Victory Day: An Anticipation

Included in “The Queen’s Gift Book” in 1915, published to benefit Queen Mary’s Convalescent Auxiliary Hospitals for soldiers and sailors who had lost their limbs in war, this poem’s cheerful pronouncement that soldiers ‘tarried not to count the cost, but came’ is a hint that it was written in 1914; the phenomenal cost of the Great War could not yet be guessed at. A growing awareness is hinted at in the leaflet that accompanies the book, discussing wounded servicemen having to be “collected and concentrated, supplied with the best artificial appliances (false limbs) and instructed in their use”. It says: 

“Unfortunately, the problem to be solved has proved far more grave than was at first anticipated. On November 1st last 2,400 cases were on the Hospital Register, and 1,250 patients ready or nearly ready. These numbers do not take into account the amputation cases since August last, of which it is feared there are a great number.” 

There were many years of war still to come. However, in 1914 the mood on hearing the news of impending war was optimistic, as men flocked eagerly to take their place in the history books of their country. The fact that John Oxenham entitled his piece ‘Victory Day’ says it all:

As sure as God’s in His Heaven,
As sure as He stands for Right,
As sure as the hun this wrong hath done,
So surely we win this fight!

Then! – 
Then, the visioned eye shall see
The great and noble company
That gathers there from land and sea, 
From over-land and over-sea, 
To celebrate right royally
The Day of Victory.

Not alone on that great day
Will the war-worn victors come,
To meet our great glad “Welcome Home!”
And a whole world’s deep “Well done!”
Not alone! Not alone will they come,
To the sound of the pipe and the drum;
They will come to their own 
With the pipe and the drum, 
With the merry merry tune
Of the pipe and the drum; –
But – they – will – not – come – alone!

In their unseen myriads there,
Unperceived, but no less there,
In the vast of God’s own air, 
They will come! –
With never a pipe or a drum, 
All the flower of Christendom,
In a silence more majestic, –
They will come! They will come!
The unknown and the known,
To meet our deep “Well done!”
And the world-resounding thunders 
Of our great glad “Welcome Home!”

With their faces all alight,
And their brave eyes shining bright, 
From their glorious martyrdom, 
They will come!
They will once more all unite
With their comrades of the fight,
To share the world’s delight
In the Victory of Right,
And the doom – the final doom – 
The final, full, and everlasting doom
Of brutal Might,
They will come!

At the world-convulsing boom
Of the treacherous Austrian gun, –
At the all-compelling “Come!”
Of that deadly signal-gun, –
They gauged the peril, and they came.
– Of many a race, and many a name, 
But all ablaze with one white flame, 
They tarried not to count the cost,
But came. 
They came from many clime and coast, –
They shouldered eager in the race
The sturdy giants of the frost,
And the stalwarts of the sun. –
Britons, Britons, Britons are they!
Britons every one!

It will be their lifelong boast, 
That they counted not the cost, 
But at the Mother-Country’s call they came.
They came a wrong to right,
They came to end the blight
Of a vast ungodly might; 
And by their gallant coming overcame.
Britons, Britons, Britons are they! 
Britons, every one!

It shall be their nobler boast, –
It shall spell their endless fame, –
That, regardless of the cost,
They won the world for Righteousness, 
And cleansed it of its shame.
Britons, Britons, Britons, are they! 
Britons, every one!

And now, – again they come, 
With merry pipe and drum, 
Amid the storming cheers,
And the grateful-streaming tears,
Of this our great, glad, sorrowing Welcome-Home.
They shall every one be there,
On the earth or in the air,
From the land and from the sea, 
And from under-land and sea, 
Not a man shall missing be
From the land and from the sea,
And from under-land and sea,
Not a man shall missing be
From the past and present fighting-strength
Of that great company.
Those who lived, and those who died,
They were one in noble pride
Of desperate endeavour and of duty nobly done;
For their lives they risked and gave
Very Soul of Life to save,
And by their own great valour and the Grace of God they won.
Britons, Britons, Britons are they! –
Britons, every one!

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