Guests Poetry

War Poetry, especially that of the Great War, has been an essential part of the philosophy of BBJ since the inception of the company and we find that the reading of an appropriate poem or devotional writing at the grave or memorial of a long – dead loved one brings comfort to a troubled heart and inspires emotions hitherto unknown. Many of our travellers, whose literary aspirations are uplifted by their battlefield experiences, feel the desire to express their emotions in personal poetry and to share their writings with us. All their poetry has a story to tell and most has a grandeur and warmth which we feel needs a wider audience. Here at Poets Corner we offer poems presented to us by guests who have journeyed with us over the years. In reading the verses you can experience a little of the wonder that is the Western Front.

Read on and enjoy!

David J Bartlett

Counting the Cost at Tyne Cot

And ninety nine years later
I weep at what I see.
Statistics in the history books
A stark reality.

White, silent sentinels, they stand

As soldiers on parade.
The rows go on and on and on
Till only distance fades
The numbers to be counted
As far as eyes can see.
Each stone denotes a Mother’s Son
Who gave his life for me.
I walked among the headstones
Where Fallen Soldiers lay,
Imagining I hear a sound,
A distant Bugle play.
So standing still with head bowed low
I weep for all those lost
Astounded at their valour,
The overwhelming cost.
Unknown or named,
Each stone engraved
Ensures that every son
Receives acknowledgement from us
For Freedom that was won.

Polly Johnson, Worcesterhire

Tyne Cot

My Thoughts on Boves Wood

All is quiet now in the wood near Boves.

What were you thinking as you prepared your equipment
for the pre-dawn hours of August the eighth 1918?

Something big was afoot – one hundred thousand Canadians, with
twenty thousand horses, tanks, and heavy guns assembled as quietly
as such a throng could into the woods near Boves and Gentelles.

Were you thinking about your seven-year-old daughter, Evelyn?

The hawk floats high above the hazy blue linseed fields;
he is almost stationary as he waits in the air currents.
Then he strikes and flies away with a victim in his talons.

Albert, you gave it your best, your all.

The foe struck you down when you were still a young man.
You had so much life yet to live but sadly you suffered
For six long days before giving up your spirit to
the One who gave you breath in the first place.

Rest in peace, Albert Chew.

Debra Paquin, Novascotia

France Boves Wood 30th June 2012

My Unknown Soldier

Three years ago I found you
In a most methodical way.
I’m glad to be here once again,
Just so that I can say:
Hello my unknown soldier,
My comfort and my friend.
You are my continuity,
Though your life is at an end
I’m sitting here and thinking
About the life you gave;
You fought for your people and country,
And now lie in your grave.
While I’ve been living my busy life,
You’ve been sleeping on;
For three years you’ve been my influence,
Even though you’re dead and gone.
In these three years I’ve thought of you,
Lying there unknown;
A serendipity meeting
And the friendship seeds are sown.
Although we know not of each other,
And I live in another land,
I see your face in times of trouble,
And you, smiling, take my hand.
Many men have crosses
Or wreaths about their stone;
I place my simple cross,
So you’ll never be alone.
So thank you, my unknown soldier,
My comfort and my friend;
You will be my continuity
Until my life is at an end.

Laura McClintic. Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire.

Tyne Cot Cemetery Ypres

Laura McClintic from Lincolnshire was 13 years old when she first travelled with BBJ and her school to the battlefields of Belgium and Northern France. There she found herself quite overwhelmed by the number of graves of unknown soldiers.

She eventually selected, at random, the grave of an unknown warrior and spent some time in quiet contemplation. Three years later, now aged 17 and awaiting entry into university, she and fellow pupils returned to Belgium with BBJ and sought out her hero’s grave at Tyne Cot Cemetery. Once more she paid her quiet respects before leaving. On the motor coach, whilst travelling home, she composed a poem which is now considered a classic by all who read it. In July 2007 on the occasion of the 90th Anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Passchendaele, Laura was invited by the Zonnebeke Memorial Museum to read her poem before Their Majesties Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Paola of the Belgians; a wonderful moment for a lovely young lady and her beautiful poem.

For Those Who Didn’t Come Home

Oh Lord, I pray for those poor men today
Whose souls, long since, have found peace with you,
Men? No, boys! Who when they went away
Knew naught of drowning in mud and clay
And looked on war as an adventure new.
No knowledge yet of what it really meant
To fight in trenches or go over the top
But they soon learned, when they were sent
To replace others whose lives were spent
In mindless horror that never seemed to stop.
“It’s my turn next” Christ!, He’ll never make it.
He should have been allowed to stay at home,
No evil there to take his life and break it
Like a fragile shell and make it
Bleed in this once peaceful land they call The Somme
2005

 

Perc. (on the march to the front line trenches)

What’ll yer do when it’s over Perc?
This little lot I mean.
Can’t look that far ahead Joe,
Got to get to the end of this walk.
Will the fightin’ be bad, do yer think Perc?
‘Cause last night I ‘ad a dream.
Can’t say I know about that Joe
But I’ve heard the old hands and their talk.
‘Ow far do yer think it is now Perc?
Don’t think I can ‘ang on too long.
Just keep on slogging along Joe,
Just think of your folk at home.
Do yer reckon they’re thinkin’ o’ us Perc?
Do they realise now that it’s wrong?
I’m sure we are in their prayers Joe
And therefore we’re not on our own.
‘Ave yer bin in the trenches afore Perc?
They say yer can drown in the mud.
We’ll be finding that out for ourselves Joe
When we finally get to the line.
They say the noise is ‘orrendous Perc,
With the bombs fallin’ thud after thud.
Don’t start worrying yet Joe,
Stick to me and we’ll get on just fine.
Well, we got ‘ere to the trenches Perc,
When do we go over the top?
Probably dawn tomorrow Joe,
Whenever the officers call.
Are yer as scared as me Perc?
Can’t get this shakin’ to stop.
Yes, I am as scared as you Joe,
Don’t look forward to climbing that wall.
Thanks for bein’ me pal Perc,
I’m lucky I ‘ad someone like you.
I’ll get you back to the trench Joe,
And see what the medics can do.
Will yer write to me Mam & Dad Perc?
Tell ’em I did me best?
I’ll tell them you are a hero Joe
And passed the ultimate test.

June 2007

Jacqueline Walles

Hill 60 & Caterpillar Crater

I was pleased to accompany Jacqueline Walles on her journey of a lifetime with B.B.J. in October, 2008. Our group formed immediate bonds of friendship which will never be forgotten and when it came for us to part, Jackie presented me with the following poems which she had composed herself.

I let Jackie introduce her poems:

‘For Those Who Didn’t Come Home’ was thought up in 2005 and ‘Perc’ in 2007. Having won essay competitions at ages 9 and 11, it is wonderful to think someone would be happy to read something else all these years later.

About five years ago while searching for anything I could find re all my uncles who served in WW1 I found information in a weekly magazine/newspaper published here in Auckland called the ‘Weekly News’ (published from 1877 to the 1970’s) which printed casualty lists, recruitment lists, objectors etc, as well as a glossy middle section of thumb nail photos of killed and wounded. None of this was indexed and I took on a one person transcription of anything I could find. One column was called ‘Personal Paragraphs’ where, I presume, NOK gave a potted history of their casualty. The loss of all that potential was sometimes a bit over-whelming, particularly when a photograph was also available. I often came home from the city library and had a little weep for ‘my boys’ as they came to be called.

Never having been a good sleeper, my imagination would sometimes run riot during the early morning hours and hence the poems. At the time they were written, they were not dedicated to any particular person, just to those men whose graves we saw in France and Belgium.

2 October, 2008

They never found his body,
couldn’t bury him at all.
He left no son or daughter,
just a name upon a wall.

Ninety years after WWI, thousands of tons of ordinance and scrap are recovered each year from the battlefields of France and Belgium. On occasion the body of a soldier is still recovered.

 

3 October, 2008

He put the plow into the ground,
a skull came popping up.
Next to it there upon the mound,
a rusted metal cup.
There’s no one left to weep for him,
after all these many years.
His family all have joined him,
so the farmer shed the tears.

On the dedication of the Lost Battalion Marker, near Charlevaux , France,

 

4 October, 2008

We honor the Lost Battalion, so many laid to rest,

but oft forget the names of those who made it through the test.

Are they not also heroes, who survived the test,
endured the Hell of Battle, then picked up the task,
of serving their country, by serving fellow man,
raising up their families and lending helping hands?

Abe Tobin came a marching home after many battles fought
and taught his son life’s lessons, but of war he would speak not.
His grandson, Alan, comes today to honor him with pride
and his grandfather’s comrades who on this ground did die.

Sherman Eager fought here too, amongst the Argonne trees.
He went home, taught History and raised a family.
When another war came, he served his land again
and grandson Brett is here today, in memory of him.

Pasquale “James” Ilardo, a young man, immigrant from Sicily
He volunteered to serve the land that allowed him to be free.
Wet and cold and wounded, amongst the dead he lay,
and with each breath he wondered, if this would be the day.
Captured by the Germans and thrown into a hole,
somehow escaped and thanked the Lord for rescuing his soul.

He too went home and mother found, wreath upon the door.
Dressed in Black, ‘cause a letter said, “Your son died in the war.”

Granddaughter Jeanie is here today to pay respect to him
and all the men who died, and lived, from the Lost Battalion.

 

Written after a visit to Tyne Cot Cemetery, 1 October, 2008

The Last One Laid To Rest

He never really understood how big the job would be

when he was given orders to Tyne Cot Ceme’try.

He buried those who gave their lives for the man upon the throne,
each one had prayed to be the man to come a marching home.

For days on end, run into weeks, and then the months went by,
shovel after shovel, till there were no more tears to cry.

He and his mates kept digging, from dawn to setting sun
and for a time it seemed to them the end would never come.

They laid them in a pattern, in rows, there in the ground,
each day, when the sun did set, the bugle it would sound.

Some stones gave name and regiment, some “A soldier of the Great War,”
and every day the lorries came with several dozen more.

And when the war had ended, the bodies still they came,
he took his pen and paper and kept writing the names.

He prayed for strength and courage, to match up to the test.
and on his knees gave thanks to God, when the last was laid to rest.

 

The Wrong Side of the Cross

He left the 3rd of April, 1917,

His hand from the train window
Was the last of him she’d seen.

He promised he’d return again
To ask her father for her hand.
And went away to battle
In France’s verdant land.

He didn’t come back to claim her,
She took another’s hand.
And when her husband died she crossed the waves,
To find her missing man.

In countless cemeteries, she tread upon the sod
Reading every marker, some said, “Known but to God.

Reading names on Stars and Crosses,
Wondering how much each life cost,
She didn’t see she missed a row
And passed the wrong side of the Cross.

Thiepval Memorial

Richard Hughes and his wife Jeanie travelled with a group of Americans to the Meuse-Argonne in October 2008. The purpose of the tour was to honour the feats of the ‘Lost Battalion’ and Sergeant Alvin C. York. The group was collected from Charles de Gaulle airport in France and six wonderful days were spent together exploring the Allied and American battlefields on the Western Front.

Richard was so moved by what he saw that he penned the words for the following 5 poems:

After a visit to Thiepval Memorial which contains the names of nearly 73,000 British Soldiers who have no known grave.

Copyright 2008 Richard E. Hughes
Copyright 2008 Pennie Rich Publishing
All rights reserved. For duplication permission contact:

Pennie Rich Publishing

4755 County Road 27
Monte Vista, CO 81144

Silent Courage

The mass of graves the woods surround

Mark the hallowed, holy ground,

The trees like brooding guards protect

The silent soldiers we respect.

We mourn the men who lie below,

Who gave their lives in battle to show

The honour and courage that in men lie,

When duty and their country cry.

Though high above their souls may be,

Their memory will last for eternity.

Tom Scott

Somme Trenches

Tom Scott made his first pilgrimage to the battlefields of the Great War as a student with Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Horncastle. At Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery he found himself enthralled by the serenity of the place and by the sombre trees of the surrounding wood. He confessed that the atmosphere entered his very soul and later he felt inspired to write his poem. The poem was so well received that two years later, he was invited by the Rev. Canon Ray Jones, Chaplain of St.Georges Memorial Church, Ypres, to return to Flanders to attend the funeral of a soldier of the First World War, whose remains were to be buried with full military honours. Tom was there asked to read his poem before the dignified assembly.

The magic which is the Western Front has a way of calling you back.

James Herbert Child

I never knew your face
I never knew your name
I never had the honour…
To meet you….what a shame.

But when I saw your picture
I needed to know more
I needed to understand it all…
And what you had died for.

I have in my possession
The letter that you wrote
You know the one…to your sister
On whom you clearly dote.

Your sister was my grandma
Who lost all brothers three
What a bloody waste of life.
Why should so much madness be?

Well… Ninety two years later
I am finally first to visit
Shame you couldn’t see it all
But I know you didn’t miss it.

For standing at your graveside
Such beautiful words were said
Tears rolling down our cheeks
As I laid your wreath of red.

I was left alone to talk to you
Not knowing what to tell
But like you great uncle…
My tears…they just fell and fell.

Thank you uncle for being there
We owe you for what you’ve done
Thank you for saving us all….
Saving us….from the Hun.

I’m going to let you go right now
I’ll let you rest in peace
But coming back to talk to you
Well…that will never cease.

Now….I have your photo framed
And stands in pride of place
Now…I finally call your name
And at last……..I see your face.

R.I.P.

Private 524 James Herbert Child M.M. Trench runner
Killed in action 30th December 1916 aged 22 years.

Theresa Horsler

Tyne Cot Cemetery Ypres

Theresa Horsler’s interest in writing poetry was rekindled by the atmosphere and emotions drawn from her experience visiting the battlefields with BBJ. For the first time in 10 years she was inspired to write the following in memory of her ancestors:

Silent Cities

They call them Silent Cities
These rows of standing stones
These lines of Portland soldiers
Which once were all our boys
I walked these Silent Cities
But could never be alone
For me they were not silent
In each I heard a noise
A whispering, a murmuring
What can this be I thought
It came not to the ears
But quietly, no fuss
It said, “You see us not
You for whom we fought
You see the stones but
Still you do not see us”
Until that one bright morn
I looked once more and then
As shadows grew from stones to lawn
It was then I saw the men
With my eyes I saw the stones
The numbers and much more,
But in that summer’s heat
With my mind’s eye now open
I know now that I saw
Those men beneath my feet

So if you should chance to visit
A Silent City street
As you go, just say “Hello”
To the lad beneath your feet.

Mike Edwards

Tyne Cot Cemetery Ypres

Inspired by the lines of shadows cast by the headstones at a cemetery on the Somme.

Unknown Soldier

I knelt and touched the warm, wet grass
beside your cross…
and in that quiet moment
felt your hand brush mine-
Time seemed to stretch and split
and there you were in front of me-
The years had washed away
your pain, your tears,
the ugly wounds that
tore you from your life-
There you were – clean and shining,
whole,
innocent again.
A miracle of sweet remembrance-
in an instant – gone
but knowing you, at last
I can let you sleep.
Unknown,
no longer – not to me.

Marilyn Restione

Thiepval Memorial

There is a growing awareness in the USA of the role played by American troops in the Great War and we at BBJ now undertake several study tours of the Western Front each year.

The students, all retired, consider the political and military aspects in some depth and visit areas of action involving all the Allied and German participants. They spend 5 days in the Ypres Salient before travelling the entire Western Front to Verdun.

Whilst the highly decorated or famous are sometimes the focus of attention for visitors to the cemeteries, Marilyn Restione was so touched and overwhelmed by the sheer number of unknown graves that she felt compelled to pen the following;

“HERE RESTS IN HONOURED GLORY”

On Remembrance Sunday

A trumpet sounds Reveille loud and clear
Two minutes pass into eternity
In the solemness of silent prayer
Visions bitter sweet are borne to me
Cemeteries of service men, a poppy wreath
White crosses glistening in the sun
Symbols of a faith true unto death
And the price of freedom dearly won.
Grey haired and wan we now grow old
In memory lane meet absent friends
Comrades again the meek and bold
Marching to glory where the rainbow ends.
In Flanders Fields where the poppies blend
With shrapnel’s screech and big guns thud
Sharing the draws on a last fag end
In a dugout deep beneath the mud.
At zero hour the barrage lifts,
We press on to the flaming ridge ahead
Taking it, the battle centre shifts
We stand to with our wounded and our dead.
Dead! And closed forever those steadfast eyes
No more to see the sun, the winding trail
Thro’ growing corn, to rainbows in the skies
Gone like a withered leaf before an Autumn gale
For this is war it’s glories torn apart
The Heavens re-echo with it’s shame,
And God looks down with an aching heart
On the carnage wrought in His Holy Name.
They live! These comrades we mourn as dead
Immortal souls upon another sphere
Like a star, a shining light they shed
To guide us through that slough of fear.
And this to them my last Amen
Each evening I’ll light a candle for you
Till that morning dawns when we meet again.

 

A POPPY
A tramp paused near an oak tree bough
‘Neath lightening flashing skies
Deep scars cleft his rugged brow
Strange looking were his eyes
A world had vanished from his ken
He knew not day nor hour
Or what had drawn him to this glen
To find a scarlet flower & A POPPY
A friendless wanderer in the glen
Alone to roam the heather burn
Just one of God’s forgotten men
Wending the trail of no return
To the storm he raised his bare scarred head
In a while his eyes did lower
And there besides the water ahead
He saw this scarlet flower A POPPY
He plucked it from his verdant sward
‘Twas for him a rosary
It’s scarlet hue had struck a chord
In clouded memory
The glen had changed to Flanders fields
There Mons at zero hour
Proud nations clash tho’ neither yields
And grows a scarlet flower A POPPY
Europe’s armies die in mass
As the bloody battles sway
The Marne, The Somme, Ypres, Arras
Thro’ the forest to Cambrai
Poperinge, Toc H with Clayton there
To spend a quiet hour
Then back to blood and strife and where
There grows a scarlet flower A POPPY
Shepherds walking in the glen
Tending to their sheep
Pause before his placid mien
He lay as tho’ asleep
They doff their caps in silent prayer
Rough faces grim and dour
They know Death’s Angel claims him there
In his hand a scarlet flower A POPPY
For a while they lay him on the ground
Hands crossed upon his breast
The peace he sought he now has found
A wanderer at rest
They dig for him an unknown’s grave
Beside the old church tower
Last port the priest a requiem gave
Then flutters down a scarlet flower A POPPY
No more a roamer there he lies
Beneath a brown earth mound
Where rich and poor the fool and wise
Are equal in the ground
And in the spring green grass will grow
Tho’ men still strive for power
But they’re no more to God you know
Than this little scarlet flower A POPPY

Arthur Robert Morgan

Poppy Cameo

Ceri Rees and her son Patrick travelled with us to follow in the footsteps of her uncle, 2nd. Lt. Arthur Morgan, who enlisted at the age of 19 yrs and was to receive a commission in the field in 1918.

Arthur sustained a gun shot wound in the hand which removed most of his knuckles but he considered himself lucky to survive the war with such a “minor” wound. As the war drew to its close Arthur was transferred to the Salonika campaign and was discharged in 1923.

A gifted and warm hearted poet he wrote many pieces of worth after the War. The two we present here are considered by Ceri to be amongst his finest.

Arthur was born on the 1st of August 1895, served with RWF 1915 (Sergeant) onwards. Commissioned to 2nd Lieutenant 25 September 1918.

The Old Man Next Door

He was only an ordinary soldier.
Private, infantry, one of the line.
He’d served seven years when they sent him to France
Via Le Havre and Mauberge, just in time.

To Mons with it’s pits and it’s slag heaps,
The canal with it’s bridges across.
He stood and he stopped the bold Germans,
Shouldered arms turned about , ordered off.

The retreat was hard on the soldier
With rearguards and actions to fight.
But he marched and he fought and slept little;
Never asked if the Generals were right.

At the Marne he turned and saw action
Chased the Germans right up to the Aisne.
There he fought and retired to rest billets
And then started marching again.

Up to Ypres with it’s spires and it’s towers,
Which the Germans were keen to destroy.
But he fought them and held the position
With the remains of the Old Army deployed.

He marched and he fought at Neuve Chapelle,
Cuinchy, Festubert, Aubers and Loos.
And he stuck with the mud and the hardship
For it wasn’t his option to choose.

Back to Ypres, and then the great battle,
Farther south on the river, the Somme.
Through the woods, lives and villages shattered,
Never questioning when things went wrong.

In the line or at rest, or in training,
Working parties, fatigues and patrol;
Armentieres, Arras and Amiens,
Wherever, he did what was told.

Back to the towns in the salient,
To Passchendale, Poelderhoek, Hooge,
Hellfire Corner, Menin and Langemark,
And in Pop for a night on the booze.

Ordered south in ’18 he retreated
Back across the old Somme battlefield.
And he still never questioned his orders,
Never thought the Old Army would yield.

Then in August he started advancing
And to Mons he eventually came back.
And they told him the war, it was over,
Stand easy; no further attack.

And he looked at the men all around him
And saw none who’d been with him before
When they’d stopped the German advance there.
He’s the last of the original Corps.

His mates lie in France and in Flanders
And list of the names is so long.
But he still sees the faces and hears them;
On the marches, in billets, in song……

And he’ll never forget his four years there,
What he saw, what he felt, what he did.
And he’ll never discuss it with strangers,
Or his family, the wife and the kid.

His medals he keeps in the sideboard
With his papers, his badge and pay book.
“It’s done”, he says, “No need for talking”.
But he lets it slip every so often, and today, he let me take a look.

Then we sat and he told me his stories,
In his own way with no dressing up.
And I sat there enthralled for some hours,
And the char came up, cup after cup.

And I’ll never forget the Old Soldier,
Or those like him who died far away.
And I’ll make sure that others remember
For our tomorrows, they gave their today.

Tony Nutkins. Northolt

Caribou Monument, Somme

Tony Nutkins is a close friend and a true devotee of the Great War. He travels with me regularly and together, with his wife Lynne, we have shared many memorable adventures.

Knowledgeable without measure about the affairs of the Western Front, he is also a gifted poet who has written over the years, many pieces to inspire the most ardent traveller. He recently presented me with a poem which I particularly admire and I offer it to you now as a lovely example of Tony’s art.

The Flags of Glory

The banners of the past hang limp and lifeless, stained and torn,
And scream softly of their faded glory which once was worn
In battle known to history. Teachers tell of of days of yore,
And children listen to the tales of gore.

Where is the glory? To learn, to teach, to live, to die –
All in Life’s classroom, where knowledge is nigh.
The pews in the church, the rows in the school,
Living by the Golden Rule.

He marched to school. He marched to War. To Glory?
The old dead Latin drill: Pro patria mori.
No more to Lincoln, turn your head –
Lie in your row. Now you are dead.

Fly one for John,
Scholar and son.
Gentleman, friend,
Unto the end.

Diane Melloy – Follet. Vieux-Berquin, France.
Dedicated to 2nd Lieutenant Jack Larkin
41st Battalion AIF, of Queensland.
State School Teacher.
Born in Brisbane.
Son of James and Sarah Anne Larkin of Indooroopilly.
Killed in the attack on Passchendaele. 4th October 1917, aged 20 years and 9 months..
Buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium. Plot LVII, Row F, Grave 11.
Rest In Peace.

Tyne Cot

David met Diane Follet entirely by chance at Tyne Cot Cemetery on the occasion of the commemoration of the 90th Anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, and after a few minutes of conversation it was as if they had known each other for years. Diane, an Australian lady now living in France, was tending the grave of 2nd Lt. Jack Larkin of the Australian Imperial Force, and she explained that he and her late husband Bob had volunteered for military service in the Great War and had travelled to the U.K. together before moving on to Belgium.

Whilst on leave in England they had visited Jack’s relatives in Lincoln, coincidentally within a few miles of our present office.

Jack was killed by a sniper’s bullet at Zonnebeke during the Battle of Passchendaele,

a sorrow which was to remain with Bob for the rest of his life. In the following years, Bob was to relate to Diane his life’s story, with especial emphasis upon his adventures in World War One, and she transcribed his stories into a book entitled “ Time Will Tell: Memoirs of a Kangaroo Point Kid”.

In 1992, to complement the book, Diane composed a poem, “The Flags of Glory”, which she has passed to us and which we share with you now.

The Cricketers of Flanders

The first to climb the parapet
With ‘cricket–ball’ in either hand;
The first to vanish in the smoke
Of God-forsaken No-Man’s land.
First at the wire and soonest through,

First at those re-mouthed hounds of hell
The Maxims, and the first to fall –
They do their bit, and do it well.

Full sixty yards I’ve seen them throw
With all that nicety of aim
They learned on British cricket-fields.
Ah! Bombing is a Briton’s game!
Shell-hole, trench to trench,
‘Lobbing them over’. With an eye
As true as though it were a game,
And friends were having tea close by.

Pull down some art-offending thing
Of carven stone, and in its stead
Let splendid bronze commemorate
These men, the living and the dead.
No figure in heroic size
Towering skyward like a god;
But just a lad who might have stepped
From any British bombing squad.

His shrapnel helmet set a-tilt,
His bombing waistcoat sagging low,
His rifle slung across his back:
Poised in the very act to throw.
And let some raven legend tell
Of those weird battles in the West
Wherein he put old skill to use
And played old games with sterner zest.

Thus should he stand, reminding those
In less believing days, perchance,
How Britain’s fighting cricketers
Helped bomb the Germans out of France.
And other eyes than ours would see;
And other hearts than ours would thrill,
And others say, as we have said:
‘A sportsman and a soldier still!’

James Norman Hall

Somme Trenches

Trefor Jones is a firm friend and travelling companion who is engaged by BBJ as a researcher and spends long hours at The National Archives. Much of the documentation presented to guests during their journeys with the company is the product of his research. He has also spent several years studying the epitaphs on the First World War headstones in cemeteries of the Western Front, an exercise which has culminated in a book entitled “On Fame’s Eternal Camping Ground”, containing a selection of over 1500 of the most moving and unusual tributes from the families of the deceased.

Some time ago Trefor sent me a poem which combines his twin interests of cricket and the First World War. Entitled “The Cricketers of Flanders” and written by James Norman Hall, a co- author of “Mutiny on the Bounty”, it is included here in Poets Corner.

In Flanders Fields

Where it was that the poppies blow
Remembrance makes respect, to grow and grow.
It yields a memory there to stay
To those who died. I don’t know what to say.

To all the men, who lost their lives,
Brought grief to mothers, children and their wives,
We must, we must,
Put prayers to every tree.

Jan Somers, Belgium.

Hill 60 & Caterpillar Crater

Jan Somers, a Belgian friend living in Flanders, recently wrote to us and included a small poem which he offers as a complement to John McCrae’s world- renowned poem, “In Flanders Fields”.

It is a tender piece clearly written from the heart, and it is well deserving of a place here in our Poet’s Corner.

Some Mother’s Son

Kneeling before a headstone,
A soldier’s name,
the day he fell
and his age
so very young.
A wave of emotion
is felt for……
A Mother’s Son,
A Mother’s Son.

An empty grave,
marked by a headstone
to say a soldier was removed
to the place from
which he sailed.
He is the Unknown Soldier,
Known only to God,
but he was…….
Some Mother’s Son,
Some Mother’s Son.

Many names upon a wall,
Of young men who will
never be found.
A bugle is sounded,
Flags are lowered,
In Remembrance for……
Some Mother’s Son,
Some Mother’s Son.

Jay Oakes

Menin Gate, Ypres

Jay Oakes of Glendon, Queensland, Australia, travelled with BBJ on a “pilgrimage of a lifetime” in 2007. Standing at the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Jay thought back over the life and death of his great uncle and later composed a poem, “Some Mother’s Son”.

It deserves to be known to all who intend to make, or who may have already made, their own personal journey of remembrance.

The Fallen

He sleeps beside his comrades

In a hallowed grave, unknown,
But his name is written in letters of love,
In the hearts he left at home.

Sleep on, dear son, and take your rest,
For God called thee when He thought best.
Our loss is great, thine is gain.
In heaven we hope to meet again.

In the bloom of his life Death claimed him,
In the pride of his manhood days;
His heart was good, his spirit brave;
His resting- place is a soldier’s grave.

In memory of Henry REGAN
Corporal
26367
12th Bn., Royal Scots,
who died on
Saturday, 5th May 1917. Age 21.

Isobel Lyman

Tyne Cot Cemetery Ypres

In 2007, Isobel Lyman and her husband Michael travelled to the battle sites of the Western Front accompanied by our guide, Mike Kelly. Their purpose was to retrace the the path of Corporal Henry Regan of the Royal Scots who fought and fell in Northern France.

At Duisans British Cemetery they honoured the memory of this gallant young man and later Isobel presented her guide with a poem first published in June 1917. The poem was inserted in the Midlothian Advertiser by Corporal Regan’s parents, his brothers and sisters only a month after his death and one can only imagine the anguish of their broken hearts.

You Could Not Know

You were so young and strong, and came with eagerness and pride,
And found quite soon a mangled earth where brave young soldiers died:
You knew your friends and folks back home thought of you and would fear,
The cold unfeeling note which said that you must stay out here.
You knew the grey, smoke-laden air, and knew that pain and death
Were waiting so impatiently in gunfire’s noisy breath.
You knew the weariness of days; the cheerless nights – how slow;
And wondered if there would be fear when you were told to go.
Brave man, perhaps you understood your individual share,
But there is one thing that I know, you could not be aware…..
You could not know, long years ahead, someone you never knew,
Would search and find your place, and stand, and shed a tear for you.

Jean Stoner

Longuenesse

Jean Stoner travelled with BBJ in April 2002 to pay her respects at the grave of a beloved and long dead relative at Longuenesse (St. Omer) Souvenir cemetery.

After her visit, she composed this lovely piece, which has long been a favourite and which has proved a source of comfort to many over the years.