Tag Archives: the army

A Young Private Named Maude

A young private named Maude
Slipped and fell on his sword.
His corporal, named Ted
Said “you should be dead.
But that sword is made of cardboard!”

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Poppy

To those who died that you and me
Might live free.
To those who gave their sweet breath for King and Countrie.
I regret that yesterday
I had no cash to pay
For a poppy deep red
To remember the dead.

I will not know the stench
Of trench
Nor the wrench
Of fear
And pain as spear
Drains the life away.

What can the poet say
Who has never known
The touch of steel against bone?
We die alone
But most will peaceful go
And will not know
The woe
Of comrades lost,
Nor count the cost
Of bloody strife.
They will not give their life
That others (you and me)
May live free.

Having only my debit card I regret to say
That I could not buy
A blood red
Poppy to remember the dead
As I wended my way
To my nine to five job yesterday.

Danny Dever By Rudyard Kipling

On awaking this morning Kipling’s poem, Danny Dever kept for some unaccountable reason replaying itself in my head. Ever since coming across Danny Dever in the school library as a child in Liverpool I have always entertained a liking for it. However why the poem should pop into my waking mind this morning remains a mystery to me.

Danny Dever was first published in February 1890. The poem recounts the execution of a British soldier for murdering a sleeping comrade and is the first example of the poet’s work which relates matters from the common soldier’s perspective. According to the Kipling Society, (http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/rg_deever1.htm) Danny Dever almost certainly draws on the execution of a private Flaxman, in January 1887, in Lucknow, India for murdering a fellow soldier. The attention to detail of the poem indicates that the poet was familiar with the Lucknow incident. There is, however no evidence that Kipling himself witnessed a military execution.

 

Danny Deever

 

——————————————————————————–

 

“WHAT are the bugles blowin’ for? ” said Files-on-Parade.

“To turn you out, to turn you out,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

“What makes you look so white, so white? ” said Files-on-Parade.

“I’m dreadin’ what I’ve got to watch,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

For they’re hangin’ Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play

The regiment’s in ‘ollow square – they’re hangin’ him to-day;

They’ve taken of his buttons off an’ cut his stripes away,

An’ they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

 

“What makes the rear-rank breathe so ‘ard? ” said Files-on-Parade.

“It’s bitter cold, it’s bitter cold,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

“What makes that front-rank man fall down? ” said Files-on-Parade.

“A touch o’ sun, a touch o’ sun,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

They are hangin’ Danny Deever, they are marchin’ of ‘im round,

They ‘ave ‘alted Danny Deever by ‘is coffin on the ground;

An’ e’ll swing in ‘arf a minute for a sneakin’ shootin’ hound

0 they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’!

 

” ‘Is cot was right-‘and cot to mine,” said Files-on-Parade.

” ‘E’s sleepin’ out an’ far to-night,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

“I’ve drunk ‘is beer a score o’ times,” said Files-on-Parade.

” ‘E’s drinkin’ bitter beer alone,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

They are hangin’ Danny Deever, you must mark ‘im to ‘is place,

For ‘e shot a comrade sleepin’ – you must look ‘im in the face;

Nine ‘undred of ‘is county an’ the Regiment’s disgrace,

While they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

 

“What’s that so black agin the sun? ” said Files-on-Parade.

“It’s Danny fightin’ ‘ard for life,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

“What’s that that whimpers over’ead? ” said Files-on-Parade.

“It’s Danny’s soul that’s passin’ now,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

For they’re done with Danny Deever, you can ‘ear the quickstep play

The regiment’s in column, an’ they’re marchin’ us away;

Ho! the young recruits are shakin’, an’ they’ll want their beer to-day,

After hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

 

(http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_deever.htm).

Death March – A Guest Post By Jane Of Fluency

Many thanks to Jane, of Fluency for the below guest post, which first appeared on her blog and can be found by following the below link, (https://fluencyofwords.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/death-march/). The below poem is reproduced by kind permission of Jane and remains her property.

 

 

Onward, men, don’t linger for longer,

feel that pride rushing through you,

the unworn wind filling your lungs.

Don’t look over your shoulder no more,

I vouch no guns pointed at your head.

 

Don’t worry about the world,

about your dead friends and lives,

of your soul in the barracks.

Ain’t nothing you can do,

if you wake up in a nightmare.

 

Lads, don’t make trouble,

to hear a bomb explode is mad,

you hear?

Don’t go telling others what’s not,

or you’ll live in a damn facility.

 

Go on, soldier,

live the rest of your life

with family,

in peace.

 

Epitaph On An Army Of Mercenaries By A E Housman

I like the unsentimental nature of this poem which never fails to bring a smile to my lips:

 

 

“These, in the day when heaven was falling,

 

The hour when earth’s foundations fled,

 

Followed their mercenary calling,

 

And took their wages, and are dead.

 

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;

 

They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;

 

What God abandoned, these defended,

 

And saved the sum of things for pay.”

My Boy Jack Review

Yesterday evening my friend Brian and I attended a production of My Boy Jack at the Teddington Theatre Club, http://www.teddingtontheatreclub.org.uk/production/my-boy-jack. I wholeheartedly recommend the production which, unfortunately finishes it’s run today (Saturday 5 July).

At the outbreak of World War I Rudyard Kipling is determined that his severely short sighted son John (known as Jack) should enlist in the army. Having been rejected 3 times due to his poor eyesight Kipling uses his influence to secure Jack a position as an officer in the Irish Guards. Jack goes missing in 1915 and is later found to have been killed while leading his platoon into battle.

The portrayal of life in the trenches is masterful. The colourful language and the sheer gut wrenching terror of the soldiers who feel in their bones they are going over the top of the trenches to almost inevitable death had me feeling that I was present with Jack and his platoon. The relentless rain mingled with the sound of heavy artillery brought the battlefield to life. Fortunately the Director had kindly warned me about the sound effects during the first half of the play so my guide dog Trigger remained with her outside the theatre until the interval which is, I feel sure not in her job description!

Jack’s enlistment and subsequent death causes huge tension in the Kipling household. Throughout the play his sister is vocal in denouncing her father for exerting pressure on Jack to enlist despite knowing that his vision is virtually non existent in the absence of glasses. Kipling’s daughter is an angry, vocal young woman who refuses to be silenced.

The Kipling family are visited by a survivor of Jack’s platoon who describes seeing Jack seriously wounded and then vanishing in a burst of shell fire. Kipling’s response is that his son has died gloriously fighting for Britain but his wife and daughter see his death as futile. In an emotional sceene Kipling admits that he must see Jack’s sacrifice as meaningful otherwise there is nothing left to hold onto. He loves his country and can not concede that his son may have died, stumbling around, blind in the trenches for no rhyme or reason. In the end there is a reconciliation of sorts in the Kipling family but the death of Jack remains ever present.

As a visually impaired person I felt for Jack as he struggled to read the letters during his medical examination for the army. Ironically had his father not used his influence Jack would have survived the war as he was medically unfit for military service due to his severely impaired vision but then, of course there would have been no play.

Russian Roulette Part 1

As a boy of 9 or 10 he had found the gun. It lay hidden in his father’s wardrobe, underneath a pile of old jumpers wrapped in a blue bath sheet. The boy had replaced everything as he found it and returned sheepishly to his bedroom. He shouldn’t have been in his father’s wardrobe let alone in his room. If dad found out that he had been there a beating would be the result. John shook with terror as he imagined his father removing his belt. He new only to well the swishing sound the belt made as it flew through the air. Swish followed by excruiciating pain as the buckle bit into flesh. Ever since he had returned from military service in Iraq dad had changed. The gentle giant much loved by John and his sister Anna was transformed into a brooding ogre. The slightest misdemeanour was likely to send him into an uncontrollable rage. After the beatings his father would hold his children close and mumble incoherent apologies as tears ran down his face. It proved all too much for the children’s mother. One day while John and Anna where at school and her husband was drinking with former members of his platoon Amie James took an overdose. It was John who had found her on his return from school. She lay on the sofa her blonde hair streaming over the cushion on which she rested.

“Mum” there was no answer.

“Mum” still there was no response.

His mum looked like a ghoul out of one of those horror movies which his parents had forbidden him to watch but which nevertheless the boy had seen while visiting his friend Mark who’s mum and dad  where more relaxed about such matters. Her face was the colour of chalk and a stream of spittle had run down Amie’s face.

“Mum” he said again reaching out his hand to touch her face. It was icey cold.

Feeling as though he was in a nightmare from which he would soon awake John had called for an ambulance. He recollected making the telephone call but everything following on from that was a blank until he woke up to find himself cradled in his father’s strong arms. Very gently mr James had broken the news to John and Anna of their mum’s death. Thinking back it was the last time that John could recollect his father as having shown any genuine tenderness or regret.

John couldn’t get the gun out of his head. He longed to take a closer look at the weapon, to aim and fire the gun as the cowboys did in the westerns which he so loved to watch. Desire to possess the prize contended within the boy with the fear of the consequences if his father discovered the loss of the gun. He would only borrow it for a few minutes the next time his father went out.

“I won’t even fire it. I’ll just hold it and imagine that I am a cop or a cowboy. Dad will never find out that I borrowed the gun” John reassured himself.

One evening, a week or so following the discovery of the weapon Mr James went out for the evening to drink with friends from the platoon. He new that he shouldn’t leave young children alone in the house but he felt that his head would explode if he didn’t get out for the evening.

“Kids grow up quicker these days. John is old enough to look after Anna” he told himself.

“I’m going out for the evening. I’ve got my keys so don’t answer the door to anyone or you’ll wish that you had never been born! Don’t answer the phone either. Do you understand?”

“Yes dad” they had both replied.

For at least 10 minutes following the slamming of the front door John sat in the living room his ears straining to detect the sound of returning footsteps. Mr James had become very forgetful as a consequence of the head wound which he had sustained while serving in Iraq and was likely to return for his wallet or some other item which he had forgotten. However after the elapse of 10 minutes John felt reasonably certain that his father would not return for the next few hours. He must, for once have remembered to take his money and would now be drinking in the local pub with his former comrades.

John gingerly ascended the stairs. Glancing round the door of his sister’s room he saw Anna engrossed on her laptop. She was, almost certainly chatting with friends on Facebook John thought. Well all the better for him as Anna was unlikely to disturb his examination of the gun.

Slowly John opened the door to his father’s bedroom. As he entered a movement caught his eye. John’s heart jumped into his mouth. He stood stock still for what seemed an age. He could feel the sweat running down his neck and soaking his t-shirt. The sound of breathing reached his ears.

“Hello” he whispered.

Thump, Thump came the response. John felt relief flood through him It was Jet dad’s black Labrador which had somehow got into the room and was now reclining contentedly on Mr James’s bed.

“Get down Jet” he said. Reluctantly the dog jumped off the bed and with a click of claws on the uncarpeted floor he was gone.

John opened the wardrobe door. What if the gun had gone or had been a figment of his fevered imagination? All the adrenaline would have been in vain. Tentatively he reached out his hands and lifted the jumpers. It was still there. At any rate the blue bath sheet remained where he had last seen it. With trembling hands John opened the towel. The pistol stirred back at him.

Sitting on his father’s bed John took a closer look at the weapon. The gun had a black butt and a silver barrel. The metal felt cold against his skin. John shivered. Had his dad killed Iraqi insurgents with the weapon? How many people had died?

Inexpertly John fiddled with the magazine. After a minute or so it opened. The gun was empty. John delved into the depths of the bath sheet. His hands closed around several circular pieces of metal. With a thrill of excitement he withdrew the bullets. Such tiny pieces of metal but with the capability to snuff out a life. John’s excitement increased. What if he inserted a bullet into the magazine? He wouldn’t fire the weapon (that had only been a silly day dream) but he could at least see what it was like to aim a pistol.

John wiped his sweating palms on his handkerchief. Holding the barrel away from him and with shaking hands he inserted one of the bullets. It took several attempts but, eventually the bullet clicked into place. John felt a surge of power rush through him as he pointed the gun towards the door

“Come in here and I’ll blow your brains out” he said.

Of course he would do no such thing but the thought of the power which he could release by a mere compression of his finger thrilled John beyond anything he had ever experienced before.

Looking around the room his eyes fell on a picture of his mother and father on their wedding day. His mother looked so beautiful and proud standing there her arm linked through that of her husband. It brought a lump to his throat

“Fucking dad you killed my mum. Arsehole you killed my mum” he sobbed burying his head in the pillow the gun quite forgotten left lying on the bedside cabinet. Gradually his sobbing ceased. He tried to remember happier times. He remembered sitting on his mum’s knee as she related stories of her ancestors. Amie’s great great grandparents had fled Russia at the time of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. They where liberal aristocrats with no love for the Tsarist autocracy, however to the newly installed Communist government anyone of noble birth was suspect and discretion being the better part of valour Amie’s ancestors had fled to Britain leaving all their possessions in Russia.

John and Anna had listened with rapt attention as their mother told them tales of her Russian ancestors. John recollected one story in particular.

“Darlings you should never play with guns. One of my ancestors, Count Gorky lived a wild life. He used to get horribly drunk with his friends. He loved excitement. One evening when he was very drunk and all his friends had deserted him the count feeling bored took out his revolver. He placed only one bullet in the chamber, spun the barrel and placing the gun to his head fired. Nothing happened. The chamber had room for 8 bullets and when he spun the magazine it ceased revolving on an empty chamber so, when Count Gorky pulled the Trigger he avoided death by pure good luck. Well children (she continued holding them close) Count Gorky continued to play Russian Roulette for the remainder of the evening and, eventually the inevitable happened – the Count pulled the trigger on the loaded chamber and put a bullet in his brain. So John/Anna promise mummy that you will never play with a loaded gun, they aren’t toys”.

At the time neither John or his sister had imagined that they would ever have the opportunity to do any such thing and being frightened by the story they had promised faithfully never to play with weapons.

John reached for the gun. What where the chances of the gun going off? As with Count Gorky’s pistol the weapon had 8 chambers only one of which was loaded. John felt sick with excitement.

“I’ll be OK. I’ll only spin the magazine once and pull the trigger. I’ll be lucky, wow what a thrill it will be”.

John spun the magazine and placing the gun against his head began to ease down on the trigger.

The door flew open.

“I forgot my wallet”

Mr James trailed off stirring at his son in horror. Very gently he said

“Son put down that gun right now”.

John let the weapon fall to the floor.

“Christ you where bloody lucky that didn’t go off. Thank god I didn’t load it” his father said.

John swallowed hard.

“There is one bullet in it” he muttered hiding his face in his hands.

Mr James’s face took on the colour of chalk.

“You stupid, stupid boy” he said “You should never, ever mess with guns.”

John shrank back. He knew that he was about to receive the beating of his life. Instead Mr James caught his son tightly in his arms.

“I love you son. You could have been killed. Please never ever let me catch you playing with guns again or I’ll beat the living day lights out of you”.

 

End of Part 1