|The History Press|
This is one of my favourite reads. It's a beautiful little book interspersed with pictures, prose and verse and which shares the remarkable power of the poetry of the ordinary Tommy. It's a tribute to those extraordinary young men who so often found themselves in horrendous situations, and whose only way to survive was to make up ditties and poems to make each other laugh. Some of the poems wouldn't be considered very politically correct today but to be read in the context of the time in which they were written there is a poignancy, and so often a deep sadness, and an overwhelming cynicism contained within their words.
Some of the verses made me laugh as there is no doubt that they are a little bit naughty and meant to titillate, but there are also sharp observations about the futility of the whole sorry situation that the soldiers found themselves in, as in this anonymous outburst..
" I heard the bugles callin' an join I felt I must
Now I wish I'd let them go on blowin' till they bust !! "
I wonder just how many of those soldiers who so readily answered Kitchener's call wished that they hadn't been quite so quick to take up the call to arms.
I have a great deal of respect for those men who cradled themselves in the corner of a deeply dug trench and for whom every waking day was a challenge of survival. The frightening reality of duckboards deeply entrenched in oozing layers of mud. The pervading stink and slime of bodies left to decompose and fester above the parapet, and the fear, pain and uncertainty of never really knowing what the day ahead would bring. So, if the soldiers found comfort in gallows humour, in the sharing of risque ditties and saucy postcards...well, who would begrudge them that small bit of humanity in a world which they must have, so often, thought had gone completely mad.
Most of the poems contained within this volume are not included in the celebrated canon of WW1 war poets but these simpler verses are no less powerful. The voices of the ordinary Tommy deserve to be heard.