Afternoon Tea

As I was saying . . . (No, thank you; I never take cream with my tea;
Cows weren’t allowed in the trenches–got out of the habit, y’see.)
As I was saying, our Colonel leaped up like a youngster of ten:
“Come on, lads!” he shouts, “and we’ll show 'em.”
  And he sprang to the head of the men.

Then some bally thing seemed to trip him,
  and he fell on his face with a slam. . . .
Oh, he died like a true British soldier,
  and the last word he uttered was “Damn!”

And hang it!  I loved the old fellow, and something just burst in my brain,
And I cared no more for the bullets than I would for a shower of rain.
'Twas an awf’ly funny sensation (I say, this is jolly nice tea);
I felt as if something had broken; by gad! I was suddenly free.

Free for a glorified moment, beyond regulations and laws,
Free just to wallow in slaughter, as the chap of the Stone Age was.
So on I went joyously nursing a Berserker rage of my own,
And though all my chaps were behind me, feeling most frightf’ly alone;

With the bullets and shells ding-donging,
and the “krock” and the swish of the shrap;
And I found myself humming “Ben Bolt” . . .
(Will you pass me the sugar, old chap?

Two lumps, please). . . .  What was I saying?  Oh yes, the jolly old dash;
We simply ripped through the barrage, and on with a roar and a crash.
My fellows–Old Nick couldn’t stop ‘em.  On, on they went with a yell,
Till they tripped on the Boches’ sand-bags,–nothing much left to tell:

A trench so tattered and battered that even a rat couldn’t live;
Some corpses tangled and mangled, wire you could pass through a sieve.
The jolly old guns had bilked us, cheated us out of our show,
And my fellows were simply yearning for a red mix-up with the foe.

So I shouted to them to follow, and on we went roaring again,
Battle-tuned and exultant, on in the leaden rain.
Then all at once a machine gun barks from a bit of a bank,
And our Major roars in a fury:  “We’ve got to take it on flank.”

He was running like fire to lead us, when down like a stone he comes,
As full of “typewriter” bullets as a pudding is full of plums.
So I took his job and we got 'em. . . .  By gad! we got 'em like rats;
Down in a deep shell-crater we fought like Kilkenny cats.

'Twas pleasant just for a moment to be sheltered and out of range,
With someone you SAW to go for–it made an agreeable change.
And the Boches that missed my bullets, my chaps gave a bayonet jolt,
And all the time, I remember, I whistled and hummed “Ben Bolt”.

Well, that little job was over, so hell for leather we ran,
On to the second line trenches,–that’s where the fun began.
For though we had strafed 'em like fury, there still were some Boches about,
And my fellows, teeth set and eyes glaring, like terriers routed 'em out.

Then I stumbled on one of their dug-outs, and I shouted:  "Is anyone there?"
And a voice, “Yes, one; but I’m wounded,” came faint up the narrow stair;
And my man was descending before me, when sudden a cry! a shot!
(I say, this cake is delicious.  You make it yourself, do you not?)

My man?  Oh, they killed the poor devil; for if there was one there was ten;
So after I’d bombed 'em sufficient I went down at the head of my men,
And four tried to sneak from a bunk-hole,
but we cornered the rotters all right;
I’d rather not go into details, 'twas messy that bit of the fight.

But all of it’s beastly messy; let’s talk of pleasanter things:
The skirts that the girls are wearing, ridiculous fluffy things,
So short that they show. . . .  Oh, hang it!  Well, if I must, I must.
We cleaned out the second trench line, bomb and bayonet thrust;

And on we went to the third one, quite calloused to crumping by now;
And some of our fellows who’d passed us were making a deuce of a row;
And my chaps–well, I just couldn’t hold 'em;
  (It’s strange how it is with gore;
In some ways it’s just like whiskey:  if you taste it you must have more.)

Their eyes were like beacons of battle; by gad, sir! they COULDN’T be calmed,
So I headed 'em bang for the bomb-belt, racing like billy-be-damned.
Oh, it didn’t take long to arrive there, those who arrived at all;
The machine guns were certainly chronic, the shindy enough to appal.

Oh yes, I omitted to tell you, I’d wounds on the chest and the head,
And my shirt was torn to a gun-rag, and my face blood-gummy and red.
I’m thinking I looked like a madman; I fancy I felt one too,
Half naked and swinging a rifle. . . .  God! what a glorious “do”.

As I sit here in old Piccadilly, sipping my afternoon tea,
I see a blind, bullet-chipped devil, and it’s hard to believe that it’s me;
I see a wild, war-damaged demon, smashing out left and right,
And humming “Ben Bolt” rather loudly, and hugely enjoying the fight.

And as for my men, may God bless 'em!  I’ve loved ‘em ever since then:
They fought like the shining angels; they’re the pick o’ the land, my men.
And the trench was a reeking shambles, not a Boche to be seen alive–
So I thought; but on rounding a traverse I came on a covey of five;

And four of 'em threw up their flippers,
but the fifth chap, a sergeant, was game,
And though I’d a bomb and revolver he came at me just the same.
A sporty thing that, I tell you; I just couldn’t blow him to hell,
So I swung to the point of his jaw-bone, and down like a ninepin he fell.

And then when I’d brought him to reason, he wasn’t half bad, that Hun;
He bandaged my head and my short-rib as well as the Doc could have done.
So back I went with my Boches, as gay as a two-year-old colt,
And it suddenly struck me as rummy, I still was a-humming “Ben Bolt”.
And now, by Jove! how I’ve bored you.  You’ve just let me babble away;
Let’s talk of the things that MATTER–your car or the newest play. . . .

Robert W. Service.

            The Song of the Soldier-born

Give me the scorn of the stars and a peak defiant;
Wail of the pines and a wind with the shout of a giant;
Night and a trail unknown and a heart reliant.

Give me to live and love in the old, bold fashion;
A soldier’s billet at night and a soldier’s ration;
A heart that leaps to the fight with a soldier’s passion.

For I hold as a simple faith there’s no denying:
The trade of a soldier’s the only trade worth plying;
The death of a soldier’s the only death worth dying.

So let me go and leave your safety behind me;
Go to the spaces of hazard where nothing shall bind me;
Go till the word is War–and then you will find me.

Then you will call me and claim me because you will need me;
Cheer me and gird me and into the battle-wrath speed me. . . .
And when it’s over, spurn me and no longer heed me.

For guile and a purse gold-greased are the arms you carry;
With deeds of paper you fight and with pens you parry;
You call on the hounds of the law your foes to harry.

You with your “Art for its own sake”, posing and prinking;
You with your “Live and be merry”, eating and drinking;
You with your “Peace at all hazard”, from bright blood shrinking.

Fools!  I will tell you now:  though the red rain patters,
And a million of men go down, it’s little it matters. . . .
There’s the Flag upflung to the stars, though it streams in tatters.

There’s a glory gold never can buy to yearn and to cry for;
There’s a hope that’s as old as the sky to suffer and sigh for;
There’s a faith that out-dazzles the sun to martyr and die for.

Ah no! it’s my dream that War will never be ended;
That men will perish like men, and valour be splendid;
That the Flag by the sword will be served, and honour defended.

That the tale of my fights will never be ancient story;
That though my eye may be dim and my beard be hoary,
I’ll die as a soldier dies on the Field of Glory.

So give me a strong right arm for a wrong’s swift righting;
Stave of a song on my lips as my sword is smiting;
Death in my boots may-be, but fighting, fighting.

Robert W. Service 

                    Missis Moriarty’s Boy

Missis Moriarty called last week, and says she to me, says she:
“Sure the heart of me’s broken entirely now–
  it’s the fortunate woman you are;
You’ve still got your Dinnis to cheer up your home,
  but me Patsy boy where is he?
Lyin’ alone, cold as a stone, kilt in the weariful wahr.
Oh, I’m seein’ him now as I looked on him last,
  wid his hair all curly and bright,
And the wonderful, tenderful heart he had, and his eyes as he wint away,
Shinin’ and lookin’ down on me from the pride of his proper height:
Sure I’ll remember me boy like that if I live to me dyin’ day.”

And just as she spoke them very same words me Dinnis came in at the door,
Came in from McGonigle’s ould shebeen, came in from drinkin’ his pay;
And Missis Moriarty looked at him, and she didn’t say anny more,
But she wrapped her head in her ould black shawl, and she quietly wint away.
And what was I thinkin’, I ask ye now, as I put me Dinnis to bed,
Wid him ravin’ and cursin’ one half of the night, as cold by his side I sat;
Was I thinkin’ the poor ould woman she was
  wid her Patsy slaughtered and dead?
Was I weepin’ for Missis Moriarty?  I’m not so sure about that.

Missis Moriarty goes about wid a shinin’ look on her face;
Wid her grey hair under her ould black shawl,
  and the eyes of her mother-mild;
Some say she’s a little bit off her head; but annyway it’s the case,
Her timper’s so swate that you nivver would tell
  she’d be losin’ her only child.
And I think, as I wait up ivery night for me Dinnis to come home blind,
And I’m hearin’ his stumblin’ foot on the stair along about half-past three:
Sure there’s many a way of breakin’ a heart, and I haven’t made up me mind–
Would I be Missis Moriarty, or Missis Moriarty me?

Robert W. Service


Is it not strange?  A year ago to-day,
With scarce a thought beyond the hum-drum round,
I did my decent job and earned my pay;
Was averagely happy, I’ll be bound.
Ay, in my little groove I was content,
Seeing my life run smoothly to the end,
With prosy days in stolid labour spent,
And jolly nights, a pipe, a glass, a friend.
In God’s good time a hearth fire’s cosy gleam,
A wife and kids, and all a fellow needs;
When presto! like a bubble goes my dream:
I leap upon the Stage of Splendid Deeds.
I yell with rage; I wallow deep in gore:
I, that was clerk in a drysalter’s store.

Stranger than any book I’ve ever read.
Here on the reeking battlefield I lie,
Under the stars, propped up with smeary dead,
Like too, if no one takes me in, to die.
Hit on the arms, legs, liver, lungs and gall;
Damn glad there’s nothing more of me to hit;
But calm, and feeling never pain at all,
And full of wonder at the turn of it.
For of the dead around me three are mine,
Three foemen vanquished in the whirl of fight;
So if I die I have no right to whine,
I feel I’ve done my little bit all right.
I don’t know how–but there the beggars are,
As dead as herrings pickled in a jar.

And here am I, worse wounded than I thought;
For in the fight a bullet bee-like stings;
You never heed; the air is metal-hot,
And all alive with little flicking wings.
  BUT ON YOU CHARGE.  You see the fellows fall;
Your pal was by your side, fair fighting-mad;
You turn to him, and lo! no pal at all;
You wonder vaguely if he’s copped it bad.
  BUT ON YOU CHARGE.  The heavens vomit death;
And vicious death is besoming the ground.
You’re blind with sweat; you’re dazed, and out of breath,
And though you yell, you cannot hear a sound.
  BUT ON YOU CHARGE.  Oh, War’s a rousing game!
Around you smoky clouds like ogres tower;
The earth is rowelled deep with spurs of flame,
And on your helmet stones and ashes shower.
  BUT ON YOU CHARGE.  It’s odd!  You have no fear.
Machine-gun bullets whip and lash your path;
Red, yellow, black the smoky giants rear;
The shrapnel rips, the heavens roar in wrath.
  BUT ON YOU CHARGE.  Barbed wire all trampled down.
The ground all gored and rent as by a blast;
Grim heaps of grey where once were heaps of brown;
A ragged ditch–the Hun first line at last.
All smashed to hell.  Their second right ahead,
  SO ON YOU CHARGE.  There’s nothing else to do.
More reeking holes, blood, barbed wire, gruesome dead;
(Your puttee strap’s undone–that worries you).
You glare around.  You think you’re all alone.
But no; your chums come surging left and right.
The nearest chap flops down without a groan,
His face still snarling with the rage of fight.
Ha! here’s the second trench–just like the first,
Only a little more so, more “laid out”;
More pounded, flame-corroded, death-accurst;
A pretty piece of work, beyond a doubt.
Now for the third, and there your job is done,
  SO ON YOU CHARGE.  You never stop to think.
Your cursed puttee’s trailing as you run;
You feel you’d sell your soul to have a drink.
The acrid air is full of cracking whips.
You wonder how it is you’re going still.
You foam with rage.  Oh, God! to be at grips
With someone you can rush and crush and kill.
Your sleeve is dripping blood; you’re seeing red;
You’re battle-mad; your turn is coming now.
See! there’s the jagged barbed wire straight ahead,
And there’s the trench–you’ll get there anyhow.
Your puttee catches on a strand of wire,
And down you go; perhaps it saves your life,
For over sandbag rims you see 'em fire,
Crop-headed chaps, their eyes ablaze with strife.
You crawl, you cower; then once again you plunge
With all your comrades roaring at your heels.
  HAVE AT 'EM, LADS!  You stab, you jab, you lunge;
A blaze of glory, then the red world reels.
A crash of triumph, then . . . you’re faint a bit . . .
That cursed puttee!  Now to fasten it. . . .

Well, that’s the charge.  And now I’m here alone.
I’ve built a little wall of Hun on Hun,
To shield me from the leaden bees that drone
(It saves me worry, and it hurts 'em none).
The only thing I’m wondering is when
Some stretcher-men will stroll along my way?
It isn’t much that’s left of me, but then
Where life is, hope is, so at least they say.
Well, if I’m spared I’ll be the happy lad.
I tell you I won’t envy any king.
I’ve stood the racket, and I’m proud and glad;
I’ve had my crowning hour.  Oh, War’s the thing!
It gives us common, working chaps our chance,
A taste of glory, chivalry, romance.

Ay, War, they say, is hell; it’s heaven, too.
It lets a man discover what he’s worth.
It takes his measure, shows what he can do,
Gives him a joy like nothing else on earth.
It fans in him a flame that otherwise
Would flicker out, these drab, discordant days;
It teaches him in pain and sacrifice
Faith, fortitude, grim courage past all praise.
Yes, War is good.  So here beside my slain,
A happy wreck I wait amid the din;
For even if I perish mine’s the gain. . . .
Hi, there, you fellows!  WON’T you take me in?
Give me a fag to smoke upon the way. . . .
We’ve taken La Boiselle!  The hell, you say!
Well, that would make a corpse sit up and grin. . . .
Lead on!  I’ll live to fight another day.

Robert W. Service.


      My job is done; my rhymes are ranked and ready,
      My word-battalions marching verse by verse;
      Here stanza-companies are none too steady;
      There print-platoons are weak, but might be worse.
      And as in marshalled order I review them,
      My type-brigades, unfearful of the fray,
      My eyes that seek their faults are seeing through them
      Immortal visions of an epic day.

      It seems I’m in a giant bowling-alley;
      The hidden heavies round me crash and thud;
      A spire snaps like a pipe-stem in the valley;
      The rising sun is like a ball of blood.
      Along the road the “fantassins” are pouring,
      And some are gay as fire, and some steel-stern. . . .
      Then back again I see the red tide pouring,
      Along the reeking road from Hebuterne.

      And once again I seek Hill Sixty-Seven,
      The Hun lines grey and peaceful in my sight;
      When suddenly the rosy air is riven–
      A “coal-box” blots the “boyou” on my right.
      Or else to evil Carnoy I am stealing,
      Past sentinels who hail with bated breath;
      Where not a cigarette spark’s dim revealing
      May hint our mission in that zone of death.

      I see across the shrapnel-seeded meadows
      The jagged rubble-heap of La Boiselle;
      Blood-guilty Fricourt brooding in the shadows,
      And Thiepval’s chateau empty as a shell.
      Down Albert’s riven streets the moon is leering;
      The Hanging Virgin takes its bitter ray;
      And all the road from Hamel I am hearing
      The silver rage of bugles over Bray.

      Once more within the sky’s deep sapphire hollow
      I sight a swimming Taube, a fairy thing;
      I watch the angry shell flame flash and follow
      In feather puffs that flick a tilted wing;
      And then it fades, with shrapnel mirror’s flashing;
      The flashes bloom to blossoms lily gold;
      The batteries are rancorously crashing,
      And life is just as full as it can hold.

      Oh spacious days of glory and of grieving!
      Oh sounding hours of lustre and of loss!
      Let us be glad we lived you, still believing
      The God who gave the cannon gave the Cross.
      Let us be sure amid these seething passions,
      The lusts of blood and hate our souls abhor:
      The Power that Order out of Chaos fashions
      Smites fiercest in the wrath-red forge of War. . . .
      Have faith!  Fight on!  Amid the battle-hell
      Love triumphs, Freedom beacons, all is well.

      Robert W. Service