World War I

FGR and WWI Memorials

I pedalled through snowdrops and birdsong,
To the two war memorials in Woodchester,
Then bicycled past umpteen old cloth mills,
River liquid light all along my way,
To Nailsworth, Avening, Minchinhampton and Amberley,
With long barrows and a standing stone for company;
On through Shortwood, Tickmorend and Downend,
To Horsley
(A memorial just by the church, the bus stop and the school),
Before descending through Ruskin Mill’s sluice-scape,
A heron pointing my way back to Nailsworth,
Just before the rain came in, on a mid-day westerly breeze.
My next trip meant the number 35 bus,
A two pound forty single delight,
Gazing at the wood anemone by the roadside,
A palimpsest of ancient woodland by this main road,
Traveling by bus on what was once a prehistoric track,
That once made its way under a gloomy canopy,
But now tarmacadam speeds south of the Cotswold scarp –
But I was on my way to Nympsfield’s war memorial,
Just by the shadowed wall of the Old Chapel,
A crucifix, refashioned from one found on the Somme,
And brought back to this Catholic village in 1917;

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The Stroud Valleys, Nailsworth and the Great War

They were summoned from the hillside,
They were called in from the glen,
And the country found them ready
At the stirring call for men.
Let no tears add to their hardship,
As the soldiers pass along,
And although your heart is breaking
Make it sing this cheery song:
Keep the home fires burning
While your hearts are yearning,
Though the lads are far away,
They dream of home.
There’s a silver lining,
Through the dark clouds shining,
Turn the dark cloud inside out,
Till the boys come home.

1914 August

“On it becoming known that the mobilisation of the Territorial Forces was expected great excitement prevailed in Stroud. Holiday makers gathered in groups round the Post Office…Until a late hour on Wednesday the streets of Stroud continued in an animated state, groups of people gathering in the busier parts of the town, eagerly discussing the latest news. The evening papers were snatched up as soon as they were on the streets.”

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An FGR and Walter Tull Declamation

Let the living answer the roll call of the dead:
Walter Tull of Spurs and Northampton Town KIA 1918;

And now the names from Forest Green:
Harry Watts was born in 1891 in Avening.
Harry joined the 6th Signal Corps of the Royal Engineers
prior to outbreak of war and became a Corporal.
He received the Military Medal in 1915.

Ernest Beale was born in 1897.
He worked as a brass worker before joining up.
He died in 1916 at Exeter Hospital of meningitis.

Names from another century come back to haunt us:
Walter, and Ernest, and Harry,
Names once shouted over a football pitch,
‘Give it to Walter’,
‘Over here, Harry,
‘Shoot, Ernie’;

The imperatives of a football team
Replaced by new orders in khaki, with
Night patrols, barbed wire and machine guns;
Muddied football boots forgotten
In the trench foot fields of Flanders;
The clamour from the ground and stands
No match for whizz bangs, mortars and howitzers;
The fogs of a November match,
Innocent memories in a gas attack:

‘Over the top tomorrow, Harry’,
‘Keep your head down, Ernie’,
‘Stay quiet. Don’t shoot, Ernie’,
‘Don’t worry, Harry. We’ll get you to hospital’,
‘Where’s Walter?’

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A Swindon Town FC and Walter Tull Declamation

Let the living answer the roll call of the dead:
Walter Tull of Spurs and Northampton Town KIA 1918;

And now the names of the Robins:
Billy Brewer KIA 1914
Jim Chalmers KIA 1915
Ted Murphy died of head wounds 1916
Billy Kirby KIA 1917
Albert Milton KIA 1917

Arthur Beadsworth KIA 1917

Freddy Wheatcroft KIA1917

Names from another century come back to haunt us:
Walter, Billy, Jim, Ted, Billy, Albert, Arthur, Freddy,
Names once shouted over a football pitch,
‘Give it to Walter’,
‘Over here, Freddie,
‘Shoot, Billy’;

The imperatives of a football team
Replaced by new orders in khaki, with
Night patrols, barbed wire and machine guns;
Muddied football boots forgotten
In the trench foot fields of Flanders;
The clamour from the ground and stands
No match for whizz bangs, mortars and howitzers;
The fogs of a November match,
Innocent memories in a gas attack:

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A Lament for Dorothy and Archie

Each little river has a tale which, if understood, cannot fail
To edify the Human heart; mine’s of Lovers who’d not part:
Both loved Nature, read her runes and worshipped countless harvest moons.
He, a Minchinhampton Man – she the lanes of Burleigh ran,
Eager, passionate, enthralled to embrace her Archibald.
The stream that gushes into town on Hazel Woods, as hail, crashed down.
High on that ridge where sheep are shorn, a tiny rivulet was born.
It seeped through soil and chiselled stone, caressing sea-spawned Cotswold bone.
A weave of light like soft silk shook became a dancing, babbling brook.
Through Gatcombe Park the waters curled, then through its stately gardens swirled
To trace a spiral as they whirled past Longfords Mill.

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Remembering Stroud’s Conscientious Objectors from WW1

‘How do you prove you have a conscience?’

You came to me via a pdf,
Out of the blue,
Via a Facebook message,
On a hot afternoon in late July,
With names, occupations, addresses and ages –
A bit like a census, in a strange way:
Official, bald, and bureaucratic
In your modernity,
No telegrams today.

Eighteen conscientious objectors
Whose courage, principles and politics,
Whose ethics, morals and steadfastness
Enabled them to stand up against the crowd,
In those heated days before and after July 1916,
And before and after November 1918.

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The Badgers of Slad

The paintings of badgers on the posts at Slad,
Are beguiling and deceptive in their art,
Seemingly comic and anthropomorphic,
Each one contributes to a tragic tale,
Summarised in that curt and cruel word: cull.
They look like Tommies facing execution,
Tied to their posts at dawn’s first red-streaked light:
What passing-bells for those who die for cattle?

‘Only the monstrous anger of the guns,
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle.’

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