Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Can anyone help find the true writer of the WW1 poem 'The Red, Red Road to Hooge'?

I wasn't sure whether this should come under the heading Fascinating Facts or Forgotten Poets of the First World War.   All help in solving this mystery will be greatly appreciated and I will, as always, credit those who help me.

Andrew Thornton, who runs the wonderful Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-British-Expeditionary-Force-on-the-Western-Front-1914-1918/377498902412962?pnref=story which is all 
about the professional soldiers of the First World War - the 'Old Contemptibles' of which my Grandfather was one - has posted a very interesting poem.  

Andrew says:

"I came across this poem today while doing some research. I haven't seen it before, but thought you would like to read it:


“On parade – get your spade;
Fall in the “Shovel and Pick Brigade;”
There’s a “Carry Fatigue” for half a league,
And a trench to dig with a spade.
Through the dust and ruins of Ypres town,
The “Seventeen Inch” still battering down;
Spewing death with its fiery breath;
On the red, red road to Hooge.

Who is the one whose time has come.
Who won’t return when the work is done.
Who’ll leave his bones on the blood-stained stones
Of the red, red road to Hooge?
Onward the Staffords – never a stop;
To the sand-bagged trench, and over the top;
Over the top, if a “packet” you stop.
On the red, red road to Hooge.

The burst and the road of a hand grenade,
Welcome us on to the death parade;
The Pit of Gloom – the Valley of Doom
The Crater – down at Hooge.
Full many a soldier from the Rhine
Must sleep to-night in a bed of lime,
‘Tis a pitiless grave for a brave or a knave,
Is the Crater – down at Hooge.

Hark to the stand to fusillade.
Sling your rifle, bring your spade,
And fade away, ‘ere break of day,
Or a hole you’ll fill at Hooge.
Call the roll – and another name
Is sent to swell the Roll of Fame;
So we carve a cross to mark the loss
Of a chum who fell at Hooge.

Not a deed for the paper man to write,
No glorious charge in the dawning light;
The “Daily Mail” won’t tell the tale
Of the night work out at Hooge.
But our General knows, and his praise we’ve won,
He’s pleased with the work the Staffords have done,
In the shot and shell at the gates of hell,
On the red, red road to Hooge.”

The poem was attributed to an unidentified soldier from Derby who served with the 1st Battalion, The North Staffordshire Regiment, and was published in 'The Derby Evening Telegraph' on 7th October 1915.  The same poem, this time attributed to 8962 Private William Woolley, who served with the 1st Battalion, The North Staffordshire Regiment, was published in 'The Burton Daily Mail' on 12th October 1915.

The poem was also published in 'The Burton Daily Mail' on 6th December 1915. Based on what the lines mention, I would say the fighting during July and August 1915 were the inspiration.  The 6th Division  made the attack on 9th August 1915 and the 1st North Staffords and 2nd Sherwood Foresters, which both had soldiers who claimed to be the author, served at Hooge at that time. The crater mentioned in the poem was from a mine blown by the British in July.

Further research by Geoff Harrison has found other versions of the same poem.   73914 Private Jack O'Brien, who served with the 28th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, included it his in his book 'Into The Jaws of Death' (available on archive.org) substituting 'Canadians' for 'Staffords', while a Private W. Lloyd of the 12th Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters, and an unidentified soldier serving with "A" Company of the 2nd Battalion of the same Regiment, also claimed authorship.  In both those cases, rather than ' Onward the Staffords', the phrase 'Onwards the Sherwoods' was substituted.

A transport cook called Frances used 'Onward the Lancs' in his version printed in a parish newspaper from Dearnley, which is in south east Lancashire.

(The photograph of Hooge was taken in July 1929 (by someone from Spalding possibly) and shows the view at Hooge looking across toward Ypres, with the Cross of Sacrifice of Hooge Crater Cemetery clearly visible.)   Andrew Thornton, August 2015

Hooge (pronounced like 'hoague-ah' in Flemish - difficult to explain!) is a village in Flanders in Belgium about four kilometres from Ypres, and was part of the famous 'Ypres Salient' on the Western Front - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hooge_(Ypres)

My grateful thanks to Andrew Thornton and to Geoff Harrison who have both been extremely supportive of my commemorative exhibition project.