World War 1 – 100 years on

The Great War (1914-18)

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 murder to obliterate all pledges.

I’m dreamingly remembering my soldiers of the War
Imagining our boys and theirs, appalled at what I saw.

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.

Ric Johnson