TMT is delighted to be able to publish two poems written to commemorate the last year of the Great War of 1914-18, submitted by a TMT reader, Elena Reed.
If you are an author, poet, or indeed an artist, please do get in touch to see if we can publish your work. We would also be very interested in publishing extracts from Great War diaries as we approach the centenary of the end of the 14-18 War. Ed.
A True Story
Introduction by Elena Reed
The young man this poem was about was called Griff John. He came from a warm old family, not rich but hard-working and religious. He qualified as a vicar and was called up immediately and ended up in the fiercest battle on The Somme.
His first job took him to the front line and his baptism to the Ministry was burying his friends when possible. A lance-corporal stood beside him, giving the numbers on the disc in order to identify the dead to help with records. The discs were brown and lightweight, uneven to the touch and made of a hard substance. Plastic was, as yet, unheard of.
The young Vicar kept his faith, always emphasising that wars were made by man, not God. He ended up with a small Anglican church in a poor industrialised village and stayed among humble people and never applied for a smart parish church in a rich environment. After his experiences he always taught that God never sends more than man can bear.
It now appears old fashioned, but wars are still started by the people in power, whatever the nationality.
A True Story
By Elena Reed
Twenty three and eager
Trained for the cloth
Waiting for a living
A gift from above
Instead the “call-up” orders
Sign on and do your part,
A rank to be the big award,
And a date to depart.
So to the Somme with hundreds,
Called forth to do their share,
Experience duly followed,
The worst mankind could bear.
All the ranks were equal,
In the burial service words,
Firing all around them,
As the holy words were heard.
A corporal taking numbers,
From the discs which survived
The numbers were once soldiers,
Who that day died.
And did the man of holiness
Survive to tell the tale?
Yes, and to serve his God again
In sunnier future days.
So much for the human spirit,
Evert Hope in sight,
Those darkest hours a baptism
For a coming ray of light.
Introduction by Elena Reed
The second poem revolves around a poster of Kitchener with the pointing finger: “Your country needs you”. Thousands obeyed in order to escape poverty, slum dwellings, slave work in factories and colourless lives.
The horrors of the trenches were beyond words, yet from all this came much poetry which will live forever. Among these were Wilfrid Owens, and Edward Thomas – both were killed a few days before the 11th November (1918). Another, called Isaac Rosenberg, died in the war. His poetry from the trenches is still being written about. He was a poor East End Jew who’d escaped with his family from an unbearable existence.
Kipling, who everyone’s heard of, lost his only son in the first battle he encountered. They were rich and Kipling was successful and adored his son who had begged him to pull strings among the mighty to let him be a soldier, like his friends. But John Kipling had poor eye-sight and would not have been accepted without his father’s efforts. His father never forgave himself for listening to his sons’ pleading.
The spirit lives on in today’s young men and the Nation’s survival belongs to them.
Today’s reduction in our army is a grievous mistake. Our Armed Forces are the life-blood of the Nation.
By Elena reed
“Your country needs you”
The accusing finger said
And innocents, who obeyed the call
Knew not what lay ahead.
The mud of Flanders awaited them
And officers straight from school
In the roar and scream of battle
They also met their doom.
The Generals at the Chateau
‘tween sips of good French wine
With maps and charts and markers
Re-draw the battle lines.
“We’ll put 2,000 here and 1,000 there”
So they planned the next attack
“Ceaseless bombardment along this trench
Would press the Germans back”.
And young men briefed for the big assault
Bore fears they dared not share
Patriotism was disillusion
Numbness and despair.
A war they did not understand
Made by unknown men
Their fate was sealed; there was not retreat
Their humble duty done.