Sunday 16 September 2018

Sunday WW1 Remembered..

A Sampling of War Poets


Arthur Graeme West

1891- 1917

The Night Patrol

France, March 1916.

Over the top! The wire’s thin here, unbarbed

Plain rusty coils, not staked, and low enough:

Full of old tins, though—“When you’re through, all three,

Aim quarter left for fifty yards or so,

Then straight for that new piece of German wire;

See if it’s thick, and listen for a while

For sounds of working; don’t run any risks;

About an hour; now, over!”

And we placed

Our hands on the topmost sand-bags, leapt, and stood

A second with curved backs, then crept to the wire,

Wormed ourselves tinkling through, glanced back, and dropped.

The sodden ground was splashed with shallow pools,

And tufts of crackling cornstalks, two years old,

No man had reaped, and patches of spring grass.

Half-seen, as rose and sank the flares, were strewn

The wrecks of our attack: the bandoliers,

Packs, rifles, bayonets, belts, and haversacks,

Shell fragments, and the huge whole forms of shells

Shot fruitlessly—and everywhere the dead.

Only the dead were always present—present

As a vile sickly smell of rottenness;

The rustling stubble and the early grass,

The slimy pools — the dead men stank through all,

Pungent and sharp; as bodies loomed before,

And as we passed, they stank: then dulled away

To that vague fล“tor, all encompassing,

Infecting earth and air. They lay, all clothed,

Each in some new and piteous attitude

That we well marked to guide us back: as he,

Outside our wire, that lay on his back and crossed

His legs Crusader-wise: I smiled at that,

And thought on Elia and his Temple Church.

From him, at quarter left, lay a small corpse,

Down in a hollow, huddled as in a bed,

That one of us put his hand on unawares.

Next was a bunch of half a dozen men

All blown to bits, an archipelago

Of corrupt fragments, vexing to us three,

Who had no light to see by, save the flares.

On such a trail, so light, for ninety yards

We crawled on belly and elbows, till we saw,

Instead of lumpish dead before our eyes,

The stakes and crosslines of the German wire.

We lay in shelter of the last dead man,

Ourselves as dead, and heard their shovels ring

Turning the earth, then talk and cough at times.

A sentry fired and a machine-gun spat;

They shot a glare above us, when it fell

And spluttered out in the pools of No Man’s Land,

We turned and crawled past the remembered dead:

Past him and him, and them and him, until,

For he lay some way apart, we caught the scent

Of the Crusader and slide past his legs,

And through the wire and home, and got our rum.

Arthur Graeme West was a British writer and war poet. West was born in Eaton, Norfolk, educated at Highgate School, then Blundell's School and Balliol College, Oxford.

He enlisted as a private in the Public Schools Battalion in January 1915. In August 1916 he was a second lieutenant in the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. In 1917 he was killed, near the town of Baupame, by a sniper's bullet.


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