The World War I Soldier

A poem submitted from one of the Flyer readers

World War I Soldier

We sailed to Le Harvre in a cattle boat.
It’s a wonder we arrived, she could barely float.
I was ready for war as I ran down the ramp,
For I had been trained for six weeks at camp.
We were allocated billets in bits of farm spreadings,
Many never saw their first night, buried now beneath their headings.
East Surreys, Royal Field Artillery and the Pioneer Corps,
Many young men lied in order to go to war.
Up to our knees in freezing mud, many have encountered trench foot.
This will not end well, just a feeling in my gut.
Crawling out to a position in a shell hole,
I felt naked, as if bearing my soul.
I was brewing up some tea, when suddenly, a shell overhead,
I look around and a young lad lies dead.
Sixteen years old, he had lied about his age,
This war was building inside of me a rage.
I remember the eerie silence on Christmas Day.
For me, it was solemn, but I could not pray.
The worst sight I saw was in Marmette Wood,
men were killed and buried where they stood.
Buried in ground of less than one foot,
Essex Yeomanry lightly covered in soil and soot.
Some battles were catastrophic such as the Somme,
Slaughter ad nauseam, over one million men injured or gone.
300,000 died at the Somme to take just six miles of field,
A generation lost for such a pitiful yield.
Some skirmishes gained just 25ft of ground,
Hundreds dead, survivors stood and stared without sound.
I am surrounded by comrades and yet I am alone
mementoes are hugely significant as are letters from home.
Fragments of family and a life left behind,
a world away from here, existing only in mind.
I look to the skies for answers, with none forthcoming.
Would I have heard, for my ears were humming
from the constant noise of war.
My head is pounding, my eyes are sore.
I remember the cold, I remember the stench
I remember the snow and the rats in the trench.
Many bodies lie beyond reach, we cannot not lay them to rest.
Cockroaches feed on the bodies, they begin to fest,
Your life is decided on the toss of a dice,
will I make it back, will I ever get rid of the damn lice.
Above all, I remember the waste
of life lost in the pursuit of “haste”.
You only know you part of the battle,
In some ways, we were herded like cattle.
Shell bursting all around,
a constant bombardment, a deafening sound.
I come across a soldier ripped from shoulder to waist,
I don’t know how much more I can take of this waste.
“Shoot me” he mumbled, I thought of my brother,
in his dying seconds, he gasped one word, “mother”.
Men suffering from shell shock just walked away,
They were shot for desertion, for they had to pay!
One day a silence fell,
no longer, it seemed, we were still in hell.
The respite was brief,
the killing continued and, with it, the grief.
War is an all-consuming killing machine,
The rage is building, I want to scream.
At the darkest of the night there is hope in the dawn,
But in this hell, hope is but forlorn.
The noise of war crowds my aching head,
No room for quiet reflection or kindly word unsaid.
The pain of war shackles the lowly and the least,
For them courage arrives as an unwelcome beast,
That threatens to consume their very soul
in pursuit of some unknown military goal.
I fall, facing up to the sky, shells scream overhead.
Is this it? Am I still alive? Or am I dead?
Oblivious to all going on around,
It seems peaceful, there is no sound.
If this is death, it is not so bad,
Of course my family will be sad.
But that will pass and it will be fine.
As for me, I can dream for the rest of time.

Submitted by Chris Robinson

World War I Soldier