Break Of The Day In The Trenches
By Isaac Rosenberg

Today we share the poem Break of Day In The Trenches by Isaac Rosenberg. Written while serving on the front line, Rosenberg’s poetry was, and still is, considered some of the greatest of the First World War. Sadly, Rosenberg would be killed north-east of Arras on 1 April 1918 during the German Spring Offensive.

Poet Isaac Rosenberg from an autographed postcard, September 1917.
Credit: IWM – Q 93488

Break of Day in the Trenches
-Isaac Rosenberg

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid
Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’ s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver—what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man’ s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe—
Just a little white with the dust.

(As it appeared in Poetry – A Magazine of Verse,  Vol. IX, No. III, December 1916 Issue)

 

#FirstWorldWar
#Poetry
Canada Remembers

 

The Missing Airman

“The Missing Airman” was written by Nelson Moses, of the Delaware band, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, upon receiving word that his son, Lt. James Moses of 57 Squadron, RAF, had been reported missing-in-action. His body was never identified. Lt. Moses first served in the same 107th (Winnipeg) Battalion as Lt. Milton Martin from our 100 Days of Vimy post of 30 January 2017. (Read it again here: http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/100daysofvimy-january-30-2017/ )

The Missing Airman
By Nelson Moses

O, sometimes yet I feel lonely,
For him who went away overseas;
Time’s healing wing, and time only,
Can soothe the empty heart with ease.

That parting hour was hard to bear,
When we shook hands and said good-bye.
Hope alone breathed over our prayer,
While tears rose up and dimmed each eye.

But our Mother, in sore distress,
Was heard from o’er the restless wave
Her sons falter’d not in her stress,
It was victory, or the grave.

Jim sleeps, with many comrades brave,
Sleep on; your battle is done.
No lonely cross will mark the grave,
Where rests the Empire’s warrior son.

Moses is “6” in the photograph below, and Milton “1”. Photo sourced from: “Canada’s Great War Album” Project, Canada’s History.

 

 

 

My Boy Jack

My Boy Jack by Rudyard Kipling

My Boy Jack was written by Rudyard Kipling in 1915. Emotionally distraught by the death of his son John at the Battle of Loos, Kipling was likely expressing his grief and loss while writing; however, most agree today that his son was not the subject of the poem. Published as a prelude to Sea Warfare, Kipling’s book on Royal Navy actions, My Boy Jack makes use of nautical imagery and likely refers to a “Jack Tar” – the naval equivalent to the British “Tommy” of the infantry.
My By Jack
-Rudyard Kipling

Second Lieutenant John Kipling. Unit: 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards. Death: 27 September 1915 wounded and missing at Loos beyond the Chalk Pit Wood, Western Front. © IWM (HU 123608)

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

Major Jack
16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion

Throughout our 100 Days of Vimy posts, we discussed the rise of war poetry and its use as a form of commemoration and mourning.The troops themselves were continuously writing their own poems and songs, often honouring respected leaders and lost friends. Conversely, there were also a great number written to humorously attack the military hierarchy or make light of the dismal life the men were now living. Over the next few weeks, we’ll feature some of the works from the troops. This week we share “Major Jack”, written for Lieutenant-Colonel John Edwards ‘Jack’ Leckie, of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish). Dashing, impulsive and thriving on action and adventure, one soldier said of Leckie: “We liked the way he talked, and the way he walked.” (Zuehlke, Brave Battalion, p. 83). “Major Jack” was first published in the 16th Battalion’s trench magazine, Brazier.

 

Major Jack
16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion


Come call your boys together,

The 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) attend the funeral of another respected and well-liked officer, Major R. Bell-Irving at Cagnicourt, France in October 1918.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-003324.

Major Jack,

They will follow to the death,

Where you lead them, when you need them,

Major Jack.

For they know you’re tried and true,

Major Jack,

And they’ll each along with you

Do their whack.

In your heart no thought of fear,

On your lips a word of cheer,

Ever ready, cool and steady,

Major Jack.

(Zuehlke, Brave Battalion, p. 83)

Poem – the Soil at Vimy Ridge

Inés Fiedler (on far left) and other contest winners meet with Governor General David Johnston and the 2015 Silver Cross Mother at Rideau Hall.

Over the course of the Vimy 100 anniversary ceremonies, many Canadians have sent us poems they have written in response to their feelings associated with Canada and Vimy Ridge. Today we want to share one such special poem, written by Inés Fiedler and winner of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2015 literary contest. In her own words, Inés describes the story behind the poem:

“Originally, The Soil At Vimy Ridge was an assignment for my high school class. However when it was submitted to the Royal Canadian Legion’s literary contest, it won First Place at the National Level. Neither the assignment nor the literary contest had specified what the poem had to be about – just that it should relate to our national Remembrance Day services. I myself was inspired by the passion with which my tenth grade history teacher told my class about the importance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge to Canada’s national identity. Thanks to the Royal Canadian Legion, my poem and the message I hoped it would share has reached thousands of Canadians. Hopefully, with the help of the Vimy Foundation it can reach even further.”

The Soil at Vimy Ridge
by Inés Fiedler

I am the soil at Vimy Ridge,
Unchanging in my essence.
I’ve been here since the soldiers left;
Was here before their presence.

I have witnessed bloody battles,
And a peaceful time before:
A still and calm so beautiful
Before the raging war.

I’ve felt the boots of twenty thousand
March towards their slaughter,
Sacrificing everything for
Wives and sons and daughters.

I’ve heard the echoes of their cries,
Free of arrogance or pride.
Full of fear, yet they fought
And for your freedom died.

I was watching when the fighting stopped
And victory was declared.
The Canadians proved themselves as more
Than soldiers who were scared.

Now I hold twelve thousand markers,
Of men who fought and fell
My duty is to make sure that
They rest forever well.

I am the soil at Vimy Ridge,
A witness to the war,
Some may say they’ve seen it all
But I have seen much more.

 

 

VIMY POETRY CONTEST

Last spring, L’Association des auteures et des auteurs de l’Ontario français (l’AAOF), in collaboration with the Vimy Foundation, held a French poetry contest. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was the theme of the contest and from hundreds of submissions Daniel Groleau Landry was awarded the $250 l’AAOF prize for his winning poem. Mr. Groleau Landry was presented with the prize during the Vimy Reception at the French Embassy in Ottawa.

Le 12 avril 1917

après quatre jours insupportables

après les frères laissées en jachère

striés de balles et de shrapnel

après les foudres de l’horreur

la perte de l’innocence

ils ont dressé leur drapeau

comme on grimpe hors de l’enfer

ils étaient là, sur la côte 145,

le regard fixé sur l’horizon

des nuages gris s’accumulant dans le ciel

le sang d’érable et les yeux du Nord

un sourire de fils barbelés

sur leurs lèvres sèches une cigarette aux lèvres

le visage sale

la bataille gagnée

après le grondement de l’artillerie

des tremblements de terre

des tremblements de mains que l’on tente d’empêcher

l’éclatement des obus

le sifflement incessant des balles

le tintamarre de leur cris de guerre

la bousculade des chars d’assaut qui écrasent tout sur leur passage

les gémissements de leurs ennemis

ils n’entendent presque plus leur coeur battre

sentent plutôt

leurs pouls comme un tambour

comme un démon qui cogne contre les murs de sa prison

sentent plutôt

le brouillard de la guerre

les envelopper

et les priver

de la

beauté du monde

un goût de cuivre

sur la langue

le champ

de bataille

un paysage déchiré

irréparablement

comme les âmes

qui titubent

dans le brouillard

les cratères

des tombeaux

où les visages

ne trahissent

aucun accent

aucun langage

aucune origine

mais

malgré les deux pieds

sur le bord de l’abîme

ils ont triomphé

de retour à la base

les soldats rêvent

des tourtières

de leurs mère

les soldats rêvent

de jouer au hockey

sans se soucier

de faire des buts

les soldats rêvent

de revenir au Canada

chez eux, près des lacs,

des forêts boréales, sentir l’air pur

et tenir leur famille entre leurs bras

ils rêvent

de vivre haut et fort,

vivre leurs vies pour ceux

qui ne sont plus parmi eux

qui ont payé par milliers

pour notre liberté

avec leur sang d’érable

et leur volonté d’acier

ils rêvent

de trinquer

d’innombrables verres

à la santé des survivants

à la santé de leurs enfants

à la santé de leur pays

de leur drapeau hissé

contre les vagues et marées

de leurs ennemis déchus

même si

ils leur restaient

beaucoup de guerre à faire

aujourd’hui, le 12 avril 1917

ils avaient gagné

à Vimy

aujourd’hui

on dirait que le sang

des soldats qui ont péri

a nourrit la beauté du paysage

qu’il s’en est abreuvé

et que les fantômes

reposent en paix

l’ayant

réparé