Good God Almighty! My dear wife Cath

Caught the disaster from the garden path

The flamin’ dog’s eaten my darling hat!

Distinguished bowler’s torn to shreds

That earlier perched on illustrious heads.


Savaged by our dreamy English setter

Incapable of making the damn’ thing better

The bowler’s exquisite and forbidding crown

Is deep in the dog in digested pieces

Hot tears coursing my face’s creases.


Amid the shock of the hat’s demise

My grief, my anger and my deep surprise

I thought I saw the comic side of things

The bowler shredded and an abject wreck

A tearful laugh, oh what the heck!

The young Vicar got shirty with Gertie

For her language was frequently flirty

He fell to his knees

As quick as you please

And prayed she’d be transferred by 10.30.

The Professor said something profound

Monstrous intake of breath all around

She’d been thinking so hard long into the night

How her students’ great gifts might quickly take flight

Then mass grief was the critical sound.

Still lying here, nailed by debris and spoiled by shrapnel

My spent eyes caught a raging and a roaring in the heavens

Of flying beasts clashing, of winged creatures bickering

Of dangers and of dying, of deeds by urgent boys

In the face of terror, of deadly menace from other shores.

And still the clash of golden spears amid the chants of angels

And shallow, hollow hopes of those at home who led us here

Like insects to be wasted on the mighty guns of other fools

Sharing the flaming sunset across the mighty sky with creatures

Unknown to me, yet fearsome in their glorious robes and armour.

Also, the heavens awash with a furious singing ringing through me

With a bellowing and a snarling and a looted land wailing

Across bleak wrecks where fields and streams and woods had been

Horizons smouldered amid the blare of clanging song and strife

I seem the only man alive to tell of gods and other gods bestriding.

But now my soul too, unpinioned and freed from the unbodied filth

Seeming floating, joining the other boys, chorusing, remembering.

Sweet Jesus, let me hear my sergeant’s joke

Then find and save me Lord, before I croak.

No vile torment in this World of tears

Has bit so deep and willed such fears.

As I lay in the bloodied place

In the blood-soaked pool

In the darkened wood

Where the pain was cruel

There a single figure stood

Thorn-torn with bloodied face. 

And I counted with my counting hand

The souls coming stumbling by

All were formed as shaking men

Maddened faces gaped at the sky

And the darkened figure again and again

Wept for the shattered land.

Thinking that I should not yet go

My counting hand kept counting

For the souls fled on, leaping and flying

The numbers mounting and mounting

Into millions lost, it’s pointless denying

Too much pain for one man to know.

Annwyl Mrs Williams

Gyda chalon drom ‘rwy’n ‘sgwennu nodyn

i chwi ei fam mewn galar dwys

eich mab yn ddewr wynebodd y gelyn

ond fel llawer brawd mae ‘nawr dan y gwys.



Bu farw yn falch fel pob gwir arwr

‘roedd ef fel ei ffrindiau’n gobeithio cael byw

fe’u collwn i gyd, pob un yn wladgarwr

a rhown hwy’n ddiogel ym nwylo Duw.



Fe’i claddwyd ef yma ym Mhalestina

ond mae’r hyn ‘sgen i ddweud yn swnio’n herciog

mae’r gost am y blanced a roed am ei glinia’

yn golygu swllt, i’w dynnu o’i gyflog.



Drwg iawn gennyf beri i chwi fwy o boen

ond rhaid oedd wrth blanced i’w lapio’n y bedd

a dangos parch at ddiniwed oen

‘ddanfonwyd yn drist i dragwyddol hedd.



Wel, Annwyl Gapten, atebaf yn syth

gan ofyn paham fod y swllt yn ddyledus?

‘Rwy’n unig, gyda’m calon wedi torri am byth

mewn galar hyd angau, ar goll a gofidus.



Ar ol colli fy mab i dragwyddoldeb

Mae cymeryd y swllt yn llai na hael

Duw dystia i’r dirmyg a’r israddoldeb

o wneud ei farw mor ddibris a gwael.



O’r fath greulondeb, wrth roddi’n y gro

cymeryd pris blanced o’i gyflog o.





Kindly translated by Evan Jones




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.   Apparently, this practice of deducting blanket money from that owed to the grieving families was common throughout the British Army of the time.

Let Christ awake and make the harvests flower
In homage to our Glorious Dead
For we are those who bless this new born hour
Before when millions of us bled
Who passed the gate of Hell yet cheated Death
And mourned for many friends
To live a life of sorts with every passing breath
Yet loss abides and never ends.


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.

What struck me was the gentle, fragrant breeze
That tripped across a wheat field and its hedges
Calling for Man’s mercy as dainty as you please
Then came foul thunder to obliterate all pledges.


Let Peace arise and make the harvests flower
In homage to our Glorious Dead
For we are those who bless this new born hour
Before when millions of us bled
Who passed the gate of Hell yet cheated Death
And mourned for many friends
To live a life of sorts with every passing breath
Yet loss abides and never ends.


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.)


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!


There you are

Your hose arm
Skinny when

Your cylinder

As needed.

Passed by
Yet crucial.

Fire! Fire!
Grab it!


He was an offensive fool from near Bude
Who enjoyed being quite shockingly rude
Last night he came one hell of a cropper
Hurling light ale at a furious copper
Since when sharing a cell with a nude.


There once was a grand hero of ours
Whose history’s a garland of flowers
For Nelson delivered one hell of a hammer
That made the French tremble, shudder and stammer
Making Britain the greatest of powers.


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.


There once was a girl from Madrid
From whom all secrets were hid
She thought New Malden was north of the Mersey
And Gibraltar somewhat closer to Jersey
Which stretched even the patience of Syd!


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.


Perhaps I shall
See you once more unvexed
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
Of their fateful stroke
Along the Devil’s mane.

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


She was never averse
To some scurrilous verse
Cursing the Count who had wronged her
She wished hot coals on his head
And dreamt he was dead
In Hell she believed he belonged there.


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! 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



Well, it happened quite a lot
Not that our rulers cared a jot
That the common man fell lifeless in the futile, screaming battle
When millions jigged to the rhythm of a bloody Spandau prattle
And our countries blindly went to pot.