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March MGWAT


Earl of Berkhamsted

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Is that the sound of hobnail on cobblestone?

Or fingers on keyboards?

This month's theme/title is "The March"

Ink to paper, Ladies and Gentlemen. Let us all take creative strides...

March/Marching/The March/Runners/Trench Foot/Toe tappers and field sappers/Parades with spades/Keeping pace and binding bootlace.

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I March At Dawn

Five good years treading this Empire’s routes,

Putting down those trying to tear it apart.

Then, still in step, to French and Belgian shores,

Left right left, left turn, right turn but never about.

What happened that day? How can I say what;

The noise, the fear – did it become too much?

That straw, that barn, the silence, the peace,

Couldn’t help but rush in and bury my face.

The General said sad to lose such a good man,

But one to teach many, it just has to be done.

Battalion will parade to witness the shame

Of leaving the ranks, of hiding away.

I march at dawn and stand-to that post,

A few short paces but the longest of roads,

To face my old mates over open sights,

Then report to St Peter, or maybe Old Nick.

© John Sales 2009

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Wrote this one some time ago............

MARCHING PART 1 – 22nd AUGUST 1914

So there we were a’ marching

And the straps were cutting in pain.

Our backs and shoulders were aching

From taking the weight and strain.

My pack it weighed an’ hundredweight

And my rifle felt like lead.

With the bayonets digging a groove in our thighs

And a throbbing in every head.

Our feet were hot and sweaty

And our boots were getting tight.

When we received the order to “Halt”,

Just as it was getting light.

“Five minutes rest” the order came

And we fell out by the ditch.

Each one easing the load he bore

And scratching a long felt itch.

“Keep your kit on” the Sergeant said,

As we struggled to sit on the grass.

“Take just a sip of your water lad”

The Corporal rasped at last.

So there we sat and rested

Well, as much as conditions allowed.

With the sweat running down in rivulets

And the veins in our necks showing proud.

Five minutes was not long enough

But that’s all you get you see.

When you’re marching with your battalion

For King and the Old Country.

“Only another mile or so”

The officer shouted back.

“Thank Gawd for that” the Corporal said

“Or I’ll be ‘aving an ‘eart attack”.

Just a mile, it seemed like ten,

As we tramped to the market square.

And caught the smell of cooking

From the field kitchens parked up there.

“Fall out for your scoff” the Sergeant said

As we took off our kit with a sigh.

And piled our rifles neat and clean

As the sun climbed in the sky.

Well, there we were with our brew and our bread

And a bit of bacon to chew.

Looking around at where we were

Like any stranger would do.

“Do you think we’ll find a billet,

For perhaps an hour or two of kip?”

Said one of the old reservists

Who never watched his lip

“Don’t be daft” the Sergeant said.

“There ain’t no time for a rest.

When we’re doing the biddin’of Generals

Who can’t wait to stand the test”.

“What test is that?” the reservist said

As he sipped the last of his tea.

“Germans! Other side of canal!”

The Sergeant said with glee.

“Get your kit on”, he shouted

And we struggled once more to our feet.

Then with fingers still doing our buckles up

We marched up the pave street

“Where do you reckon we are then?”

Asked the man in the file next of mine.

“That sign said Mons” said the Corporal

As we sweated and tried to keep time.

What are we doing here then?”

The old reservist asked.

“Just keep the time and do as you’re bid”

Said the Sergeant as we passed.

“Do you reckon we’ll be famous then?

For stopping the German’s might?

They’ve only a few battalions,

So it won’t be much of a fight”.

“Step out, step out”, the Sergeant said

‘Eff ‘ight, ‘eff ‘ight, ‘eff ‘ight.

For they’ll be writing ‘bout us my lads

In their ‘istory books tonight.”

©Tony Nutkins September 2006

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Wrote this one some time ago............

MARCHING PART 1 – 22nd AUGUST 1914

So there we were a' marching

And the straps were cutting in pain.

Our backs and shoulders were aching

From taking the weight and strain.

My pack it weighed an' hundredweight

And my rifle felt like lead.

With the bayonets digging a groove in our thighs

And a throbbing in every head.

Our feet were hot and sweaty

And our boots were getting tight.

When we received the order to "Halt",

Just as it was getting light.

"Five minutes rest" the order came

And we fell out by the ditch.

Each one easing the load he bore

And scratching a long felt itch.

"Keep your kit on" the Sergeant said,

As we struggled to sit on the grass.

"Take just a sip of your water lad"

The Corporal rasped at last.

So there we sat and rested

Well, as much as conditions allowed.

With the sweat running down in rivulets

And the veins in our necks showing proud.

Five minutes was not long enough

But that's all you get you see.

When you're marching with your battalion

For King and the Old Country.

"Only another mile or so"

The officer shouted back.

"Thank Gawd for that" the Corporal said

"Or I'll be 'aving an 'eart attack".

Just a mile, it seemed like ten,

As we tramped to the market square.

And caught the smell of cooking

From the field kitchens parked up there.

"Fall out for your scoff" the Sergeant said

As we took off our kit with a sigh.

And piled our rifles neat and clean

As the sun climbed in the sky.

Well, there we were with our brew and our bread

And a bit of bacon to chew.

Looking around at where we were

Like any stranger would do.

"Do you think we'll find a billet,

For perhaps an hour or two of kip?"

Said one of the old reservists

Who never watched his lip

"Don't be daft" the Sergeant said.

"There ain't no time for a rest.

When we're doing the biddin'of Generals

Who can't wait to stand the test".

"What test is that?" the reservist said

As he sipped the last of his tea.

"Germans! Other side of canal!"

The Sergeant said with glee.

"Get your kit on", he shouted

And we struggled once more to our feet.

Then with fingers still doing our buckles up

We marched up the pave street

"Where do you reckon we are then?"

Asked the man in the file next of mine.

"That sign said Mons" said the Corporal

As we sweated and tried to keep time.

What are we doing here then?"

The old reservist asked.

"Just keep the time and do as you're bid"

Said the Sergeant as we passed.

"Do you reckon we'll be famous then?

For stopping the German's might?

They've only a few battalions,

So it won't be much of a fight".

"Step out, step out", the Sergeant said

'Eff 'ight, 'eff 'ight, 'eff 'ight.

For they'll be writing 'bout us my lads

In their 'istory books tonight."

©Tony Nutkins September 2006

Absolutely super stuff. The knowledge you so obviously have of your subject shines through this work from start to finish.

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John - Liked yours very much and thanks for your comments.

Abraham - thank you very much for your comments also.

Here is part 2.............

Marching August 1914 Part 2 - 23rd August 1914

We'd marched for most of the day before

With little time for a rest.

We'd had breather in the Grand Place Mons

Then marched again; what a test!

The rain had started an hour ago

And each of us was drenched,

When we stopped on the bank above the canal

And got the order to entrench.

The sun came out and the rain eased off

As we set to work with a will.

It was very hot and we all worked out

It would soon be hotter still.

We hadn't been digging ten minutes or more,

Each had enough for a one man scrape,

When a shell came over and burst with a crash

And all we could do was gape.

"Take cover if you want to live today!"

The Sergeant shouted loud.

And we laid in our scrapes as deep as we could

And choked on the shell smoke cloud.

That shell was the first of many that day

And they soon came thick and fast.

Two men by me were killed by the next

And I thought each breath would be my last.

The shelling stopped and our Officer cried,

"Make ready for enemy attack".

So I laid out my clips and checked the mag

With one up the spout for luck.

Well, what a sight before our eyes

As the Germans advanced on our front.

All in columns and packed close tight

"Silly *******!" said my mate with a grunt.

"Platoon will prepare for rapid fire"

Came the order from behind.

There was no way you could miss this lot

Unless you happened to be blind.

As they came on closer, and closer still

I set my rifle 'gainst shoulder and cheek.

And my mate said,"Blimey if they come on like this

We can keep 'em off for a week".

"No talking in the ranks" the Sergeant bellowed,

He was calm as on the barrack square.

And a silence covered the British line

As the Germans began to cheer.

"To your front at 500 yards" he shouts,

"Five rounds rapid fire. Commence!"

And the crackling of the SMLE’s all along our front

Stopped those masses in grey so dense.

And as they began to fall, they charged,

So we gave another dose of the same.

And we kept it up till they charged no more

But retired from whence they came.

I lost count of how many times they came

And the shellfire bursts in between.

By the middle of the day things went quiet a bit

And the Germans didn't seem so keen.

But we hadn't had it all our way

And many of our lads lay dead.

The bearers took the wounded off

And a few quiet prayers were said.

We got the order to retire just then

Falling back by platoons like a drill.

Then we turned to face the enemy once more

In the front of a slag heap hill.

We fought like that for the rest of the day

With further retirements as well.

Each of us tired and ragged then

As the strain began to tell.

My cheek was bruised and my shoulder ached;

My eyes were sore from the smoke.

But we'd held the enemy at bay

And our firing line never broke.

And then we started to march once more

Back the way we'd come last night.

With the Sergeant shouting the pace again,

"'eff, 'ight. 'eff, 'ight. 'eff, 'ight".

© Tony Nutkins : August 2007

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The March

This was not a march

But broken lines of stumbling men

Shod in blood

And torn rags,

Spectres of the once strong

Bent backed and shuffling forward

Aged by each yard trodden

Under the weight of our kit

One boy, who on the boat boasted

Of standing unflinching

In the face of shot and shell,

Resigns to death in a ditch

Face first in the sh*t of those

Who previously passed

His boasts just bubbles in the mire

There is a Cry

A man falls for the first time

“Where is my Simon of Cyrene!”

He is scourged by oaths of sergeants

Who shout him to his feet

“Who will wipe my face?”

He falls for the second time

And dragged to the side of the road

A rag at the foot of the red cross

That attends him.

There is talk among the officers

(Who strain themselves turning back in saddles)

Of someone paying dear

For the error that meant we marched

With all our kit.

But we no longer care of transport lines

Or baggage columns

Our only thought is of

One step falling after the other

Of staying upright on what is left of feet

Until that final halt where we can discard

The resentment we have carried

These many miles,

That we have no fear of death in battle

But let us March as men

Not be herded like cattle.

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Excellent Gunboat.

Edit: Just been reading about some the marches undertaken by 2nd POW's Civil Service Rifles and 2nd London Scottish in Salonika in atrocious weather so this strikes a chord.

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Gone a bit quiet - so I'll try an experimental piece.

Cheers-salesie.

Sergeant Says (or March of the Citizen’s Army)

Eft, ight, eft, ight, eft, ight, eft,

Get in step you dozy lot;

Till you get it there’ll be no rest.

Up the roads and down the lanes,

Eft, ight, eft, ight, eft, ight, eft;

Before I’ve done you’ll match the best.

Right turn, left turn, form three ranks,

Move yourselves you ‘orrible shower;

Before I’ve done you’ll match the best.

Across the square and then about,

Right turn, left turn, form three ranks;

Till you get it there’ll be no rest.

Change arms, slope arms, then present,

Pick it up quick you shiftless pratts;

Till you get it there’ll be no rest.

This parade, that parade, then some more,

Change arms, slope arms, then present;

Before I’ve done you’ll match the best.

Bayonet, fix, parry, thrust, then retrieve,

Thumbs out of bums you worthless bunch;

Before I’ve done you’ll match the best.

Do it to ‘im or e’ll do it you,

Bayonet, fix, parry, thrust, then retrieve;

Till you get it there’ll be no rest.

Two clips, bolt closed, draw a bead,

How many times you brainless gits;

Till you get it there’ll be no rest.

On the range same as the front,

Two clips, bolt closed, draw a bead;

Before I’ve done you’ll match the best.

Off the boat, and up to the front,

Nicely done me lovely lads;

But till we lick 'em there’ll be no rest.

Eft, ight, eft, ight, eft, ight, eft,

Right turn, left turn, form three ranks,

Change arms, slope arms, then present,

Bayonet, fix, parry, thrust, then retrieve,

Two clips, bolt closed, draw a bead…

…Told you you’d do it, didn’t I, lads?

Despite all the crosses atop six foot pits,

You’ve only licked the world’s so-called best.

© John Sales 2009

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Well written John - and a Drill Serjeant would say that all in one breath as well!

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Well written John - and a Drill Serjeant would say that all in one breath as well!

Thanks, Tony - I remember my old basic training sergeant very well, even after forty-two years - called Bartlett - there were only two b*stards in that camp and he was both of 'em (exactly what he was paid to be, of course).

I'm not so sure about the piece, though. I was attempting a villanelle (only managed to complete one, ever) and ended up with a mongrel version. But, seeing as it's gone quiet on the thread, thought I'd post it anyway - for others to chew over.

Cheers-salesie.

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I don't think you meant a villanelle; because what you have achieved whether by accident or contrivance is for all intents and purposes a sestina (a line or two over the 39 lines and not quite in the required form but what's that amongst friends). A sestina is a fiendishly difficult archaic medieval verse structure that I wouldn't touch with a fixed bayonet

Talk about cranking it up a level!!!!!

What next a great war Haiku?

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Worded it a bit vaguely, Gunny - I meant that I started out to write a villanelle, and ended with what I posted. I've never heard of a sestina, so any similarity is purely coincidental.

Cheers-salesie.

Any news of Tommy?

Just this telegram,

They seem to forget I’m his Mam.

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This is getting a bit technical for me - I just do rhymes....................

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This is getting a bit technical for me - I just do rhymes....................

And a bloody good job of it you do, Tony. I'm no poetry technician either, I just like the repetitive structure of the villanelle for certain themes, but, as I said earlier, I've only managed to finish one, ever (the almost Haiku I posted earlier is in fact a mixture of the fist and third lines of the first stanza of the one and only villanelle I ever finished, and even then it wasn't technically perfect).

You keep rhyming and entertaining us, mate - that'll more than do for me.

Cheers-salesie.

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Squirrel I have found that trying to find a ryhme is the hardest thing to do (hence why I nearly always write in free verse)...to manage it as frequently and sucessfully as you do is no mean acheivement.

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The March

This was not a march

But broken lines of stumbling men

Shod in blood

And torn rags,

Spectres of the once strong

Bent backed and shuffling forward

Aged by each yard trodden

Under the weight of our kit

One boy, who on the boat boasted

Of standing unflinching

In the face of shot and shell,

Resigns to death in a ditch

Face first in the sh*t of those

Who previously passed

His boasts just bubbles in the mire

There is a Cry

A man falls for the first time

"Where is my Simon of Cyrene!"

He is scourged by oaths of sergeants

Who shout him to his feet

"Who will wipe my face?"

He falls for the second time

And dragged to the side of the road

A rag at the foot of the red cross

That attends him.

There is talk among the officers

(Who strain themselves turning back in saddles)

Of someone paying dear

For the error that meant we marched

With all our kit.

But we no longer care of transport lines

Or baggage columns

Our only thought is of

One step falling after the other

Of staying upright on what is left of feet

Until that final halt where we can discard

The resentment we have carried

These many miles,

That we have no fear of death in battle

But let us March as men

Not be herded like cattle.

I know if I do find the time this month, I might be hard pushed to come out with anything as good as this. From a poet who, like yourself, loves what can only be described as 'free verse,' this one really puts across that freedom of word and the richness that it can convey across a broader spectrum, a longer term confetti of sound and tone. I used to perform some poems of my own, and I would be proud of this because it would sound good spoken. No, it doesn't rhyme in the conventional metric sense but like a long lost companion to the poet, when the rhyme does appear at the end of that last verse it sounds seriously strong.

I really relate to this form. Fair play, impressive and inspiring stuff.

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