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Any Soldier To His Son


    What did I do, Sonny,
            in the Great World War?
    Well, I learned to peel potatoes
            and to scrub the barrack floor.
    I learned to push a barrow
            and I learned to swing a pick,
    I learned to turn my toes out,
            and to make my eyeballs click.
    I learned the road to Folkestone,
            and I watched the English shore,
    Go down behind the skyline,
            as I thought, for evermore.
    And the Blighty boats went by us
            and the harbour hove in sight,
    And they landed us and sorted us
            and marched us "by the right".
    "Quick march!" across the cobbles,
            by the kids who ran along
    Singing "Appoo?", "Spearmant?", "Shokolah?"
            through dingy old Boulogne;
    By the widows and the nurses
            and the niggers and Chinese,
    And the gangs of smiling Fritzes,
            as saucy as you please.

    I learned to ride as soldiers ride
            from Etaps to the Line,
    For days and nights in cattle trucks,
            packed in like droves of swine.
    I learned to curl and kip it
            on a foot of muddy floor,
    And to envy cows and horses
            that have beds of beaucoup straw.
    I learned to wash in shell holes
            and to shave myself in tea,
    While the fragments of a mirror
            did a balance on my knee.
    I learned to dodge the whizz-bangs
            and the flying lumps of lead,
    And to keep a foot of earth between
            the sniper and my head.
    I learned to keep my haversack
            well filled with buckshee food,
    To take the Army issue
            and to pinch what else I could.
    I learned to cook Maconochie
            with candle-ends and string,
    With "four-by-two" and sardine-oil
            and any God-dam thing.
    I learned to use my bayonet
            according as you please
    For a breadknife or a chopper
            or a prong for toasting cheese.
    I learned "a first field dressing"
            to serve my mate and me
    As a dish-rag and a face-rag
            and a strainer for our tea.
    I learned to gather souvenirs
            that home I hoped to send,
    And hump them round for months and months
            and dump them in the end.
    I learned to hunt for vermin
            in the lining of my shirt,
    To crack them with my finger-nail
            and feel the beggars spirt;
    I learned to catch and crack them
            by the dozen and the score
    And to hunt my shirt tomorrow
            and to find as many more.

    I learned to sleep by snatches
            on the firestep of a trench,
    And to eat my breakfast mixed with mud
            and Fritz's heavy stench.
    I learned to pray for Blighty ones
            and lie and squirm with fear,
    When Jerry started strafing
            and the Blighty ones were near.
    I learned to write home cheerful
            with my heart a lump of lead
    With the thought of you and mother,
            when she heard that I was dead.
    And the only thing like pleasure
            over there I ever knew,
    Was to hear my pal come shouting,
            "There's a parcel, mate, for you."

    So much for what I did do —
            now for what I have not done:
    Well, I never kissed a French girl
            and I never killed a Hun,
    I never missed an issue
            of tobacco, pay, or rum,
    I never made a friend
            and yet I never lacked a chum.
    I never borrowed money,
            and I never lent — but once
    (I can learn some sorts of lessons
            though I may be borne a dunce).
    I never used to grumble
            after breakfast in the Line
    That the eggs were cooked too lightly
            or the bacon cut too fine.
    I never told a sergeant
            just exactly what I thought,
    I never did a pack-drill,
            for I never quite got caught.
    I never punched a Red-Cap's nose
            (be prudent like your Dad),
    But I'd like as many Sovereigns
            as the times I've wished I had.
    I never stopped a whizz-bang,
            though I've stopped a lot of mud,
    But the one that Fritz sent over
            with my name on was a dud.
    I never played the hero
            or walked about on top,
    I kept inside my funk hole
            when the shells began to drop.
    Well, Tommy Jones's father
            must be made of different stuff:
    I never asked for trouble —
            the issue was enough.

    So I learned to live and lump it
            in the lovely land of war,
    Where the face of nature
            seems a monstrous septic sore,
    Where the bowels of earth hang open,
            like the guts of something slain,
    And the rot and wreck of everything
            are churned and churned again;
    Where all is done in darkness
            and where all is still in day,
    Where living men are buried
            and the dead unburied lay;
    Where men inhabit holes like rats,
            and only rats live there;
    Where cottage stood and castle
            once in days before la guerre;
    Where endless files of soldiers
            thread the everlasting way,
    By endless miles of duckboards,
            through endless walls of clay;
    Where life is one hard labour,
            and a soldier gets his rest
    When they leave him in the daisies
            with a puncture in his chest;
    Where still the lark in summer
            pours her warble from the skies,
    And underneath, unheeding,
            lie the blank upstaring eyes.

    And I read the Blighty papers,
            where the warriors of the pen
    Tell of "Christmas in the Trenches"
            and "The Spirit of Our Men";
    And I saved the choicest morsels
            and I read them to my chum,
    And he muttered, as he cracked a louse
            and wiped it off his thumb:
    "May a thousand chats from Belgium
            crawl under their fingers as they write;
    May they dream they're not exempted
            till they faint with mortal fright;
    May the fattest rats in Dickebusch
            race over them in bed;
    May the lies they've written
            choke them like a gas cloud
            till they're dead;
    May the horror and the torture
            and the things they never tell
    (For they only write to order)
            be reserved for them in Hell!"

    You'd like to be a soldier
            and go to France some day?
    By all the dead in Delville Wood,
            by all the nights I lay
    Between our lines and Fritz's
            before they brought me in;
    By this old wood-and-leather stump,
            that once was flesh and skin;
    By all the lads who crossed with me
            but never crossed again,
    By all the prayers
            their mothers and their sweethearts
            prayed in vain,
    Before the things that were that day
            should ever more befall
    May God in common pity
            destroy us one and all!