BBWB 18: The Watchameron

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The Watchameron

It sang in his sleeping ears,
It hummed in his waking head:
The name–Ticonderoga,
The utterance of the dead.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Impatient night before the Push
When with the Boches they’ll tangle
Cough-coughs & matches broke the hush
& nerves did jingle-jangle

“I’ll tell a tale,” quoth McIntyre,
Men to his corner beckon’d,
A tale to fighting men inspire
Of the famous 42nd,

Now hold your tongue both great & sma,’
Listen to words a-winging,
& I’ll relay a day of war,
With pegasean singing

The gallant ‘Forty Twa’ did sport
The shores of Lake Champlain
Upon Ticonderoga Fort
They’ve hurl’d themselves in vain

The earth-log breastworks of the French
Form’d abatis horrendous
Trunks monstrous large of gnarling branch
To Wiccan pits did send us

So furious, & so incessant
A fire ne’er was endur’d
Six hours of valour candescent,
Fruitlessness uninur’d

Drove on each man to bravest height
Courage unparallel’d
Alas like grass cut down, til night,
Exceeding fast them fell’d

The Black Watch obstinate remain’d
Twas not ’till that third order
To leave the field, would grievous pain’d,
Withdrew each true broadswoader!

McAllister takes up the stage
Twas like a hootennany,
Old Boney’d left his Elban cage
In combat him most canny

When on his way to Waterloo
Was stopp’d at Quatra Bras
Where Wellington a long line drew
The Grand Armee to bar

Where Marshall Ney’s fine horses fly
With barbarous bloodthirst
Where Black Watch trampling thro’ thick rye
Into a field out-burst

Where hordes of deadly Lanciers
Now with the Scots entwine
Before they might form bristling squares
They’ll decimate oor line

All chaos was, deep lances thrust
Into the old red-jackets
But bayonets & bullets bust
Those bastards from their brackets

As horses rear’d & muskets flar’d
With flame and acrid powder
At last the Forty-Second squar’d
The boys were never prouder

As well-aim’d volleys now repell’d
The Gallic cavalry
Tho’ half the Black Watch that day fell’d
What vital men they’d be

Delaying Boney’s Brussels’ march,
When forty-eight hours later
We’d e’er curtail his overarch
With Wellington were greater!”

George Goldthorpe stood, took up the floor,
He lov’d the histories
Of when the Black Watch went to war,
That such a saga is;

Before they melded with the Watch
The Seventy-Third from Perth
Whom fightin’ lov’d, who lov’d its scotch
Patroll’d the hotchpotch Earth

One day they left the Cape Town docks
On HMS Birkenhead
When with a shock, uncharter’d rocks
Along the hull did shred

Using his lifeboats Skip’ forbids,
Two gigs & one wee cutter
Preserv’d for women & the kids
Whom from the dangers flutter

“Stand firm, be still,” terminal drill,
A damn tough bullet to chew
But all must pay death’s final bill
Tho’ younger than me an you

& none did mutter, silence reign’d
But for the kicks of stallions
Those soldiers honour had ingrain’d
Hearts chain’d like fam’d medallions

The sea poured in, the bulkheads tore
The ship rough ripp’d asunder
Two hundred metres from the shore
What suction suck’d them under!”

Such tales rous’d up the Black Watch blood
All fears of dying aetherflew
As if they’d boil’d up leaf & bud
A pound of swirly feverfew

“Someone shall pay, of this I’m sure,
I’ll do my bit & plug some lout,
A Prussian pig or Saxon boar,
I’ll lay some blister’d Jerry out!”

Be quiet men,” the Captain said,
You’re best off grabbin’ rest!”
Just then Day shot an arrowhead
On sunbeams speeding west

The waking day of battle dawns
Grey, heavy, overcast,
For all those croaky, snoring yawns
This morn might be their last

BBWB 17: The Big Push

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The Big Push

To live with death at every turn
To die that that death & all distraught
Men’s families tear-flooded yearn
For memories their boyhoods taught

To live like tramps but ne’er retire
With lives in one another’s hands
Dead bodies hanging on the wire
Like rag-sacks mark the badlands

I wouldnae wanna end my days
Like that,
” said John McAllister,
“Rotting in rain & sunrays!”
Soft whispers Peter Piper

A bugle blares, the regiment
By brave Canadians
Reliev’d, to a fresh sector sent,

For Lens & Loos a slag-heap realm,
But somewhere in ‘a certain place’
Down-order’d by those at the helm
To keep the secret face

For destiny was bubbling huge
Third Battle of Artois
Drap’d in a secret subterfuge
The day shall take us far

& proud behind the lines, perhaps
As deep as Germany,
When opposition must collapse
When win, we, victory!”

Every day was full of rumouring
But nobody knew nuffin
Except one thing, the Kaiser-king,
Will get a proper stuffin’

As now the cannonade did reign
The Black Watch watch’d on, wonder’d
How in that hellish hurricane
Men liv’d, each moment thunder’d

As overhead, in steady streams
The shellfire rang’d enraging
Cacophony escorting dreams
Men’s nerves by decades ageing

There cannot be a living soul”
Men said, “left in those trenches,”
As such ‘twill be no reckless stroll
Most riskless of adventures!”

& Loos was under barrage too
The town a target prime
For the army’s vital breakthrough
& war’s glories for all time

The bombadier began to close
In chains of detonations
Whose devilish arpeggios
Gruesome calamitations

Winds roll to undulating flames
Rooves vomiting hot scarlet,
Acrid, blood-colour’d, cracking frames
Fell cackling like a harlot

For when the phantom trolls of war
Hath reach’d your neighbourhood
They’ll crash & smash; wreck, wrack & roar
They’ll crack & blacken blood

As zero hour did rumble swift
Towards the living moment
Army equipment, gift-on-gift,
To every soldier sent

O what a heavy load each man
Shall into battle carry –
But it was still a clever plan –
Under the black glengarry

Off squirrel’d they seven score rounds
Wire-cutters & field dressing,
Entrenching tools – full eighty pounds
Of extra weight down pressing

When on September twenty-fourth,
All in an Autumn twilight,
At last the Black Watch marches forth
Mud-plodding, hearted light

Lissen to them barkin’ guns”
“Ave you got yer wills made oot?”
“Strike me pink, them bloody Huns,
Without a doubt, aboot

To get a proper ‘ammering!”
“Play yer mouth-organ, Ginger?”

“Right-O!” men started clamouring,
With enemies to injure

They channel tension into song
& sang, “I wanna go ‘ome!”
Don’t wanna die, this war is wrong
Won’t someone take me ‘ome,

Jack-Johnsons, shrapnel shells, oh, Lor’!
The Germans wanna shoot me.
Don’t need these trenches anymore,
Send me across the sea

To where the Kaiser cannae shoot
Those bombs that fall from sky,
O take me ‘ome by any route
For I dinnae wanna die!”

By ten PM the Black Watch stand
Along the flooded front lines
A compact sardine battleband
Bristling like porcupines

A top brass message was read out
The Germans are outnumber’d
Outgunn’d, outclass’d, there is no doubt,
You’ve heard as volleys thunder’d

So come the morrow, brave brigade,
When all of Scotland watches you,
Let heroes heave & legends made
Do the best, men, ye can do!”

BBWB 16: Hooge

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As boiling sun sweeps shadows sharp
Neath dazzling skies of blue
Men set shade-spots up under tarp
For Goldthorpe’s birthday ‘do’

Who opens up his special box:
Pencils indelible
Bottl’d quinine, five pairs of socks
Foods superedible

There’s chocolate, there’s tinn’d chowder
Plum pudding like a football,
Plus lifebuoy soap, fresh tooth powder
But the very best of all…

A bottle of Lea Perrins sauce !
“O boy, George, what relief !
Namore, when hungry like a horse
Bland boring bully beef!”

The Ninth was moved to Bellewaerd
Upon the Wipers salient
The ruin’d rooves of Hooge assert
Them to Jahannam sent

Around the village raked strange lines
Within whispering distance,
Where snipers, raids, grenades & mines
Main pillars of existence

Upon the rise men swept their eyes
Low ridges dip & trail
& flatten’d piecemeal, fragmentize
The plains yon Passchendaele

To hold the ridge gives ample scope
For proper observation
The Black Watch Ninth shall guard the slope
With firm determination

Where, as a topping dogfight flows
They’ve felt up in the stalls,
Watching gut-churning perilous shows
Of turns & barrel rolls

As ye trace a meteor’s onset
By a line of silver rain
As ye trace a regal sunset
By a streak of saffron stain

Flying machines, oiseaux de guerre
In line & gaily sailing
Like geese & swan flock wheel & whirr
Oer Heaven’s wide unveiling

As fast at their formation flies
The British chevaliers
The German birdmen of the skies
Approach in circle tiers

As Hektor fought Achilles’ might
To oust Achaean host
As when a lance-assailing Knight
Did joust the quintain post

Beyond the high lane effloresce
Of archibald concern,
Two bi-planes meet in duel noblesse;
Dive, dart & cartwheel turn

As ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-tat
& ta-ta-tat go guns
Combatants weave this way & that
Until destiny stuns

When comes the blow, a mortal blow
An airplane sways & staggers
Pointing its nose to earth below
It drops like Ceasar’s daggers

From summits in the thunderdome
Plane plummeting tailspin
Its cool assassin heads for home
Knowing his next-of-kin

Will get long letters to explain
This fight’s intracies
Meanwhile, collision slain, membrane
Of brain, the plane crashes

This show’s glorious moments
Takes the mens’ minds off of war
Brief respite from opponents
& the ruthless, smiting chore

Of grinding bone-meat, such as is
This pain-station of scrambles
Certain loss from silly sallies
Men toss’d on random gambles

By plots hairbrained & daylight schemes
Death by ten thousand cuts
If we could ever sell our dreams
War’s truth would fetch us peanuts

There’s sixteen men per loaf of bread
The tea is awful oniony
There’s hell-hole shell-holes full of dead
& mud & bloodscum runny

& swarms of little lobster lice;
Oer seams run lighted candles
When pop-pop-pop eggs pay the price
For hatching scratchy vandals

For fun summise the sound of guns
When comes the Morning Hate,
Thems’ Coal-boxes,” “Thems’ Jack Johnsons,”
“& that’s Calamity Kate!”

Or better still the trip to town
Where brothels made boys men
Where half a bob or half a crown
Gets Yvette or Madeleine

Outside, the ruin’d chapels raise
Their blackened beams against the blue –
Men leaving brothels in a daze
Chok’d with a dose or two

March back to the infernal plain
Forg’d by the Balkan quarrel
Where caustic killing’s cystic vein
Comes draining down a barrel

BBWB 15: Trenchlives

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The nightingales are singing near
Convents of the Sacred heart
But miles away, by bombadeer
Two armies blown apart

The 9th (Service) Battalion
Is crunch’d up from the rear
First taste of frontline action
Aface ‘Double Crassier’

Whose heap of spoil symbolical
Transmorphs as armoury;
Devices diabolical,
Devised by Germany

Anxious to slay the Black Watch boys
If ever nappers pry
Above the parapet, employs
Its deadly hue & cry

In murd’rous zeal of steel and lead
Flung cross the narrow strip
Of No-Man’s-Land, where no men tread
The gorge of brinkmanship

Where sniper bullets whizz on by,
Men turn to see their friend –
Brain’s hanging out, blood-gush afly –
Pay the Devil’s dividend

The lucky ones get cushy ones,
The Hindus call them ‘blighties,’
Back hame to mothers, brothers, sons
& lovers in their nighties

For trenchlife wasnae paradise
Meals nastily uneatable
Beds scritch with rats, clothes scratch with lice
Swarms undefeatable

Too hot ! Too cold ! Too wet ! Too bored !
To every nerve-end straining
Together suffer’d in concord
Fraternity sustaining

To be a soldier of the soil
To wear King George’s khaki
With them who see & share your toil
With hubris never narky

To be among beloved mates,
Abroad, for King & nation
Concurs as psyche aggragates
In seraph-wing sensation

Sharing immortal moments, soars
Amang a band of brothers
For they’re the ones who fought our wars
While, nameless, we’re the ‘others’

The drouth of Wullie McIntyre
For sneaky whiskies partial
To frying pan from throat of fire
He’s dragg’d off to court martial

“Please, private, answer to your charge
Of being drunk on duty,”
“Ach! Ya dinnae ken what drunk is, sarge”
Lieutenant Broon, sat snooty,

Listens in silence, sniffs, then deals
Field Punishment Number One
Fetter’d a week up on the wheels
Of mobile carriage gun

Unloos’d only for number twos
& pack drills at the double –
When Mcintyre his post renews
He’s ceas’d to cause more trouble

As on it went, the carousel
Of quarterlives in trenches
Where slaughter thrives, a living hell
Of death & evil stenches,

Cocytus wails; the days, the nights
The sights, the frighten’d screaming,
Patrols of stabbing, throttling fights
Hot balls of death down streaming

Unshaven, crouching, hollow-eyed
Neath everlasting rain
Of shells, men will’d the other side
To come their way again;

To match & meet a fellow man
Or blown to smithereens?
Aye, bloody fights far better than
Invisible machines!

Now Peter Currie finds his boys
He’d join’d a diff’rent unit
Where bored of piping’s unripe noise
He’d switch’d to do his bit

& gazing on George Goldthorpe’s stripes
Quo’ he, “Who made thee sergeant?”
“O buggar me! its Peter Pipes,
From whence have you been sent?”

“I’d heard about the coming push,
Just knew I had to be there,
To listen to ye buggars gush
Back hame wouldnae be fair!

& so I’ve join’d the auld Black Watch
Tis more my fighting mould
This mad, miraculous hotchpotch
Of Scotch lads brave & bold,”

“& English too” “Aye George… ehm… sarge!
I’m glad you’ll be beside us,
When at the Kaiserscum we’ll charge
& scatter frighten’d spiders

Like Jonnie Cope at Prestonpans!”
“Siddoon yon Jacobite!”
“Ach Jock, we are the Clan of Clans
As one we all can fight!”

Then flying dustbin overhead
Sends everyone drop-doggo
No Brodick boys this time are dead
But there’s an awfa’ long way to go

BBWB 14: War Wounds

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War Wounds

O peerless Sarah Fullarton,
That all the islesmen chase
In the world no fairer woman
In converse or embrace

As scarlet locks of knots & curls
Glories to each man’s sight;
Her sparkling eyes, like orient pearls,
Did cast heavenly light.

& blood both sides her elfin nose
Did such a color drive,
As if the lily and the rose
For mastery did strive

But one man only her heart moves
George Goldthorpe’s gone to war
The urge to see him too strong proves
She joins the Nurses’ Corps

Where nearby Wipres, Yipps or Eeps,
In doleful hours of battle-din,
T’where Nightingale her vigil keeps
They’ve brought the wounded in

The Nurses commandeer a train
Stretchers turn to makeshift beds
About, between, white angels reign
Deaconesses with cool heads

In every space the train was pack’d
With death & blood & groaning
Brave young men whom that morn attack’d
Like old men lay down moaning

Whose injuries horrific, new,
From warfare mechanized
The Devil’s handiwork ran through
In Hades halls devised

There’s wounds from shrapnel, mortar, mine,
Grenade, flame thrower, gas,
How could the omnisoul divine
Allow such things to pass

Then thro’ the mess diseases swarm
All yuck & gangrenous
Swelling & swimming, yellow, warm
Under mucky bandages

Arm’d with a pail & dressing tray
Went Sarah’s iron jaw
& banish’d for another day
All horrors there she saw

None ghastlier e’er seen on earth
Nor smelt, nor wonder’d at,
Like growing clawmarks dragging girth
Gor’d by a thundercat

With lysol wounds were swabb’d well clean
Set for the staple dressing
A gauze dipped deep in iodine
Tight bandag’d for compressing

Thro’ fractured spine, pneumonia
Enteric, tetanus
Malignant ankle oedema
& mangl’d pelvises

Her conscious bad ones speak not back
Morosely melancholy
But set, “to have another smack.”
The better ones bounce jolly.

The one outstanding, shining thing
That, working, Sarah struck
Was the lack of all complaining
& the total silent pluck

Of men eas’d out of blood-soaked clothes
Halting each hæmorrhage
Then pander’d into soft repose
With scambl’d eggs & porridge

Now suffers one from shock alone
Can’t tell his name, nor stand
Just shivers, shudder, sits like stone
& only holds her hand

A boy of barely twenty one
With legs shorn at the knees
Goes, ‘thank you nurse, that’s champion,’
When she’ll discomforts ease

& officers’ rightfully pleas’d
To see ‘The Times,’ no matter
How old it was, the sheets were seized
& thro’ the beds did scatter

She tends a soldier from Portree
Who thought she was her mother
Who babbles continuously
Of this, that & the other

Of Germans, ammunition, guns,
Of Jocks, of shells, of rations,
He yells his stories, sighs & stuns
All by him with his passions

With strychnine and morphia
They soothe the worst headcases
Who calling on euphoria
Fall backwards with leadfaces

From hoary ribbon’d officers
To privates at inception
She’d found the British Army was
Polite without exception

Where’er she was, did go, or wait,
They’d always come and ask
To open doors, faciliate
Or plain take on her task

& nothing changes when them led
On stretchers wounded grim
For British men by Grandmas bred
& what they’d think of him

An everpresence in the room
The female spirit flowing
The sacred keeper of the womb
The shield of earth all-knowing

BBWB 13: Aux Barricades !

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Aux Barricades !

The Black Watch went to Chiseldon,
By Draycot Foliat
Where King Albert’s Anglo-Saxon
Rode the Ridgeway, & a’ that

A blast of bugles stirs the camp
Arise six hundred sleepers
& Graeco-Roman wrestlers stamp
Where shuffl’d slim shopkeepers

A football match divides the day
Malcolm Macarthur drops
His damag’d ankle’s gone agley
& off the pitch he hops

“There’s no more war for you, my son
Its back to Brodick for ye,”
Tho’ in distress he’s a lucky one
As destiny shall show ye

Today the the whole battalion’s
Training on Salisbury Plain
Maneuvers & formations
All day long, & in the rain

But bloodless were the victories
& painless the demises,
“O what a pantomime this is,
Parades & exercises,

With Left! Right! Left! & Right! Left! Right!
Why did I take the shilling?
No mighty enemies in sight
No fighting & no killing!”

His Highness visits, martial dress’d
Inspecting troops at pace
By swift progress him much impress’d
In such a short timespace

Each man now clad in marching gear;
Lee Enfield, bayonet,
Great coats & haversack, appear
“The most stirling asset!”

Lord Kitchener’s Letter to the Troops (1914)

You are ordered abroad as a soldier of the King to help our French comrades against the invasion of a common enemy. You have to perform a task which will need your courage, your energy, your patience. Remember that the honor of the British Army depends upon your individual conduct. It will be your duty not only to set an example of discipline and perfect steadiness under fire, but also to maintain the most friendly relations with those whom you are helping in this struggle. The operations in which you are engaged will, for the most part, take place in a friendly country, and you can do your own country no better service than in showing yourself, in France and Belgium, in the true character of a British soldier.

Be invariably courteous, considerate, and kind. Never do anything likely to injure or destroy property, and always look upon looting as a disgraceful act. You are sure to meet with a welcome and to be trusted; and your conduct must justify that welcome and that trust. Your duty cannot be done unless your health is sound.
So keep constantly on your guard against any excesses. In this new experience you may find temptations both in wine and women. You must entirely resist both temptations, and while treating all women with perfect courtesy, you should avoid any intimacy.

Do your duty bravely.
Fear God.
Honor the King.


The order comes, they’re furth to France,
Those waves of khaki tartan
Southampton swell, in shadows dance
Gytheio & Spartan

The Brodick boys aboard the ship
Her name, SS Mount Temple,
Watch quay-knot ropes all easy slip,
Like balls releas’d downhill.

As harbour-yon loud soldiers went
They railings crowd both sides
Over deep & royal Solent
That footflesh from soil divides

For some it was a last farewell
Tho’ yet they didn’t know it
No prophecies of death compel
Sadness enough to show it

Oer the Kaiser’s murd’rous submarines
The Black Watch slept uneasy
On forage bales, all shades of greens
The Tommy rocks all queasy

Whose happy face rescissory
As stomachs pitch & toss,
Lives shuddering in misery
& violent seasickness

O! torrid night! O! horrid night!
O! poisonous pallaver!
O! morning dawn! O! joyous sight!
O! harbour of La Havre

The wharves awhirl with waving girls
Who wore no powdery shade
Shine colours bright, exotic curls,
Exciting peacock parade

Who pass down booze & caporal,
Who cheer & kiss like crazy
Who all went dotty as men ‘owl
Thro parts of ‘Marcelaisey’

All into gloomy carriages
Men pack, thro’ Normandy
They pass, like broken marriages
No families they’ll see

For France is of its manhood shorn
Her fields to women left
& little boylings, barely born
& old worn men, bereft

“Where are your menfolk?” one replies
“Oh, à la guerre, monsieur,”
This soon a war-cry slogan flies
“Les Black Watch! À la guerre!”

Thro’ Hazebrouck, Houchin, Grenay
Grew soldiers drunk & giddy
As louder, steady, every day
They hear the Flanders smiddy

Forging its iron weaponry
With red-hot hammer blows
All conversation peppery
Whene’er the train down slows

But when at last they bivouack
In pigsty full of shits
If this is “La belle France?” said Jack
Best give it back to Fritz

Where are the rooves, where is the door
Where are those gardens gay
What ruinage from floor-to-floor
& all.. all is decay

& then they felt first cannonade
Of German minenwerfers
Woof! Woof! they went, as shrapnel spray’d
Like speeding silver surfers,

The joy of joining up destroy’d
This war, this life, was real
Compartmentalis’d, deployed
In a tiger’s jaw of steel

BBWB 12: The Christmas Truce

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The Christmas Truce

BOOM! BOOM! Began the battlerace
To seize the Channel ports
Leaving a rugged, well-dug trace
Of trench lines between forts

A very static war ensues
When great gains gaug’d in metres
“The other side, of course, must lose
For how could they defeat us?”

As Winter knocks upon the door
Of Autumn, equinoctal
The rough winds rush, the tough rains pour
Sidewaysley horizontal

Thro’ dug-outs sagging and aflood,
December does its worst
On stretchers stiff and blear’d with blood
The wounded bawl “I’m curs’d!”

Oer Christmas Eve crept sharp white frost
Bit fingers kept them warm
No shells atop the dead waste cross’d
All fog & strangely calm

Enburrow’d soldiers crouching low
All in a foot of fluids
Coats of skinned goats, like eskimo
They look’d, with beard-droop druid

Teeth chatter’d thro’ midwinter’s day
Pale faces burning blue
The moon uprose, out came to play
Bright stars whom old myths drew

The Christmas cards pass’d round like hope
There’s one from the King & Queen
All in a special envelope
“Best wishes, Christmas Fourteen”

It said, “& may God protect thee
& safely home thee bring –
Mary & George,” & all agree
Twas something worth keeping

With that & this brass Christmas box
By Princess Margaret sent
Plus, from the stores fresh-knitted socks,
A festival event

Life seem’d for once, the thick barb’d wire
Glitters tonight with tinsels;
Some roasted chestnuts by the fire
Some bingo play’d with pencils

Then with a bloom of human love
Both sides exchange in song
Sweet carols sung for him above,
Who set his son among

“Tomorrow,” shouts stentorian voice
“No shoot, we no shoot you!”
Men mused, “Why should that be a choice?
What a bloody ballyhoo

This dragging war, in misery
We’ll spend our special day,
Quite frozen from the family
& caked in mud & clay

Up came the sun, up bobb’d a head
No shots did it dismember
Up parapet somebody said
“The twenty-fifth of December

The day of baby Jesus birth
In Bethlehem, elates
Goodwill to all, sends peace on earth
Come meet us, let’s be mates

Two sets of humans set aside
Their monarch differences
For them the only real divide
Was physical distances

There’s butchers here, there’s bakers there
There’s even paid ballplayers
Who fetch out footballs everywhere
While padres offer’d prayers

In Latin’s universal tongue
As groups for photos pose
The only conflict’s now in song
Or tailoring of clothes

Round swept the booze & cigarettes,
Milk chocolate bars were broken;
Of home towns, girlfriends, work & pets
Many a chinwag spoken

As bully beef & sausages
Were swapp’d, & biscuit tins,
Regimental crested badges
On each other’s breasts were pinn’d

For flew the true fraternity
That makes all Mankind brothers
Each cradl’d by maternity
& all the sons of mothers

Whose only wish was to finish
This war & to return
For their parlour & their parish
& their pretty girls, they yearn

Cursing the gen’rals in big cars
Round Flanders gallivanting
Offensives plann’d in private bars
While brandy’s de-decanting

These generals soon caught the wind
That peace did ply & ponce
Informal truces soon rescind
“Resume the war at once!”

It took a while, for makeshift spits
Were cooking Christmas geese
Plum pudding full of fruity bits
Delay’d insane caprice

But by the night of Christmas Day
Again the fight upstarted
The sniper shots, the shrapnel spray,
The murdercurse hardhearted.

BBWB 11: Sylvermane

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The spirit of the wolf was in
The soul of Sylvermane
As with a grand & mighty din
Thro’ Flanders plough’d the train

Where no horse under fifteen hands,
From withers, ride the wagons
The best chevaux oer streams & strands
A team of equine dragons

Train trundles to its terminus
Where the Ninth Queen’s Royal Lancers –
Of history most glorious,
Ideal for beaux romances –

Acquire the empire’s finest steeds
Soon Sylvermane was trotting
About a park at sev’ral speeds
Into the squadron slotting

She met a stallion one day
Oer haybales in the stable
Who with one wild, abrasive neigh
Relays a crazy fable

About a battle fought at Mons
Where gallant horses ran
In swift-hoov’d hurl at hosts of Huns
Brave in the British van

They hurtl’d cross an open field
Charging a line unbroken
Into a blazing bullet-shield
The hate of Hell awoken

Which decimated flesh & bone
In murder branded fighting
When riderless, gliding alone
Thro’ heaps of horrors blighting

He somehow found himself alive
As volley’d death, & thunder’d,
Just fifty horses would survive
Out of the bold three hundred

The bugle calls, the steeds led out
The regiment’s commander
Surrounded by revielle & shout
Acted the stern demander

Whose own grey horse bestricken lame
Thus for a fresh mount mingl’d
& asking Sylvermane her name
She instantly out-singl’d

He sens’d her Arran passion-pride;
As sunset tinges rim
She, with a springing country ride
Became war’s wings for him

A dashing man of cavalry
His name was David Campbell
Would won the National at Aintree,
The Irish Hunt as well

The next day dawn’d, at the outskirts
Of Paris swarms the Hun,
Such drastic danger disconcerts
Ramifications stun

But Gallieni taxis flags
Troops races to the front
While Lancers strap their saddlebags
& ride off like the Hunt

Unto the valley of the Marne
Whose river rolls for always
A long & liquid length of yarn
That parts the harvest maize

Where by the village of Montcel
The German First Dragoons
With lancers stand, upright barbell,
Spear-tipp’d tuneful bassoons

That play horrific symphonies
Of slaughter-notes & screams
Across the field their foe now is
Twinkling in the sunbeams

A hornblast blows the British burst
Into a gallop’s heaving
Earthquakes of hooves shake earth at first
The Germans misperceiving

Was this a raging torrent wave
Cast down a flooding river
No, no, it was the British, brave,
Teutonic spines a shiver

Tens’d up, & with a bridle strain
Charg’d forth to meet the foe
Like metal rooves, unfetter’d rain,
They met with rattleblow

On Sylvermane Campbell fought hard
But wounded was unsaddl’d
& so his steed did circle, guard
Her rider’s life embattl’d

She rear’d, she rag’d, she butted skulls
She desp’rate lances fended
Until the battle fades & lulls
Til sense of peace descended

The German’s routed from the plain
The British count their losses
& found the noble Sylvermane
Steam-snorting with head tosses

Attracting doctors to the scene
Where she was standing over
Her rider sprawl’d bleeding serene
In beds of woven clover

But smiling still, proclaiming this
His life’s best quarter hour,
To over dinners reminisce
As listeners devour

The day the charge of horse & man
Did halt forever more
As did Von Moltke’s Schlieffen plan
“Your Majesty, we’ve lost the war.”

BBWB 10: The Colours

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The Colours

At Kilmichael a farewell dance
Aye! something to remember
To shy away the dames of France
Til Christmas, in December

“When all of this will over be!”
So says the common discourse
Pete Currie struck a melody
To toast the whiskey sauce

For he could bonnie tunes extract
From piping bags of air
That like a sword through silence hack’d
A highland debonair

From dusk til dawn they jigg’d & reel’d
Piano, fiddle, drums
Couples canoodling in a field
When soft the songbird comes

As golden beams uplit Glencloy
The boat would soon be leaving
What tendernesses, girl & boy,
When kisses swirl with needing

George Goldthorpe stood with liquid eyes
His Sarah deep in dreaming
Too painful twas to say goodbyes
So stole away tears streaming

But other lassies came to wave
Away their ain sweethearts
More eyes move moist, the anchors hoist
The ‘Glen Sannox’ departs.

The siren sounds a long farewell
The decks did dwindle small
None watching back could e’er fortell
If they’d come back at all

With bonhomie & clear concord
The Brodick boys reach Glasga’
Go marchin’ up the Cathcart Road
One gallant gang together

Sings, “why the deuce should I repine
& be a danger-dodger,
I’m twenty three and five feet nine,
I’ll go and be a sodger!”

They reach the office where recruits
Did heckle at street-loungers
“Oi, cowards in yer civvie suits,
Yer just a bunch of scroungers!”

So many Arran lads were there
Like Billy King from Corrie,
Lamlash has sent a handsome pair –
Hamilton, Montgomorie –

Lochranza’s Orr, the Pirnmill Craigs
Stewart from Slidderie –
Who’d serv’d before at Douglas Haig’s
State office in New Delhi –

From Shiskine there came Bannatyne,
& from Kildonan Cumming,
As all together in a line
They stood the ‘Boat Song’ humming

Square-shoulder’d soldier weighs men up
Oer smart steps thirty inches
Some goblet & some dixie cup
Some swans, some pixie finches

He’d won the title of sergeant
In battles with the Boers
Whose scarr’d cheeks tinted with argent
Like horsey hackamores

“Lissen ‘ere, I’ve never saw
Such raw, roun’-shouldered rookies,
Gawd ‘elp ‘Is Majesty if you’re
To save ‘is oven cookies”

‘Owever, we’re ‘ere for the cause
We’ll work wi’ wot we got
So ‘One-one-two!’ Platoon! Form Fours!”
Men roll’d in rows of robot

The sarge commands with confidence
He’s always been obey’d,
With pockets full of sixpence
From the King; from men array’d

The Brodick boys all pass the trial
Sent up to Perth for training
First steps amang the rank & file
That hankers for campaigning

The Ninth Black Watch becomes their life
With brothers from all Scotland
Angus & Lanark, Stirling, Fife
Answers the grand demand

To fight for country & for king –
Much better than the office,
The auld back break of harvesting,
Or clawing dirty coal face;

When, looking good in kilted pants
& tilting the glengarry
If out on leave, in street or dance,
Might meet a lass to marry

From plough & pity, dock & mill
Men happy made departure
To have a slap at Kaiser Bill
Each starts back-arching marcher

Steadily, & blade-by-blade,
They goosestep to & forth;
Broomsticks for rifles, on parade
The cradle of the north

That incubates the tartan hound
That into battle wades
With one almighty biting bound
Across the barricades

“Gie’s but the weapons, we’ve the will
Ayont the main, to prove once more
Auld Scotland counts for something still
All in a saugh o’ war…”

Essay Upon The Second Ballad Revival

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A poet sat in his antique room
His lamp the valley king’d
‘Neath dry crusts of dead tongues he found
Truth, fresh & golden-winged

Alexander Smith

All poetical revivals begin with a spark, from which a fire storm blows through the cobwebs of an age. For the Second Ballad Revival it begins with the island of Arran & of course an arrival of a literary-minded man – that man being me. Any writer worth his or her salt who comes to Arran for any sustain’d length of time, feel they should write a book about this glorious new island they have discovered. Its that inspirational a place. The thing is, everything that needs to be said about Arran has already been said by scores of times by some very excellent authors. What I needed was an angle.

It came at me like a pair of crab-like pincers, manifesting as a Great War Memorial & an old book. The former is in Brodick, the capital of Arran, while the latter concerns some of the names upon that memorial – Brodick-Arran & The Great War by James Inglis (1919). One day in idle mode I decided to match some of the names on the memorial to those in the book. I spent a few moments looking up at the monument, then down at the page, then back up again until & I was struck saddened & also excited as a Bardic storyteller to discover that three Black Watch soldiers who worked together at Brodick Castle, enlisted in the Black Watch on the same day, & died together on the same day at the Battle of Loos, September 25th 1914.

This materielle transcended even Shakespeare, a spark fit enough to begin a poetical revival, but in what form? A friend of mine was visiting Arran with a vernal interest in the art of poetry, so I ask’d him to read the Rime of the Ancient Mariner entire. A wonderful experience to listen to, my psyche began to overbrim with poesis & within a day or two THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK was straining for existence like an animal slouching ‘towards Bethlehem to be born.’ At this point I had my matter & my mould, & being an epic poet by trade, & the matter so elongated, I knew that only a grand ballad cycle would be sufficient to answer this particular call of the muse.

It can be fairly said that in this third decade of the third Millennium (AD), poets no longer write for Humanity, as has been their ancient wont, but compose only to please themselves & other poets. A clique has surrounded the art, upheld quasi-religiously by its proponents, encasing poetry in a dull concrete, from which parapets they observe uncommenting the decline of poetical appreciation among the general population. There can only be one possible remedy for this puritan assault on the art, & that is the reintroduction of the ballad form – the poetry of the people. Within its simple tuneful strains & anthrosociological narratives a poet may place the moral foundations of a people. “I knew a very wise man” reports Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (1655-1716), “who believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.”

There is a beautiful truth in balladry which taps into the human pond of past lives & conduct. These simple looking structures resonate a complex record of the actions of humanity, detailing in narrative form events relating to society through individuality. Ballads are also those songs & rhymes which awaken the earliest poetical appreciations in all of us. As the poet thunders through four-line stanzas of distich & rhyme, the reader or hearer will instantly feel that they are in the presence of poetry, proper poetry, the same poetry which pentrated their psyches in their infant malleability, & nurtured through childhood. In utterance lyrical, sharp & decisive, they are the truest test of a poet, because ultimate raison d’etre is to please. To teach comes a close second, & thus a ballad done well can transcend even the most elite of educatory lecture halls in a language accessible to all.

Send in the artists, mystics and clowns. Their fertile imagination pours the new wine of the gospel into fresh wineskins. With fresh language, poetic vision and striking symbols they express God’s inexpressible word in artistic forms that are charged with the power of God, engaging our minds and stirring our hearts as they flare and flame.

Brennan Manning: Ruthless Trust

Thus, with BLACK WATCH BRODICK I would like to announce the arrival of the Second Ballad Revival. The ‘first’ took place during the Romantic Age, beginning with Thomas Percy’s ‘Reliques of Ancient English Poetry’ (1765), evolving moderistically with the songs of William Blake & Rabbie Burns, a process that continued with the Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth & Coleridge, La Belle Dame Sans Merci of Keats, & concluded with the assembling of the Scottish & Border ballads by Sir Walter Scott, publish’d & revised between 1802 & 1830. Scott was an immense & dedicated balladeer, & his Essay On The Imitations Of The Ancient Ballad (1830) contains interesting reflections on the form which contain the mantras of the First Ballad Revival. This short extract tells the story of the Ballad Form up until the dawn of the Romantic Age.

The invention of printing necessarily occasioned the downfall of the Order of Minstrels, already reduced to contempt by their own bad habits, by the disrepute attached to their profession, and by the laws calculated to repress their licence. When the Metrical Romances were very many of them in the hands of every one, the occupation of those who made their living by reciting them was in some degree abolished, and the minstrels either disappeared altogether, or sunk into mere musicians, whose utmost acquaintance with poetry was being able to sing a ballad.

The taste for popular poetry did not decay with the class of men by whom it had been for some generations practised and preserved. Not only did the simple old ballads retain their ground, though circulated by the new art of printing, instead of being preserved by recitation; but in the Garlands, and similar collections for general sale, the authors aimed at a more ornamental and regular style of poetry than had been attempted by the old minstrels, whose composition, if not extemporaneous, was seldom committed to writing,

In England, accordingly, the popular ballad fell into contempt during the seventeenth century; and although in remote counties its inspiration was occasionally the source of a few verses, it seems to have become almost entirely obsolete in the capital. Even the Civil Wars, which gave so much occasion for poetry, produced rather song and satire, than the ballad or popular epic.

In Scotland, on the contrary, the old minstrel ballad long continued to preserve its popularity. Even the last contests of Jacobitism were recited with great vigour in ballads of the time, the authors of some of which are known and remembered.

On the whole, however, the ancient Heroic ballad, as it was called, seemed to be fast declining among the more enlightened and literary part of both countries; and if retained by the lower classes in Scotland, it had in England ceased to exist, or degenerated into doggerel of the last degree of vileness.

The same can really be said about the ballad from in the 21st century. No performance poet would chaunt in the old style, no poetic publisher would stoop so low as a broadsheet, but I am feel in my very bones that society of the my day is ripe for a balladic renaissance. Perhaps there is something about living in Scotland that is inspiring me on a metaphysical level. As Scott says, while the ballad was dying in England, it still thriv’d in the Scottish hinterlands. In my 17 years domicile in Scotland, I have understood that the keeping of tradition has been woven with steel & deeply ingrain’d into the native fabric. Robert Burns records the animus & his personal connection with the Scottish balladeers.

There is a noble sublimity, a heart-melting tenderness, in some of our ancient ballads, which show them to be the work of a masterly hand: and it has often given me many a heart-ache to reflect that such glorious old bards—bards who very probably owed all their talents to native genius, yet have described the exploits of heroes, the pangs of disappointment, and the meltings of love, with such fine strokes of nature—that their very names (O how mortifying to a bard’s vanity!) are now “buried among the wreck of things which were.”

O ye illustrious names unknown! who could feel so strongly and describe so well: the last, the meanest of the muses’ train—one who, though far inferior to your flights, yet eyes your path, and with trembling wing would sometimes soar after you—a poor rustic bard unknown, pays this sympathetic pang to your memory! Some of you tell us, with all the charms of verse, that you have been unfortunate in the world—unfortunate in love: he, too, has felt the loss of his little fortune, the loss of friends, and, worse than all, the loss of the woman he adored. Like you, all his consolation was his muse: she taught him in rustic measures to complain. Happy could he have done it with your strength of imagination and flow of verse! May the turf lie lightly on your bones! and may you now enjoy that solace and rest which this world rarely gives to the heart tuned to all the feelings of poesy and love!

I shall finish my personal manifesto to a Second Balladic Revival with the essay of Scott previoulsy examined. Within its corpus there has been etch’d a wonderful passage which perfectly reflects the painted corner in which poetry has found itself in this our own age; ‘The realms of Parnassus, like many a kingdom at the period, seemed to lie open to the first bold invader, whether he should be a daring usurper, or could show a legitimate title of sovereignty.‘ It is daring to be a balladeer in the 21st century; it is sovereign to be an epic poet; & the realms of Parnassus have become pixels on an instagram post. It is time to bring poetry back to the masses, an enteprise worth composing for. For that I will need orators, rhapsodic singers if you will, in the tradition of the Homeric reciters of Pisistratan Athens. For them I leave the L’Amfiparnasso of my new poem.


To all ye glorious storytellers
Who sing in the Saxon tongue
Bring the wine up from the cellars
Pass the clinking glass among

When claret good oerbrims the cups
& company comes keen
Mount up the Hippogriff that sups
From blissful Hippocrene

Then with a clear & poignant voice
Go sing my ballad cycle
Leaving your company no choice
But to finish the recital

There’s twenty-seven cantos worth
Of twenty-seven stanzas
Awaiting dutiful rebirth
In ring’d extravaganzas

All born in mine hybrid accent
A maze of burrs & measures
But structure in each consonant
& in the vowels treasures

There’s Edinburgh, there’s Bournemouth Beach
There’s Burnley & there’s Venice
There’s mood & meaning in my speech
There’s beauty & there’s menace

There’s murder, bloody murder, too,
There’s loving & there’s grieving
There’s scenes that set the eyes adew
When gentle goes thy weaving

For thou art Rhapsode, & thine art
Will stich auld songs together –
So choose which cantos to impart
Goose quilt or just a feather