Newgate News

Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday, 11 November 2012

11th November

Pomp and collective solemnity have their place today, but sometimes the smaller things can move you almost  beyond words:

His Mate
from Rough Rhymes of a Padre
by G A Studdert Kennedy MC
("Woodbine Willie")
1918

There's a broken battered village
Somewhere up behind the line,
There's a dug-out and a bunk there,
That I used to say were mine.

I remember how I reached them,
Dripping wet and all forlorn,
In the dim and dreary twilight
Of a weeping summer dawn.

All that week I'd buried brothers,
In one bitter battle slain,
In one grave I laid two hundred.
God ! What sorrow and what rain !

And that night I'd been in trenches,
Seeking out the sodden dead,
And just dropping them in shell holes,
With a service swiftly said.

For the bullets rattled round me,
But I couldn't leave them there,
Water-soaked in flooded shell holes.
Reft of common Christian prayer.

So I crawled round on my belly.
And I listened to the roar
Of the guns that hammered Thiepval,
Like big breakers on the shore.

Then there spoke a dripping sergeant,
When the time was growing late,
'Would you please to bury this one,
'Cause 'e used to be my mate?'

So we groped our way in darkness
To a body lying there.
Just a blacker lump of blackness.
With a red blotch on his hair.

Though we turned him gently over,
Yet I still can hear the thud.
As the body fell face forward.
And then settled in the mud.

We went down upon our faces,
And I said the service through,
From 'I am the Resurrection'
To the last, the great 'adieu.'

We stood up to give the Blessing,
And commend him to the Lord,
When a sudden light shot soaring
Silver swift and like a sword.

At a stroke it slew the darkness,
Flashed its glory on the mud,
And I saw the sergeant staring
At a crimson clot of blood.

There are many kinds of sorrow
In this world of Love and Hate,
But there is no sterner sorrow
Than a soldier's for his mate.


1 comment:

JuliaM said...

That's a really moving poem.