What the dead might say about WWI
My father is a Brit who spends his retirement gliding across the canals of Europe on a barge he built for that express purpose.
This year he parked his boat along side the historical battlefields of France and began exploring the military movements of his grand father, through out the war that somehow didn’t end all wars.
Here is a poem he wrote from the point of view of those who died fighting.
British Voices from the Somme 1918
We are the dead. Names carved in stone on monuments which stand alone on hills where once we fought to save the world, or so we thought. They said it was the duty of every mother’s son — Join Kitchener’s new army to go and fight the Hun. We came in millions, keen to fight for King and Country ‘gainst the might of a barbarous foe who, we were told, had ravaged Belgium, stole her gold and, if given half a chance, would conquer England after France.
They trained us and they gave us guns, then sent us off to kill the sons of German mothers and German dads whose patriotic German lads believed the bullshite they were fed and so, like us, they too are dead. Those ‘Huns’ we fought were just like us; normal blokes who drove a bus, carried bricks or kept a store before they wound up in the war. They were made to understand that we would take their Fatherland.
Generals Haig and Rawlinson devised a misbegotten plan: We’d shell their trenches into bits then stroll across what’s left of Fritz, carrying packs and walking slow, for we had many miles to go to reach Berlin. However, Fritz was safe and sound in concrete dugouts underground, so when we started to advance we didn’t stand a bloody chance against the Maxim’s hail of lead which mowed down twenty thousand dead. “Oh”, said Haig, “thats not too bad, compared to all the men we had before the fight. We’ll try again tomorrow night.”
Battalions were only pawns in a grotesque game of chess. Nice and clean in theory; but the real world is a mess. It’s only a square on a chessboard, but on the ground down here, it’s hundreds of yards of shot and shell and mud and blood and fear, where the only law is ‘fight for your mates’ and you pray to God that blindfold fate won’t send a high explosive shell to blast your mates and you to hell. Although Hell doesn’t seem such an awful spot to those who’ve seen what shell and shot and mustard gas can do to men and breathed the ghastly, awful stench of dead men rotting in a trench.
At first our patriotic cry was “King and country — do or die”. But when bullets whiz around your head and half your company is dead, you realize a funny thing; its your pals you fight for — not the king. There are many heroes here who risked their lives and conquered fear — not for country, king or state — but to save the life of a wounded mate.
We never really understood why we should fight and spill the blood of men we never even knew, who looked a lot like me and you. Those that led us (from the rear) basked in fame, have London streets that bear their name. They puffed and preened and marched about with never in their minds a doubt that what they did was so obscene. They sent to hell the very cream of British youth.
We are the dead. We were sent to die by men who didn’t even try to stop the war, because they knew that war is good — for those who profit from spilling blood. Industrialists who made our guns, got rich from Tommies killing Huns and they didn’t care if, in the fray, some bullets came the other way. We were treated just like cattle slaughtered in some pointless battle, so those who made the shells and tanks, with money loaned by complicit banks, could profit from a lovely war; ’cause isn’t that what war is for?
Today, Jean-Luc who farms the soil, mixed with our blood and bone, is plowing the ground his forebears plowed, which no man can own. For the land is ever eternal and man is but a wraith; it exists forever while we face certain death. The fields were there before us and always will remain, planted with wheat and ‘pommes-de-terre’ — just like before we came.
~ Ian Peter Kellett
11 November 2018
Dedicated to the ordinary soldiers of all nations who lost their lives in war.