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|Geplaatst: 14 Sep 2013 22:03 Onderwerp: The WW1 poetry they didn't let you read
|The WW1 poetry they didn't let you read: Ribald and risque poems from the front
More than any other conflict, the First World War is credited with creating some of the finest poetry ever written.
By Jasper Copping
The works of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Rupert Brooke beautifully described the pity and loss of the conflict raging around them and are still appreciated for their historical and literary significance.
Now though, a new collection of quite different - and somewhat less erudite - works produced in the trenches has emerged, with the publication of dozens of ribald limericks and humorous poems written by serving troops.
The collection has been assembled by John Sadler and Rosie Serdiville, who uncovered the works in the archives of military museums and libraries.
Mr Sadler, who lectures at Sunderland University, said that although the literary merit of the poetry might not match the level of the war poets, the historical significance was every bit as great.
“They are hardly Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon and are not great poets in a classical sense, but they are not setting out to be poets.
“Most of war is boredom - not blood and glory - so the men had a lot of time on their hands.
“These were men simply looking around them and writing for themselves. It is the antidote to the other war poets. You don’t have the doom and gloom of a Wilfred Owen or deeply reflective stuff.
“These men are actually having a good laugh. What they write is raw and unedited. Mostly the men were private soldiers, rather than officers, but they were not uneducated. They are the men who volunteered after the outbreak of the war. And reading their poems gives you an important insight.
“Their works are moving, in some ways, because they are funny. They don’t seem to lose heart. It is all about keeping cheerful and trying to look on the bright side.”
In total, the two researchers have assembled around 200 works, almost all previously unpublished, by around 100 poets in their compilation, Tommy Rot: WW1 Poetry They Didn’t Let You Read.
The works include several containing strong language. One of the men’s favourite targets for humour is the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, who is blamed for the outbreak, as well as their French allies.
But perhaps the most mocked are the soldier’s own senior officers and those based away from the front line.
One poem, entitled “The Things that Matter”, by an anonymous author, describes a man sent out by headquarters to dash out alone into no-man’s land behind an advancing British unit, so he could ask the men on behalf of the senior officers behind how they cut their hair.
It goes on: “The war is won’, I told my men. ‘No need to use our rifles / While those behind look after us, we need not think of trifles, / Such as the Hun in front of us or when it’s time for feeding’ / (But all the same, I’m loath to say, the battle’s still proceeding!)”
The soldiers also make jokes about the surroundings. In one work, John Gamble, from Derby, who was serving as a second lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry: “There’s a shallow wet trench near Houplines, / ‘Tis the wettest there ever has been, / There are bullets that fly, / There are shells in the sky, / And it smells like a German ‘has been’.”
Another, called La Belle France and written by an anonymous author, contained a typical soldiers’ grumble: “The Boy stood in the … (pardon) trench / As he was paid to do; / The life was ensanglante* (French for bloody) / The pay was one and two / And even that (if he might mention it) was overdue.”
Even the apparent deaths of fellow soldiers gets a black humour treatment. Another anonymous work, about the death of a tall comrade ends: “But when we’re digging trenches, Jim / We shall always think of you. / Instead of digging four feet six, / We’ll dig them six foot two!”
Private M. Woodhouse, a member of the Tyneside Scottish , wrote after his unit’s attack on the first day of the Battle of the Somme: “And when all was over / I am sorry to relate / All that we could number was / One hundred and twenty-eight.”
The works are almost all previously unpublished, except in regimental service magazines, such as the Plum and Apple, the newspaper of the Northumberland Hussars, which were printed just behind the front line, using contributions from soldiers. Some of the poems were simply left in the papers of soldiers and later passed on to museums and libraries by their relatives after their deaths.
The new compilation also includes a large number of more sentimental poem, including one by Arthur Roberts, a black soldier who was brought up in Glasgow and served with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers
Even the humorous poems in the collection have an underlying poignancy.
Many of the writers featured did not live to see the end of the war. Gamble, for instance, was wounded two months after he had written “There’s a shallow wet trench near Houplines”. He rejoined his unit the following month, but after a further three months, he was injured again, and died the following day. He is now buried in Poperinge, Belgium, around ten miles from Houplines.
Next year will see the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. As planning to mark the anniversary continues, The Sunday Telegraph is continuing its Lest We Forget campaign, to ensure the country’s memorials are in a fitting state for commemorations.
I want to tell you now Sir
I want to tell you now sir
Before it’s all forgot
That we were up at Wipers [Ypres]
And found it very hot
On army forms ‘Tommy’s’ the name he bears
But in the ranks this Monica’s no good
If he’s a Murphy, whatever he cares
He’ll get no other name than ‘Spud’.
And if he’s one of the family Clark
And was baptised Fred, or Jack, or Bobby
Or uses his number to keep it dark,
He will always loudly be called ‘Nobby’.
And if his true surname should be Miller
Let him be a fraud, or good and trusty,
A man or a mouse or a ladykiller,
You’ll find he will always be called ‘Dusty’!
Sergeant Charles H. Moss, 18th (Pals) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry,
My little dry home in the wet
I’ve a little wet home in a trench
And the rainstorms continually drench
There’s the sky overhead, clay or mud for a bed
And stone we use as a bench
Bully beef and hard biscuits we chew
It seems years since we tasted a stew
Shells crackle and scare, yet no place can compare
With my little wet home in the trench
Beware of half truths--yours may be the wrong half
Don't lose your temper--no one else wants it
the reverend Tubby Clayton
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