Aftermath - when the boys came home

Saturday 11 June 2011

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Evening Whispers on the Somme
Guillemont Cemetery, March 1997
by Roger Laing

Guillemont cemetery has now inspired two poems featured on this website (read the other one here) both uncannily written from a similar viewpoint.

The background to this piece is that the author was inspired to write the poem after visiting the cemetery as a Lt Col in the RLC TA along with a group of fellow officers.
……..don't go yet, Sir. Can't you stay and chat with me
A little longer ?
Christ ! It's nice to have some soldiers here again to see
(Even though you are Officers).
I must say you lot look a whole lot stronger
Than we were.
Must 'ave been the months of endless bully beef again
And endless sodding, bloody rain
Day in - day out; it just gets you down;….. mustn't complain
But it don't seem fair.


…….don't mind them two Captains over there,
Cracking a joke,
They don't mean no disrespect, but can you explain
Who's this bloke
'John Major' that they're laughing about ?
Prime Minister is he ? Did he know Mr Asquith's Dad ; is he out ?
He's over there, you know, the son I mean.
They say his dressing wasn't clean.


'Ere - 'ave you seen me Mother's brother, Uncle Hal ?
(Sargeant Major Henry Cleary)
He were a right bastard, So I'm told - an 'Etaples Canary'
With no heart of gold.
I don't believe he's too far from here, come to think,
Maybe Serre Road or Thiepval.
Christ, I'd die for a drink ! But anyway, getting back to Uncle Hal
He did well for a Burnley Pal.


Did yer see the big 'oles at Y Sap and Lochnagar ?
The Frogs 'ave filled 'em in you say ?
Good lads those Durham miners; blew the Hun to Kingdon come,
Did they ?
O right, Lochnagar is still an 'ole, I see;
Must be bloody HUGE !
We heard the bang from our lines at the Sunken Road -
(What a cracking sub-ter-fuge !)
One of our lads, I think, caused Hawthorn to explode
Just before the whistles blowed…….


"Up lads and at 'em" shouted Mr Jones,
"Follow me," he said.
He were only a young lad himself, and now his bones,
Like ours - are dead.
He got no further than his elder brother,
I was just behind him - to the right.
He's somewhere hereabouts - I heard him call out "Mother"
Over there, the other night.


Sir, I hear you thinking, "What's his story "
Why's he lying here - unblinking ?"
Well, I can tell you straight, there ain't no glory
Whatsoever in the manner of my death.
One minute I was running - no, walking, yet out of breath
Past 'A' Company's revette,
The early morning July sun glinting off my bayonet
All fixed and ready.
Shells, whizzbangs exploding all around, the din were terrible !
But I played my part
When suddenly - those buzzing bullets stitched my heart
And killed my body.


It were a crime, Sir, to make us walk in all that heavy kit,
Through no-mans-land towards their wire.
After all the Colonel's talk about our fire;
A 'seven-day bombardment'
What a stupid git ! We all knew the Boche were underground
In their hardened casements, waiting….
Waiting, until the sound of our guns stopped.
Then up they popped !


But I s'pose it's only fair to say he did his best
For us, his boys.
It's higher up the blame should stay; Sir 'Enery whats'is name
With the red tabs, 'Big Noise'.
What's 'e know about this game - all safe and dry and well-defended ?
To him we're nothing more than toys
To be expended.


Sir, d'you know what I really miss the most……
My main regret these eighty years ?
Imagine that ! A nineteen year old ghost, who never had
The hopes and fears of being a Dad.
Who only ever wanted to have a lad
Of his own, to take fishing.
And when he's older, to the pub, like my Dad did for me
At the Rochdale Miners' Social Club.
Christ ! Surely for me to ask it isn't much,
Who never had a woman's touch


So do me a favour, Sir, you and your mates,
(Even though you are Officers),
Stop yer moaning; don't complain about your fates
You lucky buggers ! (Begging your pardon, Sir)
You've all got it made, for any of us here would gladly trade
Places with you. You say you're fifty two ?
Jesus, what I wouldn't give, to have just one more chance to live
And make fifty, too.

But it's getting late and I'm really glad you stopped to chat.
We don't see many soldiers here now,
So me and the lads - even the officers - are pleased for that.
But do me another favour, if your thoughts allow;
See if the old Red Lion's still there
Up in Rochdale, off Market Square.
Have a pint of best, you and yer mates, and think of me
Lying here…………..

For eternity

Roger Laing



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