BBWB 24: Shell Holes, Hell Holes

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THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK

CANTO 24

Shell Holes, Hell Holes


They hadnae march’d a mile, a mile,
A mile, but barely five
The Germans, brave & versatile,
Were very much alive

Tho’ Black Watch hung on doggedly
Penchant unparalleled
Facing masses of artillery
Such positions can’t be held

Like when brave Charles’ army stood
& slaughter’d on the moors
Waded in cannonaded blood
The climax of a cause

Men droppeth down in death like sacks
Flesh render’d mute as cattle
Limbs jerk spasmodic, gut trails track,
As, pauseless, shell-shots prattle

The sombre dirge of dead, dead hopes
Did swoon along the slag heap braes
A requiem sweeping the slopes
With phantom phrase

The day of battle turns to dusk
Night fill’d with fumes & lyddite
Each barrage comes brutal & brusk
But still the Black Watch fight

This dirty pageant shall devour
The living dead, the living die
As overhead, this dreadful hour
Men heard the lilting Lorelei

The divine sun that glorifies
The day with gold hath dwindl’d
The stars outrush with twinkling eyes
The galaxies enkindl’d

George Goldthorpe was still fechtin’ yet
Tho’ thoroughly exhausted
Repelling every yelling threat
In a semi-cirque of dead

Of war he’d had a bellyful
Sleep drags him to the floor
& wraps his dreams in cottonwool
Comfort in every snore

Until a rude awakening
Rough hands do shake the shoulder
Reality reassembling
He’s awoken by a soldier

“Wot sort of a night you ‘ad, mate?”
George stood up with a start
“Where’s the Watch?” “Yer too late,
They’ve played heroic part

& been relieved, gone back to base,
Ya should go & join them too,”
“Well buggar me, if that’s the case
I’ll leave this lot to you –

Up by them trees a machine gun
Is playing bloody havoc!”
A swift salute, with duty done
His hard-earn’d leave he took

O! twas a dreary journey back
Inscrutable destruction
As if titan daemoniac
Demolish’d an obstruction

Across the ground debateable
Death dripping from the dark
Thro’ stalemate irriversible
George ticks off every landmark

By dregs of men in tatter’d rags
Down roads block’d up chaotic
With every step his spirit flags
Numb’d dumb by some narcotic

He wander’d lonely in a daze
Thro’ Soddom & Gomorrah
The moon shone down in purple rays
On scenes of total horror

& ere the break of dawn appear’d
Oer the wastes of No Mans Land
Full many a wail his psyche sear’d
From the flower of Scotland

Men like the leaves of Autumn strewn
In heaps of torsos twisted
Vague shadows under a lurid moon
Curse the day that they enlisted

Before the Jews’s Nose turpitudes
Of tartan sprawling swollen
The grim & dreadful attitudes
Of bodies forwards fallen

Would never feel a lass perform
The rites of soft affection
Or from a lofty-peak’d Cairngorm
See Scotland’s raw perfection

But now it is George Goldthorpe’s time
To enter his posterity’
A whizz-bang into air did climb
At high velocity

To burst in bits above his head
Send death-shard thro’ his chest
Tho’ dying he was not yet dead
Stood up & did his best

To stagger on thro’ No Man’s Land
& still the blood did pour
Until no strength had he to stand
Fell face down to the floor

Then roll’d he round upon his back
The pain was all consuming
Staring up to the skiey pack
Of cloudy Heavens looming

Sinking into the blood & slutch
His mind to Burton tore
“O mum & dad, I love you so much,
But I think… I know… I’m done for!”

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