The One-Shilling Blanket [ Royal Welch Fusiliers, Palestine 1916 ]

Dear Mrs Williams

It is with heavy heart I write this note
Just to you his grieving mother
Your son before he died had smote
The foe, like many a brother.

But he has gladly died a hero’s death
Alike with many of his squad
And we have missed his manly breath
When recommending him to God.

But we’ve buried him here in Palestine
And at this point I have to say
There’s the cost of his blanket fine
So a shilling less in his pay.

I’m loath, so loath to add to your grieving
The blanket costing one shilling
Wrapped up your son for his leaving
Laid then to his rest, unwilling.

Well Dear Captain, in writing back to you
Tell me why was his shilling docked?
I’m alone with my heart in two
Grieved close unto death and so shocked.

So I’ve lost my dear son for evermore
And now also lost his shilling
May God above like me deplore
The deduction and his killing.

Oh, the shocking cruelty of the burial day
With the shroud deducted from the dead boy’s pay.

 


An imagined exchange of letters concerning this actual event. The Mother’s reply scalded with tears…… and from my eyes also, 102 years later. Was this deduction of pay typical of British Army practice at that time or perhaps peculiar to the Royal Welch Regiment?

 

Daniel Slaughterhouse WW1 1917

Daniel Slaughterhouse
As small as a mouse
Entered the fray
So small and grey
And licked his lips
Straightened his hips
As he peered about
Screamed a shout
At advancing Gerry
Coming in haste to bury
Daniel and all his mates
Flatten them to dinner plates.

Of a sudden, an arriving sound
Came sprouting all around
And shells like confetti fell
Introducing sickening Hell
Amid poor German Daniels
Screaming as mad spaniels.

While from the blooded smoke
Arose one enemy bloke
Reddened and just tottering
As if out garden pottering
Forward and towards us came
And even though it was a shame
We chopped him down all riddled
And from his corpse blood fiddled.

“Well, Danny, you’ve succeeded
Though soon you will be needed
So watch out smartish all around
Straining for the slightest sound
Of their last Daniels stumbling
Make sure you send ‘em tumbling.”

But timid Daniel dazed and shocked
His notion of the world unfrocked
Chastened to his quivering soul
Leant against the trench’s pole
Chattering and spouting drivel
A mate in fury, “Stop yer snivel!”
And caught Dan’s dishevelled head
Now crumpled, sobbing as he bled
Rumours of taking Bourlon Wood
Generals may help, if they could.

And on the horrid, deadly morrow
A bitter day awash with sorrow
Here is Daniel with his bandaged head
Yet a German sniper saw instead
Other boys and other souls
In other places, other holes
The sniper sent apace to heaven
Six lads of ours or maybe seven
But Daniel’s head survived the day
When impish Satan came to play.

And through the weeks of deadliness
Crucifying man’s manliness
Daniel led a blessed life
Where Death was loving as a wife
Until his Unit left the front at last
With friends of his left in the past
He had survived the fearful storm
In truth, a credit to his uniform
Yet he saw that Death had played
A Roulette game Hate had made.

Our Daniel cried, imploring mercy
With Ed and Jim and brother Percy
For dreadful deeds that they had seen
The world aghast at what had been.
“Mercy, mercy, Lord we pray
And drive foul devils far away
Take all our fallen brethren in
Freed from terror, freed from sin
Take in too our fallen foes
Freed like us as Heaven knows
And may those who caused this war
Remain bestained for evermore.”

A hundred years have sighed and passed
And all the boys have gone at last
None to set accusation flying
None to hear pained widows crying
But still a few, like me, will fight
To pierce the dark, let in fierce light
On rulers spewing out such madness
Igniting universal sadness
Who sidled past their fearsome crimes
Emerged as heroes of the times
And lived lives touched with luxury
Crushing white bones of history.

Let Christ bring true judgment to us here
Before we too are no longer near.


Bourlon Wood – at one point, our infantry had to cross open
ground in full view of the German defenders. Rather suicidal,
one might think.

The wood became infamous, to the British and Canadians as well
as the Germans, for the terrifying casualty rates on both sides.
Oh, the insanity of it all……. their Daniels and our Daniels.

When Last You Called My Name I Wasn’t There

When last you called my name I wasn’t there
My soul is flown, spread fine across the wind
Cast up towards the stars yet freed from pain
Lost to human life and blown beyond repair.

So when you in tears sit choking on the stair
And press my image to your faltering heart
Think not that I, willing, have flown from you
When having called my name, I am not there.

Fevered, floundering mud the dying clawed
No more clogs my annihilated, boyish limbs
Since I from you am parted, freely leaping
Unbodied now and formless, seek the Lord.

A soldier boy was I at Passchendaele
Now vapour in a moistly spattering hail.

 

(This boy was unmade at Passchendaele and is no more.)

 

The Day The Dead Passed By

Out from the shadows the marching men
Thumbs up and laughing passed by
But I feared as I lived I’d not see ’em again
They’d been sent to this place just to die.

For these were our boys in youthful blush
With ammo strapped hard to their chests
Marching as one they passed in a rush
While Death smiles and never protests.

In alarm came the rattle of returning souls
Death prodding onward his charred brigade
This is the place where the scythe patrols
And I wept for I was sore dismayed.

Then Death returned and spat bile in my face
In triumph at the betrayal of our human race.

 


The Third Battle of Ypres, now known as Passchendaele, followed the Somme
into inglorious annals for the fearful killing and wounding of so many of
our boys* and young men serving on the Western Front exactly 100 years ago.

Ten battalions of The King’s Regt [Liverpool] fought at Passchendaele, along
with so many other regiments of the British Army.

The battle involved millions of troops from both sides fighting for Passchendaele
Ridge and surrounding areas from 31st July until 10th November 1917.

Casualty figures were truly appalling, with the British and Germans together losing
In excess of 500,000 troops killed and wounded. Virtually nothing was gained
yet so many were lost.

May those who perpetrated this vile horror, from both sides, be swathed in guilt
and infamy for evermore.

* Many 14-year-olds served at the Front, including the father of a family friend
who was trained, sent to the front, received a shrapnel head wound
and was repatriated home all before his 15th birthday!

 

The Shadow Ship

The shadow ship slips silently
Across the deathly bay
And from her spars, amid the ropes
A tune was heard to play.

The tune piped out so mournfully
As night replaced the day
And from her depths the shadows came
To dance the night away.

The shadows bowed and whirled around
Their hazy coats pale grey
And tripped a hornpipe to the stars
On the thirty-first of May.

While mirthless was their laughter here
While fiendish was their play
My heart was filled with sadness deep
For the shadows of Botany Bay.

 

A Prince Comes To Venice [1740]

The Prince slowed his brig with a show of surprise
In the glory of this fabled lagoon
Acknowledged her beauty that ravished his eyes
And a palace shall be his by noon.

The Prince draped in rubies and silks under pearls
Stepped ashore in pink pantaloon
Amused by the clamour, absorbed by the girls
As they flounced and pretended to swoon.

Parasols, revels, jesters, dance and song
Serenade this fine Prince in tune
Dreaming of Venice he knew he’d prolong
His joy as he sang to the moon.

Prelates and merchants ablaze with wealth, the Doge and his glorious lords
Danced attendance, saluted the Prince, while a small servant child applauds.

 

Unwrite Your Foolish Past, Perhaps

Perhaps I shall
See you once more unvexed
Unstained
Freed from the hurt of those
Smiling intoxicants
That, inter-laced with
Hateful drugs,
Have ravaged you.

You, if only now I could
Unhook you from
This Devil’s claws
Undraw your present state
Unwrite your foolish past
Wipe clean the pain
From your dear, wounded self
And those who weep for you.

Damn those untouchables
Whose harvest is
Our casual, vacant youth
Entering each viper’s lair
In bloated stupefaction
Insensible
Of their fateful stroke
Along the Devil’s mane.

Had I perhaps the blessed powers of Prospero
These maddened children saved; the Devils go.

 

Micha the Pier Jumper

A wet herring could have knocked us down
When laughingly the girl leapt
Into the decembered sea
From the pier’s bleak end
On Hogmanay.
How mad is that?

Into the swell from our ice cold pier
Micha stepped out
With her plunging and deep sinking
And her late, late surfacing
Gasping and electric
Shrieking cold, with winter water burning.

“Aye, my flesh is dancing with delight
For the sea took me straight
Cutting down through weed and eels
Down, spiralling nearly to limpety rocks
Then whooshing up to life’s grey light
Super-shocked, I shout for joy!”

 
 

Cecilia, My Precious! [Milan 1490]

Cecilia! Cissy! Can you hear me, Sweet?
I’m here in the drapes close beside you
I shall love you forever, beautiful child
Sweetheart, I see that Leonardo smiled.

It is I, Milan, who adores you, fine beauty
With my people enraptured before you
My regal devotion is yours to command
Pray, accepting this Duke, take his hand.

O Cecilia, my hand embodies betrothal
A promise I grant you, pure angel divine
Come to me, come to me, true pure one
And let all others around us begone.

I spoke but blindly when first I spoke love to you
Two hearts broken that my heart spoke not true.

 

See Leonardo da Vinci’s famous 1490 painting of Cecilia Gallerani, as the 17-year-old
mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. One of the most beautiful girls of the past 500 years, in my humble opinion. She came within the Duke’s circle because her father was in the employ of the Court.

Although Ludovico’s favourite, they could not marry even though she had given birth to their son, Cesare, as he had to make a dynastic alliance with another politically important family. Consequently, Ludovico reneged and married Beatrice D’Este instead. Sadly, Beatrice died in childbirth aged only 21. By this time Cecilia had married a friend of the Duke and one can only speculate on the levels of distress caused at this dreadful turn of events.

Cecilia was revered by the Duke, Leonardo and all the learned and outstanding men of Milan because she combined immense beauty with a powerful and creative intellect. To them, a creature so favoured by the gods must have been favoured by God Himself.
A Milanese poet of the time suggested that the portrait looked as if Cecilia was distracted by someone calling to her. Such is the power of the painting.

This gave me the idea for my sonnet.

Lady with an Ermine   Leonardo da Vinci   1489-90
Owned by Poland and exhibited in Krakow

 
 

 

The Crossing Hare

Fast drove we by car
When
Out stepped the hare
Long legged, dainty
Such liquid grace
With casual stride
It nimbly jumped
Verge and foliage
Then, like a prince
Was gone.

Around the bend
Ours and other
Murderous cars
In pincered rush
Missed the hare
And simply
Motored on.

Moments
Of innocence
And beauty
Made fast away
To run in majesty
Through a memory
Deeply
Not forgetting.

 

 

Incoming Gods Arrive: Is Jesus Here?

And here they come, moving quite overwhelmingly
Unhindered by creaky laws of science known to us
Out of a darkened sky to make our narrowed sight
Bleed at the fierce intensity of such pulsating light
Arriving as blazing flamingos slowing in a final rush
To stand, engulfing all around in a blind caress.

Useless stupefaction consumes those present here
And terror empties all from urgent thoughts to flee
Frozen watchers glimpse Earth’s new alien dawn
Our tomorrow, where alien tanks are on the lawn
Presuming annihilation, unless the living Christ is
Among these inward gods of travel, gods of space.

We plead to Heaven for Jesus, accumulating centuries
Of Angels now advancing, redrawing space and time.

 

 

[Not too long ago we were told that Earth was probably the only inhabited planet in the Universe.
Since then our understanding has broadened and deepened, with thousands of planets in the habitable zones of solar systems within the Milky Way having similar possibilities of life. As NASA and others have so much more of the Universe to investigate, we’ll very possibly be thinking of numbers on a hugely greater scale in the coming years.
Just as we have been reaching out into space for some time, isn’t it likely that other planets are doing the same? The intense thought struck me as to where that left our concept of God, Jesus and Heaven. Would we be rescued from an alien invasion? Or left to our own sinful devices and our newly altered destiny? Or perhaps we share our Lord and Jesus in our Heaven with all the other planets?]

La Ragazza Col Mandolino (1490)

Dolce ti è la vita, o mia signora
Tu ed il tuo mandolino
Che brilla, per opera del Maestro
Dentro al tuo fresco palazzo.

La sua melodia riflette la tua grazia
La purezza della tua anima senza peccato
Firenze ti circonda con il suo clamore
Prima che la sua potente oscurità la pervada.

Le corde pizzicate cantano con soave dolcezza
È il signore stesso a sfiorare il tuo mento
Una spada colma di gemme giace sul marmo
Mentre le danze dell’amore stanno per cominciare.

Ah, nel fresco e dolce profumo di quel palazzo Fiorentino
Io sarò tuo, o mia signora, Se tu vorrai essere mia.

 

( Roberto – Thank you for your fine translation! )

 

Girl with Mandolin [1490]

Life is sweet for you, Lady
You with your mandolin
Gleaming from the Maestro’s making
Your palace cool within.

The tune reflects your beauty
A pure mind avoiding sin
The clamour of Florence about you
Yet free from its mighty din.

Plucked strings so sweetly singing
The Lord then touches your chin
Jewelled sword lies on the marble
As a courtship is due to begin.

Ah, in the cool and fragrant palace Florentine
I shall be yours, my Lady, if you’ll be mine.