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Forces War Records Blog

POEMS OF WARTIME - WARTIME POETRY - RECORDS OF WAR POEMS

As we unite in remembering British and Commonwealth servicemen lost in war, we take a look at some of the poetry of wartime. William Wordsworth reminds us that “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”, and the human experience of war generates so many feelings of fear, hope, love and hatred that it is no wonder that some of that emotion spills out onto the page. Many of the greatest poems in our history were written during or about times of terrible conflict, and here we present a selection of the most moving examples found within our Historic Documents archive and sent in to us by our members:

Last Landing

Oft this earth I leave behind and soar god's heavens

till sun and stars I find 

and fence the towering clouds

with others of my kind.

Fear not if I should loose my

way, nor keep sad hearts

for my returning day.

Tis that I flew the heavens

too high and reached

God's guiding hand and

heard him answer to my cry.

Your journey's done - NOW LAND

This poem was written by Sq Bomber Aimer Burford Sleep before he left with his squadron on a mission. He wrote and left this poem for his mother if he should not return.

He did not return.He died on August 30th 1944

 

The Falling Leaves

Today, as I rode by,

I saw the brown leaves dropping from their tree

In a still afternoon,

When no wind whirled them whistling to the sky,

But thickly, silently,

They fell, like snowflakes wiping out the noon;

And wandered slowly thence

For thinking of a gallant multitude

Which now all withering lay,

Slain by no wind of age or pestilence,

But in their beauty strewed

Like snowflakes falling on the Flemish clay.

By Margaret Postgate-Cole (1893–1980)

(The poem says, "I saw the brown leaves dropping from their tree". The leaves represent soldiers on the battlefield who are left to rot, forgotten and lost forever. Another simile is "Like snowflakes falling on the Flemish clay." The snowflakes represent the soldiers, melting together, forgotten. The Flemish clay is the Belgian soil where the fighting took place. Source Wiki)

Margaret Postgate-Cole (1893–1980) - The Falling Leaves

 

Aftermath

Have you forgotten yet?

For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,

Like traffic checked awhile at the crossing of city-ways:

And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow

Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,

Taking your peaceful share of time, with joy to spare.

But the past is just the same – and War’s a bloody game…

Have you forgotten yet?

Look down, and swear by the slain of the war that you’ll never forget.

 

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz –

The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?

Do you remember the rats: and the stench

Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench –

And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?

Do you ever stop to ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”

 

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack –

And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then

As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?

Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back

With dying eyes and lolling heads – those ashen-grey

Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?

Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

by Siegfried Sassoon

 

Wooden Crosses

“Go live the wide world over – but when you come to die,

A quiet English churchyard is the only place to lie!”

I held it half a lifetime, until through war’s mischance

I saw the wooden crosses that fret the fields of France.

 

Who says their war is over? While others carry on,

The little wooden crosses spell but the dead and gone?

Not while they deck a skyline, not while they crown a view,

Or a living soldier sees them and sets his teeth anew!

 

The tenants of the churchyard where the singing thrushes build

Were not, perhaps, all paragons of promise well fulfilled :

Some failed – though Love or Liquor – while the parish looked askance.

But – you cannot die a failure if you win a cross in France.

By E. W. Hornung (A bereaved father who lost his son in the War – Poem was originally published in the Times)

E. W. Hornung - Wooden Crosses

 

The Day

You boasted the Day, and you toasted the Day,

And now the Day has come.

Blasphemer, braggart and coward all,

Little you reck of the numbing ball,

The blasting shell or the “white arm’s” fall,

As they speed poor humans home.

 

You spied for the Day, you lied for the Day,

And woke the Day’s red spleen.

Monster, who asked God’s aid Divine,

Then strewed His seas with the ghastly mine:

Not all the waters of all the Rhine

Can wash thy foul hands clean.

 

You dreamed for the Day, you schemed for the Day:

Yours is the harvest red.

Can you hear the groans and the awful cries?

Can you see the heap of slain that lies,

And sightless turned to flame-split skies

The glassy eyes of the dead?

 

You have wronged for the Day, you have longed for the Day

That lit the awful flame.

Tis nothing to you that hill and plain

Yield sheaves of dead men among the grain:

That widows mourn for their loved ones slain,

And mothers curse thy name.

 

But after the Day there’s a price to pay

For the sleepers under the sod,

And He you have mocked for many a day –

Listen and hear what He has to say:

“VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.”

What can you say to God?

By Henry Chappell – Known to his friends as the “Bath Railway Poet”

 

Here dead we lie,

Here dead we lie

Because we did not choose

To live and shame the land

From which we sprung.

 

Life, to be sure,

Is nothing much to lose,

But young men think it is,

And we were young.

By A. E. Housman

 

The Soldier,

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England. There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,

A body of England’s, breathing English air,

Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;

Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,

In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

by Rupert Brooke

 

In Flanders Fields,

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

by John McRae

 

I have a rendezvous with death,

I have a rendezvous with Death

At some disputed barricade,

When Spring comes back with rustling shade

And apple-blossoms fill the air—

I have a rendezvous with Death

When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

 

It may be he shall take my hand

And lead me into his dark land

And close my eyes and quench my breath—

It may be I shall pass him still.

I have a rendezvous with Death

On some scarred slope of battered hill,

When Spring comes round again this year

And the first meadow-flowers appear.

 

God knows 'twere better to be deep

Pillowed in silk and scented down,

Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,

Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,

Where hushed awakenings are dear...

But I've a rendezvous with Death

At midnight in some flaming town,

When Spring trips north again this year,

And I to my pledged word am true,

I shall not fail that rendezvous.

By Alan Seeger

Requiem for strangers

I discovered recently, heroes I'd never known.

The first, a young man, lost in his prime

On the blood red Flanders fields.

He gave his life so that we could be

Free from oppression, fear and hate

How did he feel that day? Did he know

What he was fighting for?

Or did he answer the call, life's grand adventure

Along with his pals. Did they also die?

The second, an older man, and wiser too.

One to whom others would turn

To seek assurance and courage.

A leader of modest rank.

At Thiepval Wood he gave his all

There would be for him no guiding hand

Just a name on cold stone in rank and file.

Alongside, comrades who fell that day.

One family, two brothers in arms and blood.

One grieving mother, two lost sons

Two wives to mourn their passing.

I never knew them and never will

But I will remember them!

By Barry Porteus (For Arthur and Henry Byron - Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry - Lost in the Great War but always remembered......)

Requiem for Strangers - by Barry Porteus
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