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?",
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!