An elderly friend’s father volunteered for the Army in 1914 [probably the Cheshire Regiment], was trained, sent to the Front, wounded in the head by shrapnel and repatriated to England for recovery. He had not yet reached his 15th birthday. He was in my mind when I wrote of ‘the youngest, early-dying boys and men’ in The Dark Lord Cometh. His mother demanded he be discharged from the Army, although my understanding is that he re-enlisted later in the War as soon as he could. He represents many thousands of boys who had similar stories to tell, along with those who did not survive. Their bravery will be remembered forever.
This platoon of poems marches from my heart, shouldering arms for the long slog to the Front where, crouching, they will join their comrades who have been there for a century already. With snipers seemingly everywhere, they take cover in the trenches and pray to God that they remain unscathed. I would love them to foster a spirit of rebellion in the ranks so that this Great War would indeed have been over by Christmas 1914. If only the ordinary men on both sides had been able to bring this about, thus saving Europe and the wider world from the madness that was to follow. The Christmas truce was in itself a miracle but its tragedy lay in its being crushed by the ravenous generals, kings and marshals who made their grisly appearance. Alongside the glorious War Poets, Harry Patch in The Last Fighting Tommy condemned the waging of war by Christian nations. He spoke truly.
1914 – 1918
And the Dark Lord cometh
Across the heavens
Seeking peaceful people
Of the arrival of ravening Death.
But the Dark Lord is amongst them
Wading in the grotesqueness
Of his overwhelming hatred
And Satanic will
To lay waste the trembling bodies
Of the youngest, early-dying boys and men.
What joy, what satisfaction has this Lord
That the fifty fools who rule
Are so held
In the palms of his avenging claws
That their horrid pride and pomp
Execute so sweetly
The Dark Lord’s will.
Armed with ploughshares heated
Twisted, riveted, re-formed
Into terrible implements of war
Men still hoarsely call
For blessings from the Dear Lord Jesus
That they may slip untouched
Through the biting, thirsty, bullety steel
That seeks to make nothing of what has been
Annihilating utterly, utterly
Any continuation of life itself.
Drink deep, mighty Lord
Thy time is now
Thy time has come
When men shall be swept
Into the pit of Annihilation
And junketing madmen
Clad as generals, kings and marshals
Tolerate no thought of pause
No thought other than victory
The cost in human souls.
May this nightmare damn such fools
And warn the present brazen madmen
That the Dark Lord is never
Gone forever, only absent
Quieted in our present thoughts.
The Dark Lord cometh
And he may come again.
Let all those historians now abroad
Telling us this Great War was just
I’m sending you to represent us
In the field, so to speak.
Except, of course, the field has disappeared
Along with every tree and hedge and nearly every rat
So you’ll do well to land heavily on a plank
And not in an oozing waste of mud and membrane
Just fancy that!
You said yourself that this Great War just needed to be fought
So it’s only right that you yourself shall fiercely risk
Your soft and puny body, oh so easily pierced
By Spandau or savagely speeding shrapnel
Rendering all your earnest thoughts missing in action.