Sunday, October 11, 2015

O mortal heart...

...Be still; you have drained the cup; you have played your part. Siegried Sassoon, October 1918

We haven't visited The Great War for a while, but it was back in the news last week. Sgt David Harkness Blakey was laid to rest 99 1/2 years after he was killed on the first day of the Somme Offensive, July 1, 1916.

Sgt Blakey's remains were discovered two years ago, and he was identified by a homemade identity tag made by his wife. (Click to read all about Sgt Blakey.)

When the centennial of World War I rolled around I began posting poems by those who were there, and this one came to mind with this news story.

The Little Sergeant

He was one of the bugler lads
Born in the Army and bred also.
And they gave him the stripes that had been his dad's
For knowing what soldiers ought to know.
And then you'd see him swanky and small
Drilling grown men of twice his span,
Dressing them down and telling 'em all
That the British Army teaches a man.

Lef-right-lef-how he'd make them run-
All for their good as he let them see...
'It's the way the Army has always done,
Don't argy the point.' he'd say. 'with me.'
Sometimes they groused, but mostly they laughed-
For there wasn't a job but he bore the brunt,
And when the time came, there was never a draft
Smarter than his when he went to the Front.

Somewhere in France on a night of drench...
When their guns had pounded the line to hell
The Germans rushed what had been a trench
And the Sergeant's men and the Sergeant fell.
Light in some Boch I'm sure he'd let
Before they could count him as reached full-stop:
And if there was breath in him, then I'll bet
He told 'em why England would come out top.

Swanky and small and full of guts-
I wonder, now that he's out of the fight,
Down what dark alleys his small ghost struts
Giving his men 'Lef-right-lef-right'.
There where the darkening shadows fall
I think I can hear him chanting slow-
'The British Army's the best of all,
Don't argy the point-I ought to know.'

France, August 1916, Robert Ernest Bernede, Second Lieutenant, The Rifle Brigade

(News story and photo from TheGuardian.  Photo from The Guardian, by Gareth Fuller.)

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