From Guillemont to Ginchy

16th

Not a photo of Tom Kettle

102 years ago on September 9th, 1916, the Irish 16th Division took the French villages of Guillemont and Ginchy from the Germans in an action that formed part of the Battles of the Somme.

Somewhere between those villages Tom Kettle died in a hail of bullets.

An intellectual, Barrister, Politician, Visionary and devoted Christian he is best remembered for the last three lines of the sonnet he penned to his daughter four days before he died.

To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God; by Tom Kettle

In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
to beauty proud as was your mother’s prime,
in that desired, delayed, incredible time,
you’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
and the dear heart that was your baby throne,
to dice with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme
and reason: some will call the thing sublime,
and some decry it in a knowing tone.

So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
and tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
but for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
and for the secret Scripture of the poor.

Happy Birthday Wilfred Owen

Owen

Born on this day in 1893 Wilfred Owen died aged 25, on November 4th 1918, one week before the end of the Great War.  This is his 125th birthday.

A thoughtful poet before the war Owen was denied a proper education by his family poverty.  He did not attain sufficient marks to win a scholarship.  When the war began he was a reluctant participant, but saw it as his duty to enlist which he did in October 1915.

He was commissioned as an officer in June 1916 and spend the months when the Battle of the Somme was raging in a training camp at Étaples.  He was brought up to active duty on the Somme in January 1917.  He underwent heavy shelling in January, was injured in March from a fall into a cellar.  Returned to duty in April, was hit by a shell in May.

Suffering from shell shock he was repatriated to Edinburgh to recuperate.  It was in Craiglockhart War Hospital that he met Siegfried Sassoon who became his mentor.  The pair went on to write some of the best anti-war poetry in history.  They saw it as their duty to expose the awful reality of war.  For me the poem below achieves this better than any other.

Dulce Et Decorum Est ; by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
and towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
but limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling
fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
but someone still was yelling out and stumbling
and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
as under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
behind the wagon that we flung him in,
and watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
his hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
if you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
to children ardent for some desperate glory,
the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

This is England – Theresa May

 

Scarborough

Armed police on the beach, guarding the donkeys from Islamic terrorists.  Or are they there to protect old blighty from the immigrants?  Will you “fight them on the beaches”?  Those nice Polish men who erected your garden shed, or changed your car tyres, or unblocked your toilet?

This is the England being created by David Cameron and Theresa May today.  It is a land of fear and suspicion.  It is a world of hate.  It is a place where wealthy people become more wealthy, making armaments to sell to despots and dictators, rebels and freedom fighters on both sides of the conflict in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia, in South America.  And when those distant people have had enough of killing each other sometimes they take a notion to visit violence on the brokers of death.

This is an England where the wealthy resent the very fundamentals that make Britain Great.   The social contract between the people and the state that was forged from the blood sacrifice of two world wars.  Basic housing provision, social welfare, a national health service, public transport and a civil service built on principles of fairness, honesty, trust, service, you know, old fashioned English public schoolboy stuff.

The puppet masters of the Tory party want to dismantle the public contract.  They want a descent into what they have in the USA.  Richer rich and poorer poor.  They have already dismantled British Rail, British Gas, Water and Electricity and sold off the family jewels.  Now they are going after things like the minimum wage, healthcare and housing.

The European Union was in their way.  The EU demands a social contract as the price of membership.  This does not suit the oligarchs.  To get the world they want they needed Britain to be outside the EU.  They sold Brexit to the working class British by dealing in fear, hate, xenophobia, racism and greed.  Basically they sold the seven sins.  And Britain bought them.

Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas.  If you buy the seven sins then you get to live them.  What that means, in a real sense, is armed police on the beach on a sunny day.  This is England!

For those of you out there who blame all this on muslims, I give you a poem to think about.  Sassoon wrote this after witnessing the carnage of the Battle of the Somme.  It is violently anti-Christian, and he never published it in his life.  Islam is an excuse given to you by the Oligarchs to engender you with fear and suspicion of “others”.  If you wipe out all the muslims they will find another target for your hate.  They have a manual for this plan, it is called “1984”, written by George Orwell.

 
Christ and the Soldier; by Siegfried Sassoon

The straggled soldier halted — stared at Him — Then clumsily dumped down upon his knees, Gasping

‘O blessed crucifix, I’m beat !’

And Christ, still sentried by the seraphim, Near the front-line, between two splintered trees, Spoke him:

‘My son, behold these hands and feet.’

The soldier eyed him upward, limb by limb, Paused at the Face, then muttered,

‘Wounds like these Would shift a bloke to Blighty just a treat !’

Christ, gazing downward, grieving and ungrim, Whispered,

‘I made for you the mysteries, Beyond all battles moves the Paraclete.’

II

The soldier chucked his rifle in the dust, And slipped his pack, and wiped his neck, and said —

‘O Christ Almighty, stop this bleeding fight !’

Above that hill the sky was stained like rust With smoke. In sullen daybreak flaring red The guns were thundering bombardment’s blight. The soldier cried,

‘I was born full of lust, With hunger, thirst, and wishfulness to wed. Who cares today if I done wrong or right?’

Christ asked all pitying,

‘Can you put no trust In my known word that shrives each faithful head ? Am I not resurrection, life and light ?’

III

Machine-guns rattled from below the hill; High bullets flicked and whistled through the leaves; And smoke came drifting from exploding shells.

Christ said

‘Believe; and I can cleanse your ill. I have not died in vain between two thieves; Nor made a fruitless gift of miracles.’

The soldier answered,

‘Heal me if you will, Maybe there’s comfort when a soul believes In mercy, and we need it in these hells. But be you for both sides ? I’m paid to kill And if I shoot a man his mother grieves. Does that come into what your teaching tells ?’

A bird lit on the Christ and twittered gay; Then a breeze passed and shook the ripening corn. A Red Cross waggon bumped along the track. Forsaken Jesus dreamed in the desolate day — Uplifted Jesus, Prince of Peace forsworn — An observation post for the attack.

‘Lord Jesus, ain’t you got no more to say ?’

Bowed hung that head below the crown of thorns. The soldier shifted, and picked up his pack, And slung his gun, and stumbled on his way.

‘O God,’ he groaned,’why ever was I born ?’

… The battle boomed, and no reply came back.