THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME


William the Conqueror’s fleet – of perhaps

five hundred long boats – assembled

in the Bay of the Somme. ‘History’

more or less rhymes with ‘irony’. The river

flowed through the flat bottomed chalky valley

steadily then and the years of the battle.

As the world has warmed, the water table

has risen, creating fens and marshes –

calm, bosky stretches catching the empty sky.

 

***

 

Numbers, for the most part, are abstract, even

of the British dead and wounded that first day –

slightly less than fifty eight thousand,

the population of present day

Aldershot, Bebington, Tunbridge Wells.

 

What is concrete is that those undernourished

young British men (my age or less when I

first read about them) climbed the ladders

up the trench walls, crossed no-man’s-land, marched

in lock step to death each carrying –

in addition to their Lee-Enfield rifle –

an entrenching tool, two gas helmets,

two grenades, two sandbags, two hundred

and twenty rounds of ammunition,

a pair of wire cutters, and extra rations

of corned beef, condensed milk and hard tack.

 

***

 

Innumerable raindrops still course beneath

the unanswered roll-calls of cemeteries

whose white grave markers parade in lock step,

a permanent muster of ignorant,

frail, oblivious boys.

 

 

 

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  1. #1 by Steve Crewe - June 30th, 2016 at 07:43

    Just knew you’d beat me to the punch, but poignant, as always on such somber anniversaries, of the stupidity of elders.

  2. #2 by John Huddart - July 5th, 2016 at 13:32

    And didn’t they fight, for whatever mistaken reasons, to honour treaties made with European neighbours, for the collective good?

  3. #3 by David Selzer - July 6th, 2016 at 08:28

    I think they – the PBI – fought for a variety of reasons: because they thought it was the right thing to do; for the excitement and glamour; for a laugh; to avoid being shunned by family and friends; for three meals a day and wages. As you know Perfidious Albion – i.e. Asquith and cabinet – did briefly consider staying out of the continental war.

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