Monday, 29 February 2016

Poems written by Robert Beckh (1894 - 1916)

Robert's Battalion (12th Bn, East Yorkshire Regiment) was posted to the Western Front in March 1916.  They went into the Trenches near Bertrancourt in France.  These are some of the poems Robert wrote.

From Robert's collection  "Swallows in Storm and Sunlight" published by Chapman and Hall, London, 1917.

The Song of Sheffield

Written in March 1916 in the Trenches near Bertrancourt.

Shells, shells, shells!

The song of the city of steel;

Hammer and turn, and file,

Furnace, and latahe, and wheel.

Tireless machinery,

Man’s ingenuity,

Making a way for the martial devil’s meal.

 

Shells, shells, shells,

Out of the furnace blaze;

Roll, roll, roll,

Into the workshop’s maze.

Ruthless machinery

Boring eternally,

Boring a hole for the shattering charge that stays.

 

Shells, shells, shells!

The song of the city of steel;

List to the devil’s mirth,

Hark to their laughters’ peal:

Sheffield’s machinery

Crushing humanity

Neath devil-ridden death’s impassive heel.

 

No Man’s Land

Written after reading a Battalion Order a week before his death - ‘A Patrol will leave tonight to examine gap in German wire…’

Nine-Thirty o’clock?  Then over the top,

And mind to keep down when you see the flare

Of Very pistol searching the air.

Now, over you get;  look out for the wire

In the borrow pit, and the empty tins,

They are meant for the Hun to bark his shins.

So keep well down and reserve your fire –

All over?  Right : there’s a gap just here

In the corkscrew wire, so just follow me;

If you keep well down there’s nothing to fear.

            .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Then out we creep thro’ the gathering gloom

Of NO MAN’S LAND, while the big guns boom

Right over our heads, and the rapid crack

Of the Lewis guns is answered back

By the German barking the same refrain

Of crack, crack, crack, all over again.

 

To the wistful eye from the parapet,

In the smiling sun of a summer’s day,

‘Twere a sin to believe that a bloody death

In those waving grasses lurking lay.

But now, ‘neath the Very’s fitful flares

“Keep still, my lads, and freeze like hares; -

All right, carry on, for we’re out to enquire

If our friend the Hun’s got a gap in his wire;

And he hasn’t invited us out, you see,

So lift up your feet and follow me.”

            .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .  

Then, silent, we press with a noiseless tread

Thro’ no man’s land, but the sightless dead;

Aye, muffle your footsteps, well ye may,

For the mouldering corpses here decay

Whom no man owns but the King abhorred,

Grim Pluto, Stygia’s over-lord.

 

Oh breathe a prayer for the sightless Dead

Who have bitten the dust ‘neath the biting lead

Of the pitiless hail of the Maxim’s fire,

‘Neath the wash of shell in the well trod mire.

Ah well!  But we’ve, too, got a job to be done,

For we’ve come to the wire of our friend, the Hun.

“Now, keep well down, lads;  can you see any gap?”

            .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Not much, well the reference is wrong in the map”

So homeward we go thro’ the friendly night.

That covers the NO MAN’S LAND from sight,

As muttering a noiseless prayer of praise,

We drop from the parapet into the bays.

 

Note:  The MAXIM machine gun or ‘recoil operated’ gun was invented in 1883 by Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, a naturalised British (1900), American-born inventor.

VERY Lights were flares, fired from a pistol and sent up at night to show the way.  Invented by Edward Wilson Very, an American naval officer.

 

Billets

Written on 14th August 1916

Green fields that are scented and sweet,

God’s sunshine, the air, and the trees,

Thy beauties we knew not before,

They were there, and who doubts them that sees?

 

But we, who bereft for a space

Of the joys that God meant us to share,

Have been living ‘mid sandbags, and scorched

Without shade from the sun’s ceaseless glare.

 

Great God!  How to welcome the day

When the Trenches are left, and the trees

Promise hopes of a respite from heat,

And from breath-stifling odours release.

 

For how long?  Just four days is the span:

And how fleeting yet heav’n born it seems –

Then again to the Trenches, our goal

And to plan for the Peace of our dreams.

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