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.”

“In Hospital

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.”









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1 Response to Cannon’s roar: Lieutenant Coningsby Dawson’s verse volleys from his “The Glory Of The Trenches” 1918

  1. Hari says:

    This poem makes repeated reference to the “Hun,” but this was not just Allied propaganda. The German Kaiser Wilhelm II had proudly directed his Army in 1900 as it went to crush the Boxer Rebellion in Imperial China:

    “Should you encounter the enemy, he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German.”

    But I am puzzled by the poem’s “Speaking the anguish of the Hun’s retreat.” One would think the Allied dead would cheer “the Hun’s retreat,” especially in 1918 when final Victory could be seen approaching.


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