Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The End Of The Beginning: Trench Warfare Begins

We are continuing reminiscences of the events a century ago as the Western Front invented itself, and The Great War became something.  German and French forces slugged it out as they worked their way to the sea, trying to outflank one another.  Trench warfare began in November, and the suffering that began with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and Sophie would continue on in earnest for another four years (Or was it a century?).  Robert Service joined up at age 40, and he penned more poems than most of the WWI poets.  He was an old hand at listening to stories and putting them into verse, having developed this talent in the Yukon during the gold rush there.  As we go forward through the next four years of this sad centennial we will be visiting other Great War poets.  Mr. Service was kind to his readers, and most of his poems are either entertaining or thought-provoking.  Other poets we visit will take you deeper into the suffering of the soldiers in WWI.  Their voices also need to be heard, lest we forget the sacrifices made by fighting men for their countries. Now, a thrilling tale by Robert Service.

"This is what I have written of the finest troops in the Army of France:

Kelly of the Legion
Now Kelly was no fighter;
He loved his pipe and glass;
An easygoing blighter,
Who lived in Montparnasse.
But 'mid the tavern tattle
He heard some guinney say:
"When France goes forth to battle,
The Legion leads the way.
"The scourings of creation,
Of every sin and station,
The men who've known damnation,
Are picked to lead the way."
Well, Kelly joined the Legion;
They marched him day and night;
They rushed him to the region
Where largest loomed the fight.
"Behold your mighty mission,
Your destiny," said they;
"By glorious tradition
The Legion leads the way.
"With tattered banners flying
With trail of dead and dying,
On! On! All hell defying,
The Legion sweeps the way."
With grim, hard-bitten faces,
With jests of savage mirth,
They swept into their places,
The men of iron worth;
Their blooded steel was flashing;
They swung to face the fray;
Then rushing, roaring, crashing,
The Legion cleared the way.
The trail they blazed was gory;
Few lived to tell the story;
Through death they plunged to glory;
But, oh, they cleared the way!
Now Kelly lay a-dying,
And dimly saw advance,
With split new banners flying,
The fantassins of France.
Then up amid the melee
He rose from where he lay;
"Come on, me boys," says Kelly,
"The Layjun lades the way!"
Aye, while they faltered, doubting
(Such flames of doom were spouting),
He caught them, thrilled them, shouting:
"The Layjun lades the way!"
They saw him slip and stumble,
Then stagger on once more;
They marked him trip and tumble,
A mass of grime and gore;
They watched him blindly crawling
Amid hell's own affray,
And calling, calling, calling:
"The Layjun lades the way!"
And even while they wondered,
The battle-wrack was sundered;
To Victory they thundered,
But . . . Kelly led the way.
Still Kelly kept agoing;
Berserker-like he ran;
His eyes with fury glowing,
A lion of a man;
His rifle madly swinging,
His soul athirst to slay,
His slogan ringing, ringing,
"The Layjun lades the way!"
Till in a pit death-baited,
Where Huns with Maxims waited,
He plunged . . . and there, blood-sated,
To death he stabbed his way.
Now Kelly was a fellow
Who simply loathed a fight:
He loved a tavern mellow,
Grog hot and pipe alight;
I'm sure the Show appalled him,
And yet without dismay,
When Death and Duty called him,
He up and led the way.
So in Valhalla drinking
(If heroes meek and shrinking
Are suffered there), I'm thinking
'Tis Kelly leads the way."

No comments: