I know that it has been a while heck several months since I blogged. Good news though as I have some great poems coming. I also will be posting and cross-referencing to YouTube as well as stated earlier here. So please stay tuned! Welcome to another blog follower as well! It might be best to actually follow this blog as then you can keep up to date automatically. Verse on!
Through thick and Salisbury mud the Canadians will show the Kaiser – a local British imperial patriotic poem card late 1914
In 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm referred to the British Army as that “contemptible little army.” British Expeditionary Force (BEF) veterans fondly adopted the epithet and those who served from August to November 1914 referred to themselves as the “Old Contemptibles” which was also used as the titular name of several British veterans groups. The Kaiser’s pejorative rhetoric did highlight the very small land forces available to Britain especially relative to the mass conscript land forces of continental Europe. Canada’s offer therefore of an entire division was warmly welcomed by the War Office in Whitehall, London, England. Canadian and Imperial pre-war strategic plans in case Britain went to war was for Canada to furnish a single division with a total of 25,000 officers and men. The 1st Canadian Contingent sailed in October 1914 for England with a strength of 33,000. The British selected Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England for stationing and training these Canadians. The poem below “King George’s Boys on Salisbury Plain, 1914 / The Empire’s Boys” was composed and published by B. Winton as part of his “Benwint Series” 60 North Road, Brighton, England in late 1914 but probably printed in early 1915 as the postcard has an undivided back which such postcard back types produced from 1915 onwards.
Winton’s patriotic poetic bugling was hardly needed but is poetically pictorially representative of the overwhelming numbers of English who viewed the Canadians (and the Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Indians and other British Imperial forces arriving in Britain and elsewhere to support the war effort) with very real warm feelings of welcoming, comradeship, support in crisis times and shared efforts amidst the significant stresses of war. Given the vastly outnumbered British forces, the admitted superiority of German military organization and training and very real invasion fears at the start of the war the arrival of “Canadians” (the clear majority of this 1st Contingent were unmistakably British immigrants to Canada – note 3rd stanza opening line “Real British sons,…”)
Many centuries ago on Salisbury Plain,
A terrible battle was fought,
The men on both sides strove with might and main,
But dearly was victory bought.
Their duty they did and to martial strains
Died thousands of brave men and true;
And now are encamped on the same ancient plain
The Empire’s Canadian Boys — True Blue.
Real British sons, steadfast and brave,
As their Fathers were of yore;
Each fond of a ‘gal’ and true to a ‘pal,’
Earnest in play or war.
Though short is the time since the Empire’s Call,
You hastened at once to obey;
You are doing your “bit” for the dear homeland
Each minute you work or play.
You’re anxious to get to the Front at the Foe,
And sure — you’re fine lads and true;
Might proud was His Majesty when saw the fire
In the eyes of his troops on review.
You have come up like men to play a man’s part,
(For slackers the Empire’s no use);
And when the dare-devil CANADIANS get to the front,
KAISER BILL will think HELL’S been let loose.
“The Survivor” was written by Mrs. Amabel King (maiden name Reeves) (born: May 3, 1899, Toronto, Ontario – died: January 19, 1979 Brompton, Ontario) during her final year (1934) studying in the University of Toronto Extension Journalism course in which she was registered during 1932 to 1934. “The Survivor” under the initial title “My Old Shoes” was awarded the U of T Journalism Student Prize in May,1934. In 1935 her poem along with a historically based but semi-fictionalized autobiographical story revolving around Reeves’s V.A.D. overseas participation at the end of and immediate aftermath of the war was published in a pamphlet as “Relics of a V.A.D.” Toronto, Ontario: The Leslie Press, page 7 although her poem “The Survivor” had already appeared in a 1934 issue of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire magazine “ECHOES.” The University of Toronto Archives copy has an inscription on the front flyleaf, viz.: “To John M. Elson who guided my first faltering steps in the literary world – my sincere appreciation. Amabel King. Dec. 7. 1935.” John Melbourne Elson (born: 1880 – died: ? ) was a minor novelist (e.g. “The Scarlet Sash: A Romance of the Old Niagara Frontier.” published 1925 and a free-lance Canadian writer who also lived next door to King in Toronto. King had one child, Charmaine King (1925 – 2007) a successful Canadian stage and screen actress and wife of Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent (1930 – ). I believe Reeves a young adolescent served overseas most likely under the Canadian branch of the St. John Ambulance Canada who were mainly responsible for the bulk of the Canadian overseas VADs during WWI. She probably did visit Paris most likely in 1919 where her “shoes” were most likely bought. Given the combination of the cynically viewed Geneva Disarmament Talks 1932 – 1933 plus, the depths of human suffering and misery reached in the Great Depression’s years 1933-1934, the rise of Hitler to power in Germany in 1933 and concurrent swell of anti-war pacifism and isolationism sweeping especially the former Allied states her poem is indeed poignant when compared to the glorious sacrificial verses employed especially during the conflict. Moreover, a Canadian feminine inter-war voice of a most likely actual overseas participant is atypical in looking back and directly reflecting with sadness on the sheer futility of the sacrifices of so many young men’s lives. It is also quite possible that King visited the actual battlefields of the Western Front as such tourism was fairly popular generally and not just for immediate family members who had loved ones buried overseas.
In memory to-night I’m on Flanders’ front
Where poppies, blood-red, swayed
To the guns, and the drums, and the marching feet
of a million men — betrayed!
And I’m talking once more with old comrades — pals
Whose bodies have long been dust.
How firm was their faith that war would end!
Great God! — was it just — was it just?
Brief was their span, but their day’s dying sun
Left haloes of glory anon;
‘Midst unfurling flags, and screeching of shells
Their brave young souls marched on.
And now, though but half-way along life’s rough road,
I feel the cruel pressure of years,
For my youth went out with the old brigade
On that futile tide of tears.
And while their blithe spirits are hov’ring to-night
Over old familiar heaths,
Where, entangled and gassed in a hell of mud,
They died a thousand deaths.
I thank God they’re beyond the maddening truth
That War makes man its fool,
And will stalk abroad o’er a prostrate world
Till sovereign Love shall rule!
Her story’s focus on her wartime purchased French shoes is well worth quoting at length not only for its writing but in sharp contrasts to all the military/war impedimenta and war souvenirs that we typically associate with the war’s artifacts, viz.:
“My old shoes! Poor, shabby, inanimate things — what memories you revive! Your uppers are scuffed, your heels run down, and your buttons long gone, but I vowed I would always keep you, and I have! for did you not share the gladdest and saddest adventures of my youth? And were shoes ever so kind to tired, travel-worn feet?
When I first glimpsed you — black velvet, dainty and impractical — reposing gracefully in that shop window in the Rue de l’Arcade in Paris that glorious June day, I knew you were meant for me.
(p. 10 )
My English oxfords [ sic ] suddenly seemed to pinch my feet. I went into the shop, and in five minutes possessed you for fifty francs.
When I decided to wear you, the salesgirl gasped, “But no, M’mselle, they are velvet — for the soiree!”
I remember how emphatically I answered, “These shoes are for all occasions! I’m tired to death of low heels. For the duration of the war, working as a V.A.D. I’ve had to wear brogues and tweeds and felt hats, and I’m heartily sick of it all! This is my first visit to Paris, and I’m going to teeter ’round on those shoes, and enjoy it.” I walked out of the place feeling like a Parisian.
Your luxurious velvet softness caressed my weary feet, and a new gay frivolity, such as I had not felt since 1914, filled my whole being. You made me want to find music, dancing and laughter.
Those first smudges that marred your sleek blackness were from the army boots of my dancing partners at that queer little place in Montre Martre — “The Red Mill” — As I look at you now I imagine I can hear the strains of that French orchestra, and the harsh laughter of disillusioned youth, as they drank and danced in that overcrowded cabaret, in a feeble effort to forget the war. Forget — did I say? No, that could never be. Always they will carry in the depths of their hearts the memory like a hideous scar, and all their experiences in life will be tempered by their shaken faith. Others whom the war did not touch will think them hard and embittered, and without illusions, a generation old before their time. No, they could not, if they would, forget.
When I sat still and quite with you tucked under my chair, a young captain who had been through Purgatory, was
recounting how bravely someone dear to me had died — leading his men. And the next moment we were on the floor dancing, laughing and singing in chorus, “Mademoiselle from Armentierres . . . ” — One had to be gay. It was part of the price for winning the war.
. . . .
Precious old shoes! Now I shall roll you in your tissue wrappings and place you back in my box of souvenirs where I shall always keep you. You have the power to bring laughter and tears to my eyes. I think when I am old, and the world has passed me by, I shall sometimes steal up to the store room, and hold you close to my heart — and live again the historical scenes of my youth.”
Bonjour! I will in 2017 be posting French-Canadian poets’ relevant war related poems in the French language and ideally with at least adequate English translations of same!
Great news for 2017! Amongst other plans I will in 2017 be cross-referencing select poems that appear in this blog on YouTube with yours truly reciting such verses! You will thus be able to not only view but hear these poems as well. Thanks everyone for your consideration and support. Please feel free to follow this blog.
The Woman Speaks /
Oh, Death, how kind to bid him rest!
Only his spirit stirs against my breast;
So strong he was that day and brave and gay,
Singing and swinging his sword,
Running to action like a child at play,
Peace, be still!
He must not hear my anguished cry;
Only an old sweet song,
[ sgd. ] B. M. K.
This brief but poignant plus verse was published in “ECHOES: The Official Organ Of The Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire” Issue No. 87, December, 1921, page 53.
The I.O.D.E. was by far the most prominent woman’s war and post-war support group for soldiers, ex-soldiers, returned soldiers and veterans of World War I Canada. The I.O.D.E. sponsored a massive long-term and diverse War Memorial program from 1919 onwards that included scholarships or bursaries to family members of such Canadian war participants, flag presentations, war memorial or monument funding, war memorial or monument unveilings/inaugurations, school lectures/presentations, Canadian artworks (including famously reproductions of official Canadian War Artworks from WWI), etc….
This short verse is interesting socially as overtly manifesting the bereaved immediate family member’s sorrows in contrast to war-time “hero’s death glorification” verses. During the war several I.O.D.E. members penned verses written specifically for their died in the war male relatives in contrast to B. M. K.’s real emotional wallop of loosing her own flesh and blood. How women for such a long period of unanticipated time (several years instead of the few months initially expected in the summer of 1914) coped with such highly stressful life occurrences has never been properly researched. Without question this aspect of the war’s social history encompasses what we now call “secondary trauma.” Even the final word: “lullaby” is symbolic of pathetic family loss of those who have passed on far too young.
Cannon’s roar: Lieutenant Coningsby Dawson’s verse volleys from his “The Glory Of The Trenches” 1918
Photo of Dawson circa 1916 – 1917 taken in Newark, New Jersey, USA by Walters
Lieutenant Coningsby Dawson (born: February 26, 1883 High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England – died: August 10, 1959) was a 1905 University of Oxford graduate who dropped out of his post-graduate theological studies and travelled to the United States to attempt becoming a writer. In fair measure successful Dawson focused on writing about Canadian subjects for the British press. When the war broke out he traveled to Ottawa and after a long training course at the Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario he was commissioned in 1916 as a Lieutenant into the Canadian Field Artillery. Serving overseas he was wounded a couple of times and during latter 1917 – 1918 toured the United States to foster recruiting and Allied war support. He published several books during the war about his war experiences and while his prose work is known he did write several poems. From his book “The Glory Of The Trenches” 1918 he published the following war poems,viz.:
p. 5 “To You At Home”
p. 18 “In Hospital”
p. 52 “The Lads Away”
p. 104 “The Glory Of The Trenches”
“To You At Home
Each night we panted till the runners came, Bearing your letters through the battle-smoke. Their path lay up Death Valley spouting flame, Across the ridge where the Hun’s anger spoke In bursting shells and cataracts of pain; Then down the road where no one goes by day, And so into the tortured, pockmarked plain Where dead men clasp their wounds and point the way. Here gas lurks treacherously and the wire Of old defences tangles up the feet; Faces and hands strain upward through the wire, Speaking the anguish of the Hun’s retreat. Sometimes no letters came; the evening hate Dragged on till dawn. The ridge in flying spray Of hissing shrapnel told the runner’s fate; We knew we should not hear from you that day — From you, who from the trenches of the mind Hurl back despair, smiling with sobbing breath, Writing your souls on paper to be kind, That you for us may take the sting from Death.”
Hushed and happy whiteness, Miles on miles of cots, The glad contented brightness Where sunlight falls in spots.
Sisters swift and saintly Seem to tread on grass; Like flowers stirring faintly, Heads turn to watch them pass.
Beauty, blood and sorrow, Blending in a trance — Eternity’s to-morrow In this half-way house of France.
Sounds of whispered talking, Laboured indrawn breath; Then like a young girl walking The dear familiar Death.”
“The Lads Away
All the lads have gone out to play At being soldiers, far away; They won’t be back for many a day, And some won’t be back any morning.
All the lassies who laughing were When hearts were light and lads were here, Go sad-eyed, wandering hither and there — They pray and they watch for the morning.
Every house has its vacant bed And every night, when sounds are dead, Some woman years for the pillowed head Of him who marched out in the morning.
Of all the lads who’ve gone out to play There’s some’ll return and some who’ll stay; There’s some will be back ‘most any day — But some won’t wake up in the morning.”
“The Glory Of The Trenches
We were too proud to live for years When our poor death could dry the tears Of little children yet unborn. It scarcely mattered that at morn, When manhood’s hope was at its height, We stopped a bullet in mid-flight. It did not trouble us to lie Forgotten ‘neath the forgetting sky. So long Sleep was our only cure That when Death piped of rest made sure, We cast our fleshly crutches down, Laughing like boys in Hamelin Town. And this we did while loving life, Yet loving more than home or wife The kindness of a world set free For countless children yet to be.”