Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Great War Poetry

Recommended Posts

Amazing poem!

Strangely enough, I found myself almost singing it to the tune of "Old Moot Hall" by English folk rock band Amazing Blondel.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 year later...

I came across this poem in the Handsworth Herald, published Saturday December 9th 1916. It was read at a memorial service for Sgt. Bernard Reginald Sheil DCM 1/8 Royal Warwicks who was killed on July 1st 1916 and is buried at Serre Road Cemetery no.2. It was written by his friend, John W Morrall, who knew him well, played in the same rugby team and joined the army at about the same time. Sgt. Sheil was a member of staff at Holy Trinity School, Birchfield, where the service was held and a memorial photograph unveiled.

The poem moved me and I wanted to remember him today.


He played the game in days of yore,

As down the flying field he bore:

On and on resistless swinging,

Darting, struggling, grimly clinging,

O'er the fray his challenge ringing,

"Sure and steady, boys"

And when his country called his name,

He played the sadder, greater game,

Where the lurking foe was lying,

Where the hidden death was flying,

Came the clarion voice replying

"Sure and steady, boys"

"Sure and steady, boys" - ever crying,

Cheered the strong and calmed the dying;

With his last faint whisper sighing,

"Sure and steady, boys"

With leaden steps and looks of woe

We dug his grave; and laid him low

Bitter hearted, sadly kneeling;

Heard we through the silence stealing,

Phantom echoes, soft appealing,

"Sure and steady, boys"

The tree shall blossom o'er the dead,

And careless stranger o'er him tread;

Feet shall falter, heads grow hoary,

Still shall shine his deathless glory,

Infant voices tell the story,

"Sure and steady, boys"

Link to post
Share on other sites

Just saw this one in a newspaper. By Sir Henry Newbolt.

The Volunteer

He leapt to arms unbidden,

Unneeded, over-bold;

His face by earth is hidden,

His heart in earth is cold.

Curse on the reckless daring

That could not wait the call,

The proud fantastic bearing

That would be first to fall!

O tears of human passion,

Blue not the image true;

This was not folly's fashion,

This was the man we knew.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 8 months later...

Great thread! Here are a couple of 'desert poems', from the EEF:

Of Poets

If poets had to rise at dawn, and feed a blinking horse;

If poets had to eat our grub, plain bully beef, of course;

If poets rode beside us when the way was dry and long;

And liked it, let the Poets go and sing their blinking song.

But poets stay at home in ease, and travel not afar

To where the way is lighted by a pale, unwavering star.

They never scorch or swelter, at the desert never swear;

The reason why's not hard to find, they never have been there.

Now, when you hear a poet rave of 'Vast encircling sands,

Whose magnitude is circumscribed by cloudless azure bands

Of heaven's vault', his poesy's imagination grows;

Just think of all those scorching sands, and bash him on the nose.


And this little-known verse from another, celebrated poet, who was there:

In Palestine

On the thyme-scented hills

In the morning and freshness of day

I heard the voices of rills

Quietly going their way.

Warm from the west was the breeze;

There were wandering bees in the clover;

Grey were the olive-trees;

And a flight of finches went over.

On the rock-strewn hills I heard

The anger of guns that shook

Echoes along the glen.

In my heart was the song of a bird,

And the sorrowless tale of the brook,

And scorn for the deeds of men.


Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 years later...

Were there any other women poets of the First World War? I have been researching the subject since May 1912 when I was asked to produce an exhibition about Women Poets of WW1 for the Wilfred Owen Story in Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral. I began by looking at Catherine W. Reilly's book "Scars upon my Heart" and I have not stopped. The list grows daily. You can view the list so far on my weblog www.femalewarpoets.blogspot.co.uk - it is at the top of the page. I am trying to find poets from as many countries of the world as possible because this was the first conflict that really did involve every man woman and child in the world.

The list is alphabetical and begins with British poets of the era then American, Australian and so on through to Uruguay. The last time I counted there were almost a thousand and I have barely begun. I have include poems written by schoolchildren because there were some really good poems - for instance Audrey Lucas, daughter of E.V. Lucas one of the "Forgotten Poets of the First World War", who was at Downe House School during WW1. I have also included poetry written by lesser-known (or as someone termed it "amateur") poets. To me if someone wrote poetry they are in.

The project is an exhibition project and exhibition panels are aimed at members of the general public - this is not an academic study. The project is in memory of my Grandfather, who was a professional soldier - one of the "Old Contemptibles", with the Royal Field Artillery. He survived service in both World Wars but my Great Uncle, a Private with the Northumberland Fusiliers, was killed at Arras on Easter Monday, 9th April 1917 on the same day as the poets R.E. Vernède and Edward Thomas were killed.

Some of the exhibition panels are currently on view at The Wilfred Owen Story, 34 Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 6AE, UK - Tuesdays - Fridays 11 am till 2 pm. Please phone first as the WOS is manned entirely by volunteers - 07903 337995; some will feature at Lytham Heritage Centre, Lytham, Lancashire, UK as part of their "Lancashire at War 1914 - 1918 Exhibition in February 2015; and some will be on display in the Community Room at York Castle Museum during May 2015.

Pendle War Poetry Competition is an annual, free to enter, international competition. The 2014 competition also featured a limerick competition and a photographic competition to find a cover photo for the 2014 anthology of best poems. Full details of this annual poetry competition on www.pendlewarpoetry.com

If you are interested, please get in touch via one of the weblogs - www.femalewarpoets.blogspot.co.uk; www.inspirationalwomenofww1.blogspot.co.uk;

www.fascinatingfactsofww1.blogspot.co.uk and www.forgottenpoetsofww1.blogspot.co.uk
Link to post
Share on other sites

HANDING DOWN THE WW1 Poem from my aunt's little black book - by Harold Begbie

This is a poem that I have been searching for for years. I first read it when I was about seven years old in my Aunt's little black notebook in which she had copied poems and pasted newspaper clippings about WW1. Aunt Audrey was in the Wrens during WW2. She emigrated to South Africa after the war where she died soon afterwards. She left her notebook and a photo album with my Mother. I read both avidly. The poem always made me cry. I can honestly say that is where my interest in WW1 and poetry came from.
A huge thank you to Ann Swabey who found this for me and posted the link 
on the page of the Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/FamiliesAtWar/Handing Down by Harold BegbieSoldier what are you writingBy the side of your cooling gun?Sir, since Im stopped from fightingsA word to my little son.Tell me the thing you've writtenFor I love the writer's art:Sir, that to be a BritonIs worth a broken heart.Show me so fine a letterThat you write in the trenches mud:Sir, you could read it betterWere it not for the stain of blood.Soldier tell me your storyYour eyes grow bright and wide:Sir, it's a taste of gloryTo think of the young one's pride.Would you like to be a soldier, little Tommy-all-my-own,Would you like to tip the Kaiser off his high and mighty throne?Would you like to be with father in a well-dug British trench,Knocking spots off German Generals and saluting General French?Would I like to be with Tommy, little Tommy-all-my-own,Would I give a month of Sundays just to see how he has grown?Yes ! Id like to be a dustman in the poorest London streetsFor the chance of meeting Tommy with a gumboil made of sweets. 
If you want to be where I am, why, I want to be with you.
But I'm here to show a tyrant that a Briton's word is true
We must stand by little Belgium, we must fight till fighting ends.
We must show the foes of Britain that we don't desert our friends.

Don't you go and think, my Tommy, little Tommy-all-my-own. That we're squabbling here for nothing, that we're growling for a bone: We are here for Britain's honour, for our freedom, for our peace. And we're also here, my Tommy, that these wicked wars may cease.
Don't you say that I am funky, don't you say that I am sick,
Boy, I'm half afraid to tell you, but I love it when it's thick —
When the shells are screaming, bursting, and the whistling bullets wail,
God forgive me, but I love it, and I fight with tooth and nail.

But it's after, looking round us, missing friends and finding dead.
It is then the British soldier gets a fancy in his head.
And he swears by God in heaven that the man who starts a war.
Should go swimming into judgment down an avalanche of gore.

That's what makes us such great fighters, and I'd have you be the same,
Love your country like a good un, hold your head up, play the game,
Be a straight and pleasant neighbour, be a cool, un-ruffled man.
But when bullies want a thrashing, why, you thrash them all you can.

While you say your prayers, my Tommy, little Tommy-all-my-own,
Asking God to save your Daddy, I send this one to His throne:
Save my little lad from slaughter, guard his heart and mind from wrong,
Keep him sweet and kind and gentle, yes, but make him awful strong.

Good-night, my little Tommy, here's your Daddy's good-bye kiss.
Don't forget what I have told you, and remember also this —
If I don't come back to see you, I shall die without a groan,
For it's great to fall for Freedom, little Tommy-all- my-own.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I am going for Marian Allen - one of the untitled poems in her anthology 'The Wind on the Downs' .

Just admire the way the writer shows that the division between the Sussex Downs and the Western Front is quite slender in some respects.....the guns can be heard, the Channel is likened to a 'silver ribbon'.....the war seem near. Yes she is on the Downs and there is some distance between her both the local towns and the 'Front, and there is a sense of being solitary. And in such isolation she can experience the presence of her fiance ( killed in action ) as a 'shadow in the wind '.

There is Great War poetry which is what is now would be called 'triumphalist' ( Jessie Pope, Captain R A Hopwood) Satirical and part of 'Disenchantment ( such as Sassoon), the graphic realism of fighting ( Owen, Rosenberg, Graves, ) .

Some of my personal favourite Great War poetry is quite under-stated. What I've read of Marian Allen's poetry , the reader is never sure what she really thinks concerning whether the war was justified or not, and is not seeking to shock or provoke. There is a fatalism with a strange sense of being haunted by loss.

The Wind on the Downs

I'd meant to write to you about the Downs.
And of the white chalk roads that stretch away
To distant views of the huddled Sussex towns
And windmills standing sentinel and grey.
I'd meant to climb until I saw the sea,
The channel like a silver ribbon shine;
And feel the Down wind blowing strong and free,
And hear the guns from the far battle-line
Again I stand upon the wind-swept grass.
Six months ago so stilled and white with frost;
Since your strange adventure came to pass,
For as I wander on the Downs I see
Your shadow in the wind chase after me.

Marian Allen was discussed in this 'Forum thread


Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Admin

The Channel was a silver ribbon this morning - it's strange, some days you can stand on the Downs and feel closer to the Western Front than say, Albert town centre especially when th sky is as dramatic as it was today.

I took it as a theme for the 'Letter to an Unknown Soldier' project I think the earlier thread must have gone into my subconscious without realising!


Link to post
Share on other sites

Indeed, I think that the question of geography hasn't been looked at enough in regard to the Home Front during the Great War. Sussex was not really that far from the Western Front. and that was stressed a great deal in recruiting drives. Also must have been disquieting for the families of those serving to hear the guns at times.

The Channel as a silver ribbon is not a motif that I've found elsewhere when researching Great War at Sea poetry.

Fred- Marian Allen is not particularly well known here either !

I think that for many years more under-stated Great War poetry has not been popular. Poets have sometimes acted as recruiting agents such as the the aforementioned Newbolt and Pope. Or even posthumously used for this purpose such as Rupert Brooke immediately after his death. Then there's the whole array of poets functioning as 'daring truth tellers' about the nature of the Great War. But now, thankfully, there seems to be an interest in poetry with far wider themes. Look at how popular Edward Thomas's poetry has become.

Regards,Michael Bully

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello Fred,

The first major anthology of women's Great War Poetry was published in 1916 : 'One Hundred of the Best Poems on the European War by Women Poets of the Empire,' edited by Charles F Forshaw .

Probably Catherine Reilly's selection 'Scars upon my Heart Women's Poetry and Verse of the First World War' from 1981 can be cited as reviving this genre : In Britain there was a new wave of Feminism, with 'Virago' publishers republishing books by women which were out of print and sometimes forgotten. Interest in Vera Brittain's 'Testament of Youth' was reviving. I think from then on it became harder to overlook Great War poetry written by women.

In recent years Lucy London has done a huge amount with her 'Female Poets of the First World War' blog, with related exhibitions in the north of England to discover and revive the work of female poets writing during the Great War, including poetry from other languages.


Of course of the rise of the Web has made it easier generally by making this work more accessible.



Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 year later...

I came across this poem while proof reading a book and it's as good an opportunity as any to revive this thread.


Screens (In a Hospital)


They put the screens around his bed;

A crumpled heap I saw him lie,

White counterpane and rough dark head,

Those screens – they showed that he would die.


They put the screens about his bed;

We might not play the gramophone,

And so we played at cards instead

And left him dying there alone.


The covers on the screen are red,

The counterpanes are white and clean; –

He might have lived and loved and wed

But now he’s done for at nineteen.


An ounce or more of Turkish lead, 

He got his wounds at Suvla Bay 

They’ve brought the Union Jack to spread 

Upon him when he goes away. 


He’ll want those three red screens no more, 

Another man will get his bed, 

We’ll make the row we did before 

But — Jove! — I’m sorry that he’s dead.


By Winnie Verschoyle (née Letts), who worked as a nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment at the 2nd West General Hospital in Manchester and later with the Co. Dublin Linden Auxiliary Hospital, Blackrock. 

Edited by depaor01
Link to post
Share on other sites

Good post -reminded me of this one:





Lament for Mark Anderson

by Wilfred Wilson Gibson


On the low table by the bed
Where it was set aside last night,
Beyond the bandaged lifeless head,
It glitters in the morning light —

And as the hours of morning pass
I cannot sleep, I cannot think,
But only gaze upon the glass
Of water that he could not drink.





Edited by squirrel
Link to post
Share on other sites

I have searched for this, but not found it, so apologies if it's already been included here.


I'm reading the autobiography of Revd. George Kendall, and in it he recounts the story of his visit to Talbot House in Poperinge. Whilst he was there, the 55th Divisional Concert Party were performing their revue "Cheer-Oh". One of the items was a poem performed by "one old and tried warrior" called "The Dead Mule Tree"; it went like this:


"It's a long step round by the crucifix for a man with a mighty load,

But there's hell to pay where the dead mule lies if you go by the Baileul Road

Where the great shells sport like an angry child with a little of broken bricks,

So we don't go down by the Dead Mule Tree but round by the crucifix.


But the wild young men come bubbling out and look for an early grave,

They light their pipes on the parapet edge and think they're being brave.

They take no heed of the golden rules the long, long years have taught,

And they will go down by the Dead Mule Tree when they know that nobody ought.


And some of us old'uns feel some days that life is a tiring thing,

And we show our heads in the same place twice, we stand in the trench and sing;

But we never go down by the Dead Mule Tree, we aren't such perfect fools.


And the war goes on, and men go down, and, be he young or old,

An Englishman with an Engish gun is worth his weight in gold.

And I hate to think of the fine young lads who laughed at you and me,

Who wouldn't go round at crucifix, but dies at Dead Mule Tree."


He felt sure that it  must have been his own composition and inspired by his experiences ... and I would agree with him about that.


I don't know where Dead Mule tree was, though; I've Googled it and had no response .... does anyone know?

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 years later...
Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...