Friday, 1 July 2016

July 1st 1916: Poem for Somme 100

By Bridie Breen

A poem to mark the centenary of the battle of the Somme, 100 years ago today.

JULY 1ST 1916

The lads practised the names 
of French townlands,
while holding fort in trenches
in Thiepval Wood.
Laughed in camaraderie, 
as they accented Chantilly.
Dreamt of Parisienne ladies
bedecked in fancy hats and lacy attire.
Imagined steamy fetlocks,
cigar smoke and winning bets.
But no horses ran on the racecourse,
in the Battle of the Somme.
Commanders commanded
and the war raged on.

Kitchener’s finger had pointed to all.
The young hearts of a nation swelled
as Volunteer armies forged.
Neighbours steeled by patriotic fervour,
Wished to serve alongside each other.
Childhood friends bonded forever 
as brothers in arms. 
Lord Derby called them a Battalion of Pals.

Regiments gathered in one week flat
from farmland and village,
they went together en masse
to stand tall or fall down,
in the name of their God, 
King and country.
Town and City names 
were bore with pride.
Enlisted not conscripted,
heading for the Western Front.

A cloudless sky, as dawn broke into July.
Mist laden Rivers Ancre and Somme
spoke of sunny possibilities to 
Generals in Chateau’s
While helmeted young men
Signed themselves with a cross
Kissed items of sentiment
Wrote hurried letters to mothers 
and sweethearts.
Looked to each other, 
nodded to bugle horn, then went over the top.
If war had not been the reason
a race perhaps or a restful relax.
No such luck as they waded
 in mucky rat filled pits.
Cannon fodder, 
so far away from home.

In that French valley of death 
machine gun fire showered 
from the sky
Wires had been cut in time,
a vain hope held for deadly attack.
Efforts failed to prise Beaucourt 
from German grasp
Haig and Joffre’s great plans met mishap
Concrete dugouts, withstood well
bombarding shells.
German trenches, stayed intact.

Bodies lay where they fell.
A mound for comrades to climb across,
caused much delay and further loss.
A hill too high to make advance
Boys were forced to become men
on that Gommecourt spot.
Lieutenant Cather’s gallantry
saved some wounded men 
Little chance himself of surviving
such a carnival of hell.
Nine Victoria crosses
awarded on that first Somme day
Six died in selfless sacrifice
Three lived to wear the medal
and relive the deed to their end
A cemetery now stands where once 
many thousands plodded
then dropped as stones
in the Big Push, onto No Man’s land.

Text © Bridie Breen
Bridie Breen has been a member of Manchester Irish Writers for quite a few years. Although her first love is poetry, she writes on all topics. She has contributed to the group’s publications “Stones of the Heart” and “Changing Skies”. Her Changing Skies piece is available to download as a voice over. She regularly performs at the group’s events. She has had successful collaborations with New Attitude theatre and Emerge theatre in the past and more recently performed with Athlone Poetry in the Park group. She has taken her love of poetry to local cafe settings. She enjoys writing short scripts too. Her wish is to have a poetry anthology published. In the meantime, she’ll be trying out at performance style poetry venues to showcase new work in the coming months.

To find out more about MIW's Somme 100 Commemoration, please click here.

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