked cobble to trouble the road For aching backs hunch-hunching the load; By the Cloth Hall’s jutting, fanging pile, By Shrapnel Corner in single file, A relief Battalion with kilts a-swing And a “V” of Taubes in the sky a-wing! Reserves, in the ditches of Vlamertinghe, In tense, wary waiting, suffer and cringe; Artillery limbers crowd by on the run— The rations go through to the half-fed gun! The hint of gas on the fields low lies, Menace of night floods the hushed, cast skies; Aid-post men with their kits unslung And five damned Boche with their arms upflung!
On Zillebeke Ridge, five-nines fall, screaming, The horizon’s red with the eighteens teeming;
* Menin Gate. [page 40]
From Hooge, on the left, rips rapid fire, —A red star leaps—and the guns drum ire! On the right, the St. Eloi mine goes, roaring, With a spouting belch and defences soaring; The pits in support open up, as one— A smother of bombs and the crater’s won! Railway-cut rum-jars blob down, crumping; Café Belge seven-fives come pumping; The Little Gates road spits spiteful sparks Where slowing strays find their heedless marks. On Swan Chateau, the heavies go, cranging; On Bedford House there is shrapnel twanging; From Transport Farm teams leave with a jump— The whizz-bangs break up the ration dump!
The world is aseethe with baleful death, A life goes out on each bated breath; The Loop’s aflame with the Evening Hate Till Wrath is fed and gorged guns wait. In cold, scared chill, weaving wearily on, Go shadowed ghosts in grim race with dawn— A regiment relieved, for billets bound— The sun’s on The Hill and the world’s aground!
* Hill Sixty. [page 41]
The “Hopeless” Ward
SIX clean white cots in an even line, In Army style arrayed, Are filled with men from Sector Nine, And tenderly they’re laid! ‘Neath the cold gray wall of the farthest hall, The dying men now lie, For they softly bring to this lonesome wing The case that is sure to die!
* * *
There’s a youngster there with bright red hair, Who once was so blithe and gay, But he’s now just a tortured, writhing mass With his face half shot away; And next to him, ‘neath that blanket’s rim, Is a sergeant of fifty or so; His arms are horrid and jagged and grim— And he’s glad—he’s glad to go! That bandaged head is “Cognac” Brown— He’ll get a V.C. they say; But his thoughts are far from War’s renown, They’re wandring homeward, away; To a tiny house in a valley green, To the faces that smiled “Good-bye”— He thinks of the father he might have been— He’s afraid—afraid to die. That corporal chap, who saved his men, Was ever so reckless-bold, And the light of sacrifice lights the eyes Set in that graying mould! [page 42] And babbling, shrill, of Leave, of drill, Now spinning a brazier yarn, Is the youthful twin, with a frozen grin, Of him who went down on the Marne! And against yon wall, delirious, blind, Lies and Anzac, minus a hand. List! While he tells that he always knew He’d end in some damn-fool land— “But I’ve seen all the sights worth seeing, yes, At every game had a try, “And now, without legs to go roaming—well, What else can I do—but die?”
* * *
Six red-stained cots—grim disarray— With Army despatch are changed; And for the flood from out of the fray Are waiting, ready arranged! ‘Neath the cold, gray wall of the farthest hall The dying men shall lie, For they’ll softly bring to this lonesome wing The case that is sure to die! [page 43]
The Ration Thief
WE was in supports at Wipers; in Dickybush Huts we lay; On working parties evening and just loafing in the day; We was in supports at Wipers and a bloke, he proved his kind— He’d complained of ache and paining, so him we’d left behind! “Toss ‘im hup in ‘is blankit! Tyke hit aw’y as ‘e falls! “Give ‘im the Harmy thankit— The boots as the blighter crawls! “Wot did ‘e do?—S’elp me! Whilst we was diggin’ abroad, “ ‘E pilfered of the rations They hishood ‘is own squad!” We was digging up at St. Eloi, stuffing Belgium into bags, And the ground was stinking orful and was full of stiffs and snags; We was digging up at St. Eloi and the night was thick as sin, And the chances they was proper fine to get ourselves done-in! “There’s not ‘is like in the houtfit! ‘Ark! ‘Ow the blighter squeals! “Pommel the bleedin’ lifter An’ see that the bounder feels! “Wot did ‘e do?—S’elp me! Whilst we dug beneath the moon, “ ‘E copped the plum-an’-happle An’ bully o’ ‘is platoon!” [page 44] It was nervous up at St. Eloi and the gun-pits was awake, And the most of us was windy-like, not knowing what might break; It was anxious up at St. Eloi—a mine was in dispute And we was frantic building of some parapets of jute! “Give it ‘im ‘ard an’ ‘eavy! Flay ‘im afar an’ near! “Hall abaht the paryde grahnd, Tent-pegs jabbin’ ‘is rear! “Wot did ‘e do?—S’elp me! Whilst we was fillin’ of bags, “ ‘E sold of our Machonshie An’ peddled our extry fags!” We was in supports at Wipers and we thought he was our mate, But he stole our blooming du-pan and righteous waxed out hate; We was in supports at Wipers, coming homeward through the dawn And our bellies they was holler but our rations they was gone! “Join in our little teachin’! ‘Ark! ‘Ow the blighter bleets! “Is harms too bloody reachin’, ‘Is guts contains our heats! “Wot did ‘e do?—S’elp me! “ ‘E pilfered o’ the rations They hishood ‘is own squad! [page 45]
S-S-SH! S-S-SH! A ghost in the gloom! A prowler?—a shadowy motion? No, it’s as dead as grandfather’s grave— Guess it was only a notion. Ugh! What a spot to die and lie and rot, Alone in this horror-lair, Where gibbering, quivering, clammy things, Eerily whisper and stare; Where carrion rats with grizzly rustle Shatter the shivering hush, And squeal and scurry in gruesome hurry, And guilty, scampering rush; Where machine-guns rattle, offering battle, Seething, strumming along, And sweep and spatter and stuttering chatter Their swift staccating song: Where star-shells spill in trillion sparkles And gleam on the Gutter of War, On the pitiful, huddling “missing” there, Who’ll follow the drums no more! And here I squat and listen and wait In the chill of the baleful dawn— Ah! What is that dim, skulking pile? Is it moving and coming on? —There’s an SOS where the rockets mount, Yellow and green and white— How swift its soar has the guns a'roar And screaming into the night; [page 46] In the livid sky is a pulsing glare, A billow of trembling light— The lads are getting it stiff near Hooge— But, oh, what a wondrous sight! Shrill, fusillading forward lines Leap frantically more and more; Panic floods wide in a frenzy-tide Till dawn is red furour! Near rifles come in and the trench-lights leap; The roused line bickers away; The front’s a-jump in the flickering dark And will only be soothed by day! Hark! Something wriggles and wiggles there! Is it spirit or is it man? There’s something tinkles and slithers there! Only a rat in refuse can? No! It’s looming large—a gray coat! There in the shadows dim! Tensed, I belly closer, and tighter I press to my crater rim. A blacker blot, elusive, grim, A blob in the greasy grass; Wish he’d hurry—lost my nerve— I’ll funk it, and let him pass! WHAT! He knows this hide? Ho! Ho! The Hun I chased last trip! So, as it’s you I’ll bide right here— We’ll fight on the crater lip! Bah! A star-shell fizzles—blast That blighter’s nerves in the trench! Come on! Come on! Why it’s nearly dawn; There’s morning’s wind-borne stench! [page 47] Not even a glance and he’s set to spring? The careless, the thoughtless fool! I’ll use my hands; it’s the safest thing; A sure and a noiseless tool! JUMP! FOOL! Ah—I’ve got you snared Down deep in my shell-hole lair; I have you downed without a sound And guzzled and captured fair! I throttle you tight and stop your wheeze And the slap of your threshing feet; And deep in your belly I press my knees— I’ve trussed my square-head neat! So with his struggles and heaves all done I get his knuckle-duster; I tie his hands and I crack him one— He’s off his outfit’s muster! Quiet! Quiet! That Lewis gun’s Exploring this No Man’s Hole; ‘Spose we made some hullaballoo— To hell with this lone patrol! I’ll leave him here and I’ll rush it in; I’ll get him to-morrow night; —MY GOD!—Too late!—The sandbag rims— I’m caught like a rat! It’s light! Caught in-between with Old Sol up— I’m glad that crump dug deep; Why this is Sniper’s Paradise, A louse couldn’t do a creep. I suppose the gang will think I’m done And’ll call my fags their own; Get over and give me my room, old son, It’s us for the Neutral Zone! [page 48]
* * *
Hello! The sun’s behind yon boyou! Still there old Weinerwurst? You’re scowling so I hardly know you— Where does it hurt the worst? The twilight’s peaceful; flies a-buzzing Are like the bombers droning home; A “coal-box” overhead’s a-rumbling, Thudding far, on too-high dome! No sound, now, waiting quiet’s breaking, It’s like twilight on the farm— (How still they’ll sit while son is speaking Of nights of stealth and daring charm.) Ah! The first star-shell goes a-soaring, Spits and fades and all is gray; On the left the nightly Hate’s beginning, The brawling batteries blaze away; When yonder stump’s no longer looming My Fritz and I will crawl, I’ll be the rover homeward coming With proof for stories tall. I’m glad, somehow, I’ve done no killing, This Hun’s a fighting sport, He’s game, this lad, and quite unwilling To be the Kamerady sort. Still, you! I’ll rub those ankles—the night Has blotted yonder stump! Steady!—I s’pose you think we kill you? Well, look before you jump! —CHRIST! LET GO!—he’s loose—he’s stalling— —At my throat with hands of steel! God! He’s strong!—the world is falling— The sky—the stars—they slip—a wheel! [page 49] WAIT! There’s our Lewis stabbing over— UP! Get up you! TAKE IT THEN!— (How still they’ll listen to their rover) —Add TWO to the Missing Men!
Behind the Hindering Wire
ALL down the hind’ring, fierce-meshed wire Pass tales by signaller’s key; “What’s doing in ‘Beer’ Comp’ny’s Sector?” —“He’s throwing a lot of H.E.” The rockets loop, like a shrine-light They gleam on the welter of blood; And eyes watch the lane that’s forbidden Where slinking things rise from the mud; Till the dawn comes shuddering over And shadows their startled take fright, The sentries are shivering, sodden, And numb from the vigil of night! “Stand To!” while sights are still useless ‘Long rims of the crazy piled bags; Where martyrs set softly to stamping And stretching and cursing wet fags; At last!—down the trench comes the chatter That paces the rum, bay to bay, And it’s soothing the bitter heart-cockles, And warming and cheering—‘tis Day! [page 50]
Feud of the Blue!
SPIN her, lads, till she sings her croon! Roll her out in the dawn-blurred moon! Tune her, lads, for we hop off soon! Tune her! Tune her! Tune her! Jealous, the sky-moored stars shall scowl As space we hurtle with a warning growl To riddle yon red-bellied foeman-cowl! Tune her! Tune her! Tune her! Thin wraith miles shall her motors scold As the flimsy floors of the void unfold To our rendezvous in the stabbing cold! Tune her! Tune her! Tune her! Roaring, the cloud-wisp tops our run; We wing straight East for the rising sun. Till steel death streams from our stuttering gun! Tune her! Tune her! Tune her! Shriek shall the wind in whinnying wires Till he flops to death, as the “Feet” admires —Yon black-crossed Knight of the gray-piled spires! Tune her! Tune her! Tune her! Out of the blue we’ll ‘dromeward drone When chattering death cuts our monotone And he split-air screams in his flaming throne! Tune her! Tune her! Tune her! Contact! Now! Stand clear of her bow! We take the roof at twenty-one thou’ To dive on his tail—‘tis our sky-man vow! CHOCKS OUT! CONTACT! NOW! [page 51]
….. I think I hear them singing, Singing altogether, A song on every breath! ‘Tis the spring-time, the gay time— On! Can’t you see them swinging? Swinging on to Glory? Swinging up to Death?
* * *
Oh! Hark to the brave old echoes that thrill when the dawn is still, And a phantom, ghostly company comes singing over the hill; ‘Tis the sloggers out with the morning, a-swing on the roads again; They’re singing along the cobbles and cheering the plains of pain! Oh! Hark to the drums a-throbbing, afar on the whimp’ring wind, As a muddy, weary column comes roaring along behind; ‘Tis the sloggers out with the morning, when the graves are wet with dew, Like tears of the fighters thrilling as The Regiment goes through! Oh! Hark to the careless chorus that forever shall lilt and run Down a laughing, chaffing column, unawed by the blooded gun; For comrades shall come with the morning, and the old, old songs they’ll sing Till the gaunt, lost legions rally the cross-lined roads shall ring! [page 52]
THERE’S a lad in the Gutter of Battle; Spot of cold dread in his heart; It’s spreading like ice as he crouches, Waiting the night-raiders’ start, Th sh-ush of a rocket goes streaking; Silence is dripping, chill, taut; The spurt of a “typewriter” chatters— Stillness that waits—are we caught? He clutches a knife and shillaly; Slime’s up his sleeve; on his face; He shivers, and fear that he’ll flunk it Numbs the dread-grip on his mace. —A dug out is blood-splotched and moaning; Death’s hovers, there, by the rack; A sob’s in the throat of the bearers; Dripping, the stretchers go back! The M.O. toils on ‘neath the candles; “Gee!” pants a boy’s crumpled chest: “We copped two of them funny Boche buggers— “Doc?—say Doc?—is it West?” [page 53]
The Flying Column
When trouble was frequent and men were few, a number of battalions were shuffled back and forth to the point where the trouble broke or threatened, and were known as the Flying Column.
IT’S on the move again, my lads, For so the orders read; It’s on the move again, my lads, For orders we must heed; There’s the rattle and the bustle, The Battalion’s moving out! There’s the clatter and the hustle And a “non-com’s” bellowing shout! Oh! Hit the hard old cobble, lads, For we’re the Flying Column! And fall-in on the double, lads, The Colonel’s looking solemn! It’s fall-in, fall-in, fall-in, lads, And leave your sick behind; It’s fall-in, fall-in, fall-in, lads, There’s trouble on the wind! It’s fall-in on the double, lads, There’s trouble in Sector AAC! With a cheery ring in the song we sing We’ll swing on the trouble track! It’s on the move again, my lads, All night beneath the moon; It’s on the move again, my lads, Swing in to the stirring tune! The action roll roars nearer; Horizons shuddering dance! [page 54] The drums of war well clearer, Hearts leap in the resonance! Oh! Up the line again, my lads, For we are the Brass Hats’ pawn! It’s fall-in, fall-in, fall-in, lads, And leave your sick behind; It’s fall-in, fall-in, fall-in, lads, There’s trouble on the wind! It’s fall-in on the double, lads, There’s trouble in Sector PIP, With a breezy song on the road along We’ll swing on the trouble trip! It’s on the move again, my lads, My section musters—one! It’s on the move again, my lads, The fight is won and done! There’s the murmur and the shuffle— The Battalion billets here! There’s the stirring and the scuffle— When the rum brings in good cheer! Oh! Bivouac again, my lads, One hundred Huns we seized! And back for rest again, my lads, The Colonel’s looking pleased! Till—fall-in, fall-in, fall-in, lads, And leave your sick behind! Till fall-in, fall-in, fall-in,…. [page 55]
IN flashes melt my dull-day comforts; I drift a-dream down flaming ways; I see the loom of nature’s ramparts In Vimy’s red-embroidered haze! At Neuville Ste. Vaaste (reliefs there mustered) Are files of men, dim, weaving by The grim cross-road, where shrapnel flustered, In spiteful gusts from a snarling sky! Where the Nine Elms once defied the ages, But to crash and die in war-alarms, There, the thunders drum as combat rages And I glory in a Might of Arms! I cringe in rush of salvo passings— Rumbled threat to grim enterprise; I pause till distant, rolling crashings, Leap and throb and the echo dies. From Arras reverberates a thresher, Horizons foaming, oranging red; The winds of dawn are blowing fresher, As Woods of Farbus loom ahead; There, blotted Thelus smokes, an ember In the swathe of ruin wars enjoy; And bursts afar the baleful temper Of a losing stand before Fresnoy! The night’s pent strain is loosed below me, The black is streaked with livid stain, The stand-to panic floods wide slowly As hints of sun cross Douai plain. From lofty rim are mists swift bolting, The Ridge of Vimy falls off, sheer; [page 57] Shadows surprise with strange, new cloaking, And a valley spire is glinting near. A last rocket wavers, wan and hollow, As, lost above, comes a swelling drone— The impotent “Archie’s” white puffs follow A belated bomber, homing lone! The scorning sun with clean rays beating, Fills fields forlorn with augury, And with staunch hearts, in foe’s defeating, Can see, at last, last victory! Then from the rear drifts driver bawling— A battery labours, changing ground! In frantic haste a plank road’s crawling; With toiling men the slopes abound. A prying plane arcs, and zooms down, scouting, And turns to flee like a startled fawn! Malevolent jaws, once more, are shouting; Exultantly the assault goes on! [page 57]
They Will Shout Defiance Down the Years
WHAT soul but stirred and leapt when gallant story Was added to the lore of mighty deeds? What lad but dreamed of days of storm and glory? What youthful blood but sang to dauntless deeds? What lad but thrilled to death and danger leering On lonely isles, in mystic, hidden lands? What boy but saw a rover homeward steering With purple parrots from his far-flung strands? What lad but heard his own blithe, careless laughter, When sabres clanked and swaggered down his street? What heart but throbbed and echoed, long, long after, The tune had timed the cadent tramp of feet? What lad could dream he heard the troopers beating, But joined the tide of battle in full blood? What lad cheered on shock of squadrons meeting And laughed aloud though crimson fled his blood?
* * *
Then do not grieve for these who are not grieving, For years that failed by far allotted span: They know a deep content that’s past conceiving— They passed, yet gaily clung to boyhood’s plan! They’re gone, while we yet wait yon brave dream’s dawning; Our town-shrunk souls all manacled with fears; We stay, and life’s pale wane shall find us fawning— While they still shout defiance down the years! [page 58]
A WATCH face gleams on the Captain’s wrist; Seconds go slow Ere the cock-crow. The knuckles are white on the Subaltern’s fist As they belts come tight with pull and a twist Ere the cock-crow, Near the cock-crow. A youth prays straight to his fighting sire; A fag, a fag, for nerves all afire— They’ll soothe in the black-barbed, mangled wire On the cock-crow. The Sergeant laughs through his years run out: “Ten in the chamber, one up the spout; “Don’t bunch, boys, when you hear me shout, At the cock-crow!” The orders run with a whisper—hark! ‘Tis the cock-crow! Oh, the cock-crow! A hand, a grin, for life’s been a lark That ends in the thund’ring, raving dark— On the cock-crow! Oh, the cock-crow! [page 59]
Slink, the Rat
A Nursery Rhyme for War Babies THIS is the tale of a carrion rat, A gruesome, grizzly, slithering ghoul; Who lived between, where Lone Death sat, And died, prematurely, on the prowl!
* * *
Snug in his sock-lined dead-man’s hat, On the rims of war lived Slink, the Rat; Curious, cunning, evil and wise, Knowledge grim in his baleful eyes. Slink knew all the holes where rats could hide; He knew all the parts where rats had died; He shunned those parts which a wise rat shuns, Where men went ratting with black, squat guns. He’d made men jump and backward roll, For he’d startled them on their lone patrol; Slink knew they feared, as an old rat knows— Huge did he loom going past their nose. But he had one friend, had Slink, abroad, Sergeant “Doc” of the Scouting Squad; He had winked at Slink with friendly eye While prone as a rocket held the sky. Slink welcomed “Doc” with a scuttling rush That froze his blood in the clammy hush; He’d scurry and dash, quick flick “Doc’s” heels, And squeal with glee, as a pleased rat squeals. [page 60] There came a night when schemers planned The doom of men in that doom-rife land; On a night so till life seemed to wait While far, grim guns dim-chanted hate; When sentry nerves saw gliding ghosts Prowling the front with the “missing” hosts, The wily Hun ‘neath an outpost digged And a minor mine had quickly rigged; Under the lip of Line Redoubt From where friend “Doc” came bellying out, One ran a wire that front along And Slink’s curiosity waxed strong. Puzzled he what that wire might mean Through No Man’s Land so snaky and lean; Pondered he what it might contain, He examined, he sniffed and sniffed again. Slink started to gnaw and gnaw and chew, He, ratlike, sought to chew it through; Hard did he gnaw, as a rodent gnaws, And never knew that he won applause From Sergeant “Doc”, watching these deeds, Hunkered down the rank, dank weeds; Staunch “Doc”, whose heart as a rule held scorn, Was cold with dread, for he could not warn His pals, the bombers, who soon were due To use that Post—‘twas the rendezvous For the raid, with “zero” set at dawn And so “Doc” troubled and troubled on. [page 61] And on worked the Hun in frenzied haste; And on gnawed Slink, for he liked the taste; —Then a cut-short squeak told “Doc” who’d lose And a bright red spark fled up that fuse! —Woke the quiet with shuddering roar, To Kingdom Come did the Teutons soar! White glared the night in a belching flame! Loud throbbed the front, and louder came As guns pumped in with resentful crash To scream and whip with futile lash; To slow and to burst and to search anew, Bewildered ranging, where Slink’s mine blew! Then “Doc” laughed long and thought it sport That Slink, the Rat, should die a “short”; But, wishing to honour a good friend’s name, To pay him homage, admitting his fame, He chose a strand of barbed-wire near As a fitting No Man’s Land rat-bier; And there Slink swings by his tail tied tight When the moaning winds croon weird at night. [page 62]
The Last Great Roll Call
STRAIGHT men they’ll be, war-old and wise, Who answer the last great “shun!” And broken men shall straightway rise And swing as the movements run, To look their Marshal in the eyes And hearken to His: “Well done!” And the gallant shall with the dauntless greet When the warriors meet again, And comrade’s hand shall with comrade’s meet In the Fellowship men ken Who proved their worth in the steeling heat, Where men were made plain to men. And there shall be tales of their epic fights Till the blooded guns shall speak, And sagas be sung of the red-ringed nights Till the weltered welkins shriek, Of the deeds of men ‘neath the white-arced lights When the strong-man boast was meek. Of billet and peace when they stood to drink To The King, whose men they are; When the mugs, fraternally, did clink In a brave, bold day afar, When these knew Death and the bonds that link To the end of the world and war! [page 63]
“Mac” Macklem o’ the Guns
The Making of a trench proverb in the early days
NOW a Regiment relieved us in the line ‘long by Messines, It was in the winter season and they should have been Marines, But they were only Cavalree what slogged it on their feet— A horse is only baggage when there’s no one on retreat! This regiment was swanky but was new to holding lines; Their brasses had a glitter—but that didn’t read the signs; And they wouldn’t heed advices so they into trouble runs; That’s how we got acquainted with “Mac” Macklem o’ the Guns. We had left them cooking bacon in the black of early dawn; And we told them front-line custom but they listened with a yawn; Then in the place of mounting sentries they were grousing at their beds And they called us bloody croakers as they covered up their heads. That week we slept in Court de Pip where oft we slept afore; That week we heard a lullaby of guns upon the roar; [page 64] Afar we heard them muttering and wondered what was up— But guessed our friends the Cavalree had met with Mister Krupp. But nothing travels faster than a leave or billet-rest, So soon ‘twas up a-singing for our morale was the best; We hoped the reckless Cavalree had kept their trappings clean, Had buttressed up the breeches and patrolled the “in-between”. The “Piggeries” at midnight, where we stop to ease our packs; Then Plugstreet Wood by sections where you guesses where you tracks; ‘Twas double down yon cobbled road what crosses to Messines And then we’re with the Cavalree—with mud upon their jeens! Yes, the Cavalree was muddy and their eyes was sleepless sore; Oh, the cockiness was missing—as their rolls missed sixty-four! We saw that they were jumpy and we asked if it was ghosts And we jeered at tarnished brasses as we crowded to our posts. Farewell we gave them, “sojer-style”, we wisht ‘em our respects, For half our blooming parapets was down about our necks; [page 65] They never cracked on haughty but just bustled glumlike out And we never knew till morning what the glumness was about. But in blur of frosty dawning flicking wings began to hiss, By the angle he was sniping we knew something was amiss; And then we spied a redoubt looming huge between the lines And how we cussed them Horsemen for allowing his designs! He drilled at every movement and at every chance we took; He could dekkho in our dugouts; he enf’laded all about He could dekko in our dugouts; he enf’laded all about And the Colonel he was swearing: “Boys, we’ll bomb the buggers out!” But he diddled us and riddled us all thro’ the stinking grass, Like a paper bag he crumpled us and gave us coup-de-grace! Our batteries opened on him but were shy of shells a bit, And tossed their daily ration long afore they made a hit. Yet we had to smash it somehow and to smash it toot-sweet quick, And the outfit started thinking and the outfit all got sick; [page 66] Then up spoke this “Mac” Macklem, battery observation bloke: “I’ll steal an eighteen-pounder and we’ll spike his little joke. “I’ll snipe with proper pellets and he won’t know where he go’ed; “The Brass Hats, they won’t like it, but all Brass Hats can be blowed!” So back went this “Mac” Macklem and what guys would volunteer— As our Colonel was a Colonel who was wise and wouldn’t hear! So he stole an eighteen-pounder and some mokes to drag her by, Who much disliked their riders, with their kilts a-riding high. But artillery limbers rattle and that strong-point heard his noise; They shot his poor mokes’ legs away; they killed his driver boys! We had to haul her, pully-haul, till she jammed our parados And “Mac” yelled: “It’s court-material but that barricade’s a loss!” Point black he sets his fuses as he doomed those walls o’jute And his one-gun front-line batt’ry spewed a joyous, red salute! [page 67] She jumped her plank emplacement and he saw a year of clink; The recoil jarred her deeper but he shouted: “Let her sink!” He stood on top and worked her with the strafe a-ripping thro’ And levelled low that redoubt without orders so to do! We got her on the cobbles thro’ some Engineers and Luck, Who helped us hook the drag ropes so she came out with a suck; The front line roared him greeting as he hopped it with the dawn And heard his mighty bellow coming back the way he’d gone! Oh, that blighter went back singing and our rum had disappeared, Yes, that blighter went back singing and this is what he jeered: “Oh! The infantry are boasters and the engineers are wise “And the cavalree have swagger—but the guns can steal your eyes!” [page 68]
THE Lines of communication, When wires were out in the fight; The heart of attack operation When storm was stern on the night; Headquarters’ last reliance When the order-change went through; The hope for a last defiance— “Meet reserves at the rendezvous!” “Runners!—On-the-double!” And the whole line watch them go— They’re down—still—in the stubble! Two more, two more must go! The barrage forbids the staunchest And it’s looking black and bad— “You think one only’s wisest? “Righto, God keep you, lad.” So through to stay catastrophe, On, through the spouting hell, With youth and war-philosophy And luck to live to tell. So through with thrill for the trying— “Go through, go through, there’s trouble!” And through when the call came, crying: “Ho! Runners!—On-the-double!” [page 69]
Little road-side shrines would appear with startling frequency standing unscathed in the very heart of utter desolation and ruin.
THE roaring rascals, loud with wine, And gay, released from up the line, Go reeling home to “Adeline!” But what subdues them coming nigh? Why does their song fall low, and die? They near a jutting, blackened wall, That stubborn stands and will not fall; And from those teetered, towered bricks, There looms a gaunt, gray crucifix! The limping limbers roll back, slow; The shaking horses toss and blow With sleeping drivers slouching low. Why does that lead-lad sit so straight? Why do those calks click fresher gait? There bleakly rears, aloof and high, A drooping Christ, against night’s sky, That gazes from Its shambled hill In mute, calm pleading: “Peace! Be still”. At cross-roads blotted out in strife, Where all else fell when lust was rife, Yet stood the Closing of Christ’s Life. And did God seek, in Man’s own hell, To comfort him, with: “All’s yet well”? [page 70]
HERR Hauptmann beyond yonder sky-line Decides to get on with the Row, As a ‘staminay clock sets to chiming Six heures—bon business starts now! But clouds of black fog shroud the village; Brick dust shoots funneling high; A steeple snaps off and flings upward Towers of flame to the sky! The red roofs are lost in the strafe-pall; Hurtlings of doom split o’erhead; The crashing thuds echo, resounding, Shudder and shatter and spread; The flumes float afar down the valley; Hate of the twilight is on; The jaws of the black-lines are waking— Death, double-shift, till the dawn! [page 71]
The Crimson Tide
CURSED he the puny tides that flow, Neptune, King of the Depths below, For never were seas as dull as these, Never did waft such a lazy breeze. And seaman shades from the Roaring Years, From Viking down through the Buccaneers, Could find small sport in the idle main, And time went long and they waxed profane. Then boomed Paul Jones, of High Sea fame: “Scuttle me, lads, but ‘twere a shame, “To see true breed of seaman die— “The breed we knew when the masts stood high! “These steaming craft are captained, manned, “By scuts who had better stay on land, “For their craven anchor drop o’er soon “And a simple squall is a mad typhoon!” Said the Shade of Drake in swanky tones: “There’s naught afloat can shame our bones, “No skipper steers ‘tween Pole and Line “That struts a deck more brave and mine!” But the Flying Dutchman’s skipper spake: “Now few of you but have seen my wake “As I drove by on a ghostly gale “Though I answered not your quaking hail! “And the words I speak are straight and true— “There’s salt in blood of a steamer’s crew “As well as crusts on the bones of you!” [page 72] As foc’sle quarrels on a listless sea, The debate grew hot and the oaths flew free, Till Davy Jones (who viced the King When he was off a-baptizing) Stilled the clamour with trumpet blare, And clawed seaweed from his clotted hair: “Stow your cackle! We’ll settle this thing; “We’ll deputize the Locker King!” King Neptune thus was deputized; And it pleased him rare to be advised To whistle up a thick monsoon And test this steaming buccaroon; To try his worth on a crashing main As wild winds roar down the traffic lane! So Neptune’s daughter fled afar To where the lairs of the Four Winds are; And the heart of each howled forth in glee To know at last they were loosed and free! (But an impudent rogue of a wench was she For the Sea King said but to loosen—THREE!) So she fled away to the uttermost rim And chuckled and laughed at her mischief grim, As the North Wind reeled from his frozen floe, And the West wind with smothering prank did blow; And the South rolled up from his balmy ease To join the East—and they whelmed the seas! And the muttering rumbled far below, Where the seaman shades watched, row on row; They asked: “Does the Locker ready lie?” And Davy grinned as he bellowed “Aye!” [page 73] —And even steel-sheathed bows will slack, The rivets ease and the bulwarks crack, When Four Winds roar two-hundred knot And suns go out in the swirling blot! “It is not storm, but the crimson tide!” The Flying Dutchman’s skipper cried. And far and far drummed a deeper roar Than breaker boom on a reef-pocked shore; And shades, who in life, had been e’er bold, Felt fingers tremble and spines turn cold; And the locker stilled and the Sea King swore For the Voice of the Deep said: “MAN makes war!” And they crossed themselves in a mute dismay For the fearful turn to their dolt-head play And felt the flesh on their dead bones creep As scared whales dived for a sea, mile deep, And the congeree went writhing by In gruesome flood unto where men die! And the shades saw deeds ere a knell was rung As brave as any since seas were young, And heard men’s mirth flare down the breeze To dare the foe and the racing seas! They saw craft lift where mines were spread, Where all afloat went aquake with dread, Saw a skipper wait, with even blood, The slinking fin, the swirl of scud, That walked well-laid torpedo’s path And skied his decks in a spouting wrath! And the mariner shades, of the long ago, Stretched hearty hands as they settled low, When doom leapt in and the boilers threw To the grim, grim sea, the toll of Blue! [page 74] And the tides were red till the Pirates quailed, And Morgan e’en to the Sea King wailed; And Kidd and Blood beseeched: “Enough!” “These lads are of as stern a stuff, “As the ‘saints’ that shipped with Flint or us “When we hied on voyages villainous!” And Neptune would that the storm should lull Ere the savage guns pierced another hull, For the shades knew well hearts still beat high On the Ships at Sea when the war flags fly! And sought he then for his daughter, far, By furrowed lane and by coral bar, By lonely isle and by lost lagoon, Wherever the runes of the rollers croon! —But well knew she that he had small ruth, And well recked she of the Deep Sea truth; When wild winds roar in the Might of Four Then Mankind joins and the Nations war! He found her, a cringing, shivering wretch, On the last lone strand where the salt sprays stretch, And she scudded away on the roared command, In a fright of the wrath of the Royal Hand, To soothe the Winds and to stem the Seas That pounded free through her trickeries! The thunders slowed and the echoes died On the paths of doom down the Crimson Tide! And dim to the world come came a ghostly hail: “Good luck to the Steam from the Shades of Sail!” As the Old and the New tumbled aft for grog And to add bold tales to the Ocean’s log! [page 75]
COLD in the snarling wire The bated raiders merge— ‘Ware, ‘ware yon sentry’s fire And still that coward-urge! Black as the quaking night The charcoal’d prowlers line— Wait, wait one moment’s flight And plunge on leader’s sign! Huge in a fearful row The “nigger” ghosts arise— Jump, jump in the startled foe And kill in swift surprise! Red stains the dagger’s steel And breaks the Death-embrace! Cut-short’s the terror-squeal On crunch of cog-wheel mace! Screams greet the Stokes’ dread roll That plops down dugout gloom; Wails fill that bedlamed hole— But silence on the boom! Kicks speed a quaking batch As recall klaxons sound; Friends snipe that scuttling catch Across the flare-lit ground. Roaring, the strafe forbids— They’re tumbling back with jeers; Gleeful, larking, careless kids That once played Buccaneers! [page 76] Wild, wild, the waked guns pound To shake their rascal-hold; Deep in the trembling ground With jest the tale’s retold. Eyes gleam from muddy mask Around the cold clay walls; Safe from the daring task Until new daring calls! Shapes one a rough, wee cross, To mark a matey’s sleep; Harsh tongue but tells of loss— He’ll dare to plant it deep! Belts off—equipment slips— They’ll sleep till dawn is gray! Hands wipe the rum-wet lips As if strife’s wiped away! [page 77]
HOME from Gallipoli, footing in prettily, With a cargo of suffering flesh; A hold full of cheer and a bow lifting sheer As the fields of Old England blew fresh; Rolling and cresting, the white comber breasting, With song from below of men’s scorn, And a breeze with a croon to swell the brave tune, For ‘twas Dover and Home in the morn. By true-neutral trust, she clove and she thrust, And laughed with the spume in high glee; On-coursing for home, where the black-bellies roam, In faith that her passage lay free! Her lights glowed, then shone, as twilight wore on, One undowsed craft on the sea And whispers of war blew dim from offshore In the roll of guns on her lee. Secure that her mark in the dark stood stark, And certain no seaman was blind— On she slipped, homing, her wake hissing, foaming, With nary a worry in mind! White lights on her larboard and bright on her starboard; Emblazoned Red Cross amidship. Below decks, man’s joy! Home waters—ahoy! A homeward bound Hospital Ship! But beyond her light-arc, in the fog-heavy dark, Steals the suck of a rising “U”; Slinking and slim and shadowed and dim, And threat in the throb of his screw! [page 78] But no need to ponder, the furtive foe yonder, Knows Code of the Sea she drives through! So on she goes lunging and Doverwards plunging— By her markings no blow being due! But Fate and Grim Luck spewed up the black muck And the spawn of an Honourless Port; Black seamen were they, at their black-hearted play, And declaring her scuttling a sport! For with murder intent his foretube was bent, The word to the torp-hole was: “Low!” And his soul’s in hell and his ship’s as well, For he damned himself with his blow!
What the Hell’s it Matter?
“BLAST the bloody war,” then cursed a sullen lad, Too sensitive, and how he hated war: “You rush for ‘em at dawning, you’re stark and raving mad, And yet you don’t know what you bash ‘em for! “It’s—Heave up! Over! Christ! The wire and mud! Got it in the guts! Bombers to the flanks! “It’s—There goes a matey with his face all blood! Get the damned objective! Lose half the “ranks”! “It’s—Heave up! Over! All that’s left to run! What’s the sergeant jabbing? What’s he screaming for? “Oh what the hell’s it mean, when it’s all said and done? What the hell’s it matter? BLAST THE WAR! [page 79]
Cold-Steel and Fate
AN estaminet swanker, a swaggering tanker, Was “Navy Deserter” Magee; A love of gore, he came seeking for glory, At least this is what he told me. “In a terrible fight,” he recalled with delight, “Alone in a far foreign port, “I killed me a sailor, a cook and a tailor; Throat-cutting’s my favourite sport!” And we’d squat in a row in the brazier’s glow While he’d tell us the bloodiest tales, Of the manner men died, and tempo they cried With a fine imitation of wails; Till one nervous night we discovered that fright Was causing each wild anecdote, And saw that cold-steel made him squirm like an eel When he visioned a thrust to the throat! He tried drowning the fear in vin-rouges and beer And so did fatigue round the huts, And no bloke in that Army was ever so barmy At thought o’ cold steel in the guts! He even admitted he wouldn’t be spitted For all the V.C.’s in the forces, That he cared not a hang for explosion and bang Was the theme of his twilight discourses; Machine-guns and gasses might issue us passes To Permanent Furlough Below, Or bits they could save fill a parapet grave When a “Minnie” came whuffling and slow; He laughed at a spewing or spouting napooing (Though mines he admitted were weird) But ‘twas fact scientific, correct and terrific— The steel was a death to be feared!
* * *
Now a man in the Service in useless if nervous— We planned that we’d give him the cure; Which was letting him fight in a corner some night With nothing in sight but his skewer; And along came a scrap, and somehow, by mishap, He was cornered by crop-headed foes— There was nothing to do but run them all through With a series of desperate blows! So well did he work with his dread-driven dirk That the plot was a squealing success; But the tales that he told! Why, the thunder fair rolled And the casualties none could suppress! He swore that his blade polished off a brigade Every time that he went on the bust, But we knew that his dread in the scuffle had fled Of a foot o’ cold steel on the thrust! He’d “In-Out” with a pard as the whole Prussian Guard, Prince Willy and Hindy included, And warned all the Huns to keep steel on their guns— Oh! He craved to fix bayonets as few did! Now you’d think all this talk should have stopped at Maroc Where the complex was safely defeated, But despite all this gab he “went west” by a jab For Old Fate is a thing never cheated! One night we were digging and cursing and rigging Some sandbags to build a redoubt, When pip-squeaks came yapping and bouncing and slapping And searching that part therabout. [page 81] So we left with great speed, with Magee in the lead, With a panicky, gallopy stride. Ten jumps Magee took, then with never a look, He dove for a trench—and he died! There a rifle, new cleaned, very harmlessly leaned With the steel pointing straight to the sky; And there Fate, with a jeer, killed Magee by his fear, In a sort of a hari-kar-i!
* * *
Now all fighting men know that this moral is so, That a fear will serenity rend, Lest you hobble along with a laugh and a song —And to hell with the Forewritten End! [page 82]
The Law o’ the Feet!
OH! Nobody wonders or cares a damn Who’ll get the bloody V.C.’s— We stumble back to the empty huts An’ flop an’ fall to our knees; An’a bloke can’t sleep so he tosses round ‘Cause most o’ his maties are underground An’ nobody sings an’ there isn’t a sound But the jeer o’ guns on the breeze! Oh! Nobody cheers for the extry fags Or rum for just forty-four; For there’s khaki ghosts in the bleeding hut With five that kip on the floor! It’s dawn—but none of ‘em straggles out! It’s dawn an’ there isn’t a sergeant’s shout Nor a matie t’wallop yer feet a clout Nor curses to even the score! Oh! Nobody cheers as the mail come up Though rations can stay in Stores, For parcels from home are the empty hut’s— ‘Tis rule o’ the Infantry Corps! So a bloke strolls round with a hopeless gait An’ a lonesome eye, so he can’t look straight, An’ nobody shines or rows with his mate Nor boasts o’ his deeds an’ wars! No! Nobody speaks as the roll call runs And tells who lies in the wheat, The Captain’s dead an’ the Company’s broke That would not break and retreat! —But new Draftees will be sent up soon; We’ll weld them into each old platoon That took no quarter and asked no boon For that’s the way o’ the “Feet”! [page 83]
OH, never I’ll go strolling Down the honeysuckle lane, And my cot’s a seering canker And my bandage-gear’s a chain; But I make a dreamland park Of the snoring, still ward’s dark And I’m happy as Sir Lark In his bondless blue domain. I’m no scrap of life discarded, Flung broken from the fray, I’m a swinging, singing player In a flaming, ringing play; For the epic scenes come teeming Thro’ my memory, swiftly streaming, And through gallant days I’m seeming And I’m hieing far away; There’s the crash of sudden action Blazing yonder on the hill; There’s the flash of pretty star-shells In their white, revealing spill; And the flood of battle’s welling And the bitter guns are shelling And of Death they’re coldly telling And again my ward is still! So I lie here, tense and spellbound, While the night is swift transformed, To a throbbing, fitful red-land Where the Men of War once swarmed— There’s front-line trouble starting Where yon rifle spurts are darting And defenders are departing As a strong-point’s grimly stormed! [page 84] The vivid scenes come trooping In parade across my bed, By a gutted, ghostly city, In a silhouette, they’re led; And I hear a bugle flaring And a sergeant’s strident blaring And a hungry grouser swearing At his divvy of the bread; There are stories and there’s joking Where the merry comrades laugh; There’s a brazier, rosy gleaming, Where they parody the staff; And there’s pride of victory ringing In their throaty voices singing Their song, with challenge flinging, Midst the careless billet chaff! The roads we tramped so cheery Go a-winding, twisting by The quaking, eery château With its turrets all awry, By the trenches there, that barred, By the blotted woods, black charred, Where the grim old elm, war scarred, Looms stark against the sky. There’s maties by the wayside With their weary, weary feet; Dead-sleeping where they halted Down a crimson-guttered street; They’ve been risking, they’ve been daring, And to war they’ve come far-faring, And they’re tired beyond all caring That history marks the feat. There is battle in reflection Lancing up the walls of night; [page 85] There’s the thunder of the batt’ries’ Raucous roaring of their might; There’s a scream, a sudden shrieking, Of a phantom monster streaking On a road that’s red, red reeking From the chaos of the fight! There’s the night all wet and blowsy When the steel in tell-tale shone; When the luckless sandbag fillers Tersely named the war “No Bon”! And the snarls of barb-wire glisten Where the dripping out-posts listen, Watching apparitions hasten Through the evil, slinking dawn! Then the chill of early morning Brings a cheery, tinted sky, And the rumble of far cobbles Where the limbers homeward fly; In my window sunlight’s flinging, As a fairy thing goes winging, With around it white-puffs springing That grow and, thwarted, die! Then hands about me putter Changing fancy into fact; And I’m asked how goes the battle, If there’s anything I’ve lacked; I don’t tell them I’m a Viking, With a dream-land unit hiking, Or of righteous blows I’m striking Or of villages I’ve sacked. For that’s how I keep happy All the heavy, hanging day; I’m waiting for the sun to set To dream slow years away; [page 86] For at night the guns start barking And the rockets dipping, arcing, And I’m like a kid skylarking, In dreams so gallant-gay! May it be in shadowed twilight With my dream-land shells azoom, That the poignant “Last Post’s” wailing As the volleys o’er me boom; While my column’s song is ringing Down the long, long road they’re swinging, For my soul shall join them, singing, Till “Reville” wakes all doom!
In the Last Days
OH, leaping wind, fly eastward, Gaspé to Cambrai Road, And with thy tang of salt-brine Take him our comfort code— The song of pines, snow-laden, The laughter of the loon, The scent of prairies golden, The whistles at high noon. We would not have him lonely, So whisper in his ear, And tell him when the maples Are turning with the year. Oh, leaping wind, fly eastward, Tell him we sheathed the sword, Who fought and won together From Arras to the Nord. [page 87]
THEY meet again! The mufti strangely lacking And looking somehow wrong on Khaki’s Best! The talk is strained, but soon the tongues are clacking As canteen clamour ran in billet rest. From tale of trench and hut-line ghosts are rising To fill the gaps with memory and pain, To bring back scenes of gay, grim enterprising, To sit awhile about the board again. Now gallant days are running through the toasting And Unit-pride is running through the talk; Of Neuve- Chapelle Old Soldiers there, are boasting, And here a toc toc rattles through Maroc. They see once more an arc of silver streaking In bitter starkness down the brooding sky, They feel the front, at night, astir and reeking, That in one day lies silent, coward and sly. And now they’re swinging, singing, in fine fettle, And now from Hooge they straggle back to Pop! They raid the Bluffs, and watch a dugout settle As down the steps a Stokes-shell goes a-plop! Remember how?—again an Archie’s pumping And yapping futile puff-balls to the blue! Remember when?—the Loos sky-line is jumping And dawn’s berserker strafe is raving through! Then back they weave to meet the limbers waiting On quaking wheels that hustle home in fright; They pack a blasted U frame, grim berating, The silly ass who lost them in the night! [page 88] It’s dusk!—they loaf by St. Eloy’s tall tower To watch the Vimy guns play down the rise; It’s dawn!—in roaring Moquet they’re a-cower With fortitude and faith and sacrifice! They’re breaking up!—yet linger and seem sorry To turn to petty things from epic days, From sad days, mad days, of grieving and of glory, From storm and stress and triumph and high praise! The pride of proven men within them’s burning; They scatter now and leave these high-played parts, And to a bairn-bright billet they’re returning With straighter backs and old songs in their hearts! [page 89]
A SACRED, sudden silence drops On this November noon; On hundred streets, on thousand shops, In a million hearts attune; A City, in remembrance, stops; The rigid hosts commune. Now as they bless the sacrifice, A vision swift unfolds Before stern men’s unseeing eyes While yet the silence holds. Vivid the Past, the Present dies; Gone comrades each beholds. None else may see yon column dawn From womb of cloven sky, Heads high, come pressing on and on, As silent seconds fly; Heads high, come pressing on and on, The Empire Dead draw nigh; Now far, now near, a vision fleet, The men of Empire-boast; From out the distance-narrowed street, And least is as the most, Yet, as of old, with cadent beat, With each to his old post. The silence breaks! And Life’s ado For minutes two doth strive; The World knows not the Dead went thro’ To rouse and to revive And steel the steel-stern bond anew With them that did survive.
THE thunder and the chaos seemed to cease; With blessed stillness crept reprieve; The madness of my fevered brain found peace; With healing magic came the eve; —A soothing Saint’s hand—cool release! I marvelled—why, She seemed to grieve!
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Ah, do not grieve! I do not even rue My absence from the haunts of men; I’ll meet you where the Future’s surges beat, And greet you, hand to hand, again. All’s well with me! The Great Hearts are my friends Who spoke not when the roll call ran; I know that those who answered missed my voice And told you that I’d died—a man! I am serene! I sipped the martyr’s cup Of anguish, but I found no gall; I knew you must have martyrs do you thrive And living, could I give you all? All’s well with me! And only this I ask: Remember that I went your bond; My life is pledged to Honour of my Race For now, forever, and beyond! [page 91]