"Here's where the difficulty was: exactly here"
Where I am standing with my back to the ploughed slopes
On which so many thousands died. These silent ghosts
Call to me to re-turn, to watch them breast the bags,
Clamber 'over the top', break woodenly into
Their lumbering runs, come on, and then go down in sheaves
Each time the gunner catches them. His concrete nest
Is ruined at my feet; and when I bend to scruff
My hand across the clay surrounding it, I find
The stuff I take for root and bramble catches me.
Its barbs are rust-encrusted now, and on their twists
The oxides flake to ochre surfaces, as if
This German wire itself still holds, and weeps, their blood...

I asked David to write something about himself and the inspiration for this poem:

"I am 47, and for 25 years I have taught in York, UK. My subject is English Literature, and my students are 13-18 years old - a very rewarding task. I write, and am content to complete 4 or 5 satisfactory poems in a year.

 My own 'serious' reading was triggered by reading Sassoon's "Complete Memoirs of George Sherston" so 'The Poetry of the Great War' has become my special subject. I accompany visits made by students of English Literature and English History to the WWI battlefields of France and Belgium. These pupils' parents and their friends have been inspired to visit as well. I went with such a parents' group in 1998, and we were fortunate to be in the region of the Somme on July 1st.

Bugles sounded over the fields; and I startled myself when I stooped among the poppies of the field and found three or four lengths of heavily rusted barbed wire - the machine gun post's defences. At this location, "The Pope's Nose" itself was a slight protrusion from the German line, which contained a machine gun below Thiepval.

1 July 1916: Ration party of Royal Irish Rifles rest before the battle

It is now almost adjacent to the Ulster Memorial Tower - which is the explanation of the place's name. The Ulster Division of Irish Protestant Troops were facing this protrusion before and on that terrible morning, and named it because they were determined to punch the enemy protrusion - the Pope's Nose."


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The Pope's Nose
July 1st 1998
by David Hughes

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Tuesday 14 February 2006