Category Archives: Poems

Zen and the Act of Remembrance.

Of the following, the first three soldiers all left for the Great War from Folkestone on the same day. The first two would have known each other, as did the last two.  Three were killed in the Great War. Two have Commonwealth War Grave Headstones. One is on a Memorial to the Missing. One has a private Headstone. One had a Lament written for him. One had a poem. One fell like a soldier, another we miss. One is in a local graveyard, the others are not and these are just four soldiers in total. Look for one type of remembrance and you will fail to remember the rest.

Sergeant 1011 Charles Stewart McKenzie
1/6th Seaforth Highlanders

No. 1011 Charles Stewart McKenzie, Sergeant in the 1/6th Seaforth Highlanders, born in Elgin on the 15th November 1882. The son of Alexander and Annie Mackenzie of Collie Street, Elgin. Charles crossed with his battalion. He was severely wounded in the arm and later killed in action on the 9th April 1917 at Vimy Ridge during the Battle of Arras. He is the only soldier of the Great War to have a lament written for him.

“Ains a year say a prayer faur me
Close yir een an remember me
Nair mair shall a see the sun
For a fell tae a Germans gun”
(From Sgt Mackenzie by Joseph Kilna McKenzie)

Charles is buried in Highland Cemetery Roclincourt. His epitaph reads “HE LIKE A SOLDIER FELL”

Private 1010 James Wood “D” Coy. 1st/6th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders the son of George and Mary Wood, of 5228, 70th St. South East, Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. Killed in action on the 20th December 1915. Before the war James was a joiner at Morven on Sea, Lossiemouth, Scotland. The inscription on his grave at Authuille Military Cemetery, Authuille reads: “WE MISS YOU DEAR JAMIE”

Private 3499 Robert William Goddard
1/5th Seaforth Highlanders.

Olympic trialist in 1908,4 Robert William Goddard embarked for France from Folkestone on the 1st May. We know this from the date on his medal card. Like Charles McKenzie of the 1/6th Seaforth Highlanders Goddard became a Sergeant. Goddard eventually became a Company Sergeant Major. Sadly Goddard’s Army records do not survive. It is known from the London Gazette that he was awarded the Military Medal and Bar. On his tombstone it is recorded “M.M. Beaumont Hammel 1916”, but the citations seem to have been lost and there is no record of the award of a second M.M. -apart from the mention in the London Gazette of a prior award. From his tombstone we also know he married. Because of the age of his wife, Dorethy, almost certainly after the war. He also became a farmer and farmed at Denton in Kent for sixty years. Robert William Goddard MM and Bar, died on the 24th June 1982. He is buried in Denton Parish Churchyard, Denton, Kent.

img_8152Robert William Goddard’s Gravestone. (Photo) Peter Anderson)

Robert Goddard was David Sutherland’s Sergeant.

Private 2943 David Sutherland, Died 16/05/1916, 5th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.

“Oh, never will I forget you,
My men that trusted me,
More my sons than your fathers’,
For they could only see
The little helpless babies
And the young men in their pride.
They could not see you dying,”
And hold you while you died.

(From the poem  In Memoriam
by Ewart Alan Mackintosh)

David Sutherland’s death was the inspiration for the poem In Memoriam.

 

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The next blog, running late again. The War Poets.

Deciding on a title is often the hardest part. The IWW in 3 minutes is coming to an end. The blogs have to get longer. I have been asked to write a blog on the war poets, Anathema to this Doomed Youth. My eyes used to glaze over in schools, I went to more than one. I used to love Kipling, still do. Their raspberry swirls are to die for.  He was a poet, the Empire’s poet, the only better man was Gunga Din.

So I’ll meet ‘im later on
At the place where ‘e is gone
Where it’s always double drill and no canteen.
‘E’ll be squattin’ on the coals
Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,
An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!
Yes, Din! Din! Din!
You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

Although the Fuzzy Wussy was a first class fighting man,

‘E’s the on’y thing that doesn’t give a damn
For a Regiment o’ British Infantree!
So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan;
You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;
An’ ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your ‘ayrick ‘ead of ‘air —
You big black boundin’ beggar — for you broke a British square!

and I know whose square you broke. It was the Black Watch for those that did not know. I learnt from Kipling about executions in the army, a chill went up my spine when I heard they hanged Danny Deever.

“WHAT are the bugles blowin’ for? ” said Files-on-Parade.
“To turn you out, to turn you out,” the Colour-Sergeant said.
“What makes you look so white, so white? ” said Files-on-Parade.
“I’m dreadin’ what I’ve got to watch,” the Colour-Sergeant said.
For they’re hangin’ Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play

 The changing nature of artillery with the screw guns.

Smokin’ my pipe on the mountings, sniffin’ the mornin’ cool,
I walks in my old brown gaiters along o’ my old brown mule,
With seventy gunners be’ind me, an’ never a beggar forgets

How soldiers are treated outside in peacetime

O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ” Tommy, go away ” ;
But it’s ” Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s ” Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play.

Great poems, but no one will say to you, read these, they are the only history of the Empire. This is how it was. Kipling is a poet therefore he writes history and tells you how it was. Kipling did write history. He wrote the History of the Irish Guards in The Great War. A two volume work which might just be his forgotten master piece. Kipling knew the difference between poetry and history.

My introduction to the war poets, in Britain the term war poets tends to refer to a small group of soldiers who spent the war trying to get into each others pants, was to Wilfred Owen, and his poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” A dreadfully naive poem which took three years to write. Just imagine, you live in France at the start of the Great War, You see the wounded, you visit the dying, everyday you see the widows in their black veils. Then, after enlisting, and serving three years, you find yourself on the Road to Damascus? What the heck were you on? War is was and always will be a nasty horrible evil business. , It is,  Obscene as cancer. bitter as the cud., but you knew that already did not you Mr Owen?. While I am at it and not one of the small group, Ewart Mackintosh, David had a brother.

The war poets, all of them, not just the very small group people in the UK think of, are a mixed bunch. Some wrote some of the finest poetry ever written in English. Masterpieces of the poets craft. They tug at the heart strings, pierce the soul, and have shaped the mythology that has come to be the people’s history of the war. The thing is though for the first decade after the end of the Great war, no one wanted to know. Owen’s book of poems sold less than a 1000 copies, so what happened?

The economy collapsed, that is what happened, peoples collective memory changed. The war was no longer going to herald a new golden age. The door for doom and gloom war poetry had opened.

It goes not however explain how the poets came to be perceived as “History”. This came about subtly. Well as subtly as the counter culture generation of the sixties would allow. Heralded by the musical “Oh what a Lovely War”, and supported by the Vietnam Generation, everything must now be anti-war. The Great War was to be set in stone as “False Optimism”, Harsh Bloody “Reality”, followed by “Futile”.

The poets of the Great war were now to be manipulated, edited and molded to fit the new PC history of the Western Front, which, as far as the public was concerned was all the war there was.

Not only the poets work was edited, How many people realise Sassoon loved the war? It was the time of his life. Owen went back. Without the war these people were nothing. The poems were also edited. We all know

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shell not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sum and in the morning

We will remember them

(Binyon)

But that is all we know. There are another six verses, three before and three after.

How about in Flanders Field were the poppies grew by, John McCrae?

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

An anti war poem? Not a bit of it, it is a request, more, its a plea, to carry on the fight. If we don’t they shall not sleep, even though in Flanders fields the poppies grow.

Books of verse were edited and marketed according to the new political correctness. War is ugly, nasty, brutal. We know that. The Great War was long, brutal, necessary and is now history. The war poets are part of that history, they are not The History. Read them, they will give you something to think about. Enjoy them, you will find it difficult to find better poetry. If it is history you are looking for read, Peter Hart, Martin Middlebrook, Joseph E. Persico, Gary Sheffield, not F.W. Harvey,  Herbert Read, or Sassoon.

References

Poetry of the First World War, Longman English Series

Can’t shoot a man with a cold, Colin Cambell, and Rosalind Green

Anthem for Doomed Youth, Jon Sallworthy

kipling’s poems, internet and my own memory.