I know I’ve mentioned this before, but my time at school studying the poems of the First World War (and the Old Lie) in English, and studying the First World War itself in history, had a huge influence on me being interesting in writing. So today, as well as its obvious connotations, has a strange, almost perverse, added importance for me; I think that it was the first time I saw the point of literature and of poetry, and Sassoon and Owen and all, showed me what they could do – how they could be affecting and informative and honest. And devastating.
So, here’s one of my favourites. And right now I’m remembering just what so many gave so we could be free (and I was tempted to have a dig at our wanker government, but it didn’t quite seem right – and I’m sure you all know anyway).
I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
And here’s a picture I took when I visited The Somme, when I was fifteen. I remember how surprised I was that there were so many graves of people who were my age when they died. Just boys. Just brave, young boys.
This is a German grave in France (I think). They buried them head first, boots up. Sixteen to a grave. There are two sides to every war, and much innocence too.