Battle of the Somme - A Poem

Story
Ancre war graves, November 1921.

Sir Alan Patrick Herbert CH, (1890-1971) served with the Hawke Battalion of the Royal Naval Division. The 36th (Ulster) Division's 108 Brigade had tried to capture the Ancre Heights on 1 July 1916. At the end of the Battle of the Somme in November 1916, at the fourth attempt to capture this German stronghold, the Royal Naval Division succeeded. The Dead of those attacks lie in Ancre Cemetery. His poem dedicated to their memory was published in 1917.

Beaucourt Revisited

I wandered up to Beaucourt; I took the river track
And saw the lines we lived in before the Boche went back;
But Peace was now in Pottage, the front was far ahead,
The front had journeyed Eastward, and only left the dead.

And I thought, how long we lay there, and watched across the wire,
While guns roared round the valley, and set the skys afire!
But now there are homes in Hamel and tents in the Vale of Hell,
And a camp at suicide corner, where half a regiment fell.

The new troops follow after, and tread the land we won,
To them 'tis so much hill-side re-wrested from the Hun
We only walk with reverence this sullen mile of mud
The shell-holes hold our history, and half of them our blood.

Here, at the head of Peche Street, 'twas death to show your face,
To me it seemed like magic to linger in the place;
For me how many spirits hung around the Kentish Caves,
But the new men see no spirits - they only see the graves.

I found the half-dug ditches we fashioned for the fight,
We lost a score of men there - young James was killed that night,
I saw the star shells staring, I heard the bullets hail,
But the new troops pass unheeding - they never heard the tale.

I crossed the blood red ribbon, that once was no-man's land,
I saw a misty daybreak and a creeping minute-hand;
And here the lads went over, and there was Harmsworth shot,
And here was William lying - but the new men know them not.

And I said, "There is still the river, and still the stiff, stark trees,
To treasure here our story, but there are only these";
But under the white wood crosses the dead men answered low,
"The new men know not Beaucourt, but we are here - we know."

~A.P. Herbert

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