Black Watch Brodick

BBWB 27: The Undying Dead

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THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK

CANTO 27

The Undying Dead


A new day dawns, Pete Piper skips
To Sarah, says, “Lets walk…”
She, somewhat alter’d, halts his lips
With salty, “yes, to talk.”

They took a lunch up Sannox Glen
With sandwiches from Corrie
Where, sat among the burn & ben,
“Pete Currie, I’m so sorry,

For complex is life’s chemistry
When feelings in confusion
Feed off familiarity
Then delve into delusion

I was, I am, I’ll always love
Another in my heart,”
With gentle squeeze she eas’d her glove
From Peter’s hand apart

He understood & watch’d her go
Away with gracious gait
All slow with woe, a sad widow
Resign’d to scything fate

How Peter weeps so sadly-soul’d
From first true love was shorn
With wiser vein his brain install’d
He rose the morrow morn

Which was a Sunday, wintery,
With promises of storms
When prayers, transcendentally,
Each minister performs

Today a special service held
When elegies fair spoken
When all the village felt compell’d
Attending faith or token

It was the least that some could do
For grief did swell communal
With people squeez’d in every pew
Like a papal funeral

The Minister took up his place
The organ pipes upstarted
With tenor, baritone & bass
The men sung open-hearted

The women with a higher range
Did harmonize like choirboys
A most melodic interchange
Floats notes in wholesome noise

The singing done, the hymnary
Wide closed, all took their seats,
The Lord’s Prayer, mnemonically,
Each mellowly repeats

As under St Bride’s polish’d wood
Like Lao-Tze Tung teaching the tao
The Minister remain’d upstood
To pledge an everliving vow

“Dear Christ, who reignst above the flood
A weary road these men have trod:
Of human tears and human blood,
O house them in the home of God

We mourn our dead across the sea
Flesh of our flesh there fallen
In vital struggle for the free
Whose liberties were stolen

Always, always remember them
Those who shall grow not old
Nor passing years their deeds condemn
Only honours uphold

As stars yet bright when we are dust
To the end we’ll know each name
Of our glorious dead, & keep in trust
Immemorial fame!

Now let us sing the twenty-third
Psalm, ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd,’”
It was the proudest ever heard
With sobs & sniffles pepper’d

Pro patria moves all within
Who beg the dead forgive
Their beating hearts, while kith & kin
Have died so they might live

A veteran of Sevastapol
The ‘Last Post’ bugles soft
From start to finish beautiful..
Breaks tension, someone’s cough’d…

The service ends, Pete doffs his cap
Snook out like subterfuge
Just as a viscious thunderclap
Bursts in delicious deluge

He harks not home but treks instead
Thro’ the barren hinterland
Of Arran’s rising highlands spread
Like Zarafshan Samarkand

Doom-laden moors & gloomy glens
When flay’d by the Atlantic
Were nothing to those nights near Lens
& Loos in battle frantic

As soggy drew his soldier’s shoes
As sopping drench’d his jacket
Solidity of strength renews
He knew that he could hack it

For live he did when friends did not
They’d love to get a soakin’
Out visiting each scenic spot
With Jock on point with joking

With Wullie passing round the nips
& George with all his stories…
Oer Machrie Moor a moon eclipse
The bloody chore that war is

Snaps Peter Currie from his trance
Him standing all alane
While best pals rot in a box in France
He’s alive in the diamond rain

THE END

BBWB 26: Nostoi

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THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK

CANTO 26

Nostoi


The Goddess of the Sacrifice
Ascends from devastation
Shall sluggish floods of tears suffice
To praise her by libation

On the wings of eager rumor
Far & wide the tale went flying,
Thro’ the quicksand Flanders tumor
Many Scots fan dead & dying

From optimism at the launch
To grim reality
Impossible it seems to staunch
The bleeding hanging tree

A quarter of a million
For minute gains exchang’d
To modern-day civilian
Twas tragedy derang’d

& we could never know the grief
That prowl’d thro Scotland then
The growing ague, the disbelief
That half of Dundee’s men

Were lost in minutes, while the Watch
Were losing four in five,
Thro’ Marshall Joffre’s massive botch
Hardly anyone alive

The news came in as drabs, as dribs,
Death’s Angel beat her wings
Which swish’d as if them fizzing squibs
Round the city’s housing rings

There was no home Dundonian
Untouch’d & hollow-eye’d
For the ‘Fighting Fourth’ Battalion
Drawn entirely from Tayside

War’s cut-throat cur conducts its theft
A letter home, a photograph
Reliques of households left bereft
By the Lens-Loos cenotaph

Just thirteen lads returned unmaim’d
The rest were lacking limbs
Who sees them daily feels asham’d
Seeks solace in singing hymns

Thro’ the islands of Britannia
Peter Currie convalesc’d
With his right arm feeling better
& his nightmares dispossess’d

Ardrossan port, the steamer hoots,
It’s time to head on home
Stood every side were civvy suits
Watching the trailing foam

A vagrant morning struck the earth
The sea was white with spindrift
Oer blue & stormy streak of firth
The ship steams swift

Pete saunter’d to the forward deck
To peer upon wee Brodick
Whose houses flicker’d speck by speck
Like flames on a candlewick

From roof-to-roof his gaze gazelle
Went leaping; Estherlea,
Birchdale & Tighnamara, dwell
High perch’d above the sea

Tuathair on the lower ground
With Kingsley & the Manse,
By Corriegills & Merkland bound
The bonny bay’s expanse!

Pete Currie blew along the pier
By pouty girls unwed
Familiar all things appear
As to his home he sped

But pausing by two cottages
He conjur’d Wullie & John
His friends, his fellow villagers,
His boys forever gone

With dimmer mind he slowly pass’d
The doors of Douglas Row
Until his father’s face at last
& whiff of strong tobacco

Love mixes with a clear relief,
Lives drifted unexciting,
Thro’ Peter sears a leitmotif
“I’ll be glad to get back fighting!”

Feeling the haunting disconnect
Twyx soldiery & others
When families seem rubberneck’d
& buddies more than brothers

One day the glossy gossip-mill
Goes ‘Sarah Fullarton’s back,’
Pete climb’d the low inclining hill
Along Kilmichael’s track

He knock’d upon the big red door
“Sir, can I see you daughter?”
She came with a pallid langor
As if she’d drank ditch-water

They went for tea at Mrs Weir’s
“Hey Pete let’s stay out longer,
You’ve help’d me wipe my crying tears,
Lets try for something stronger.”

They drank together on a curve
Of sandiness all golden
Heads drunk, hearts sore, together serve
Strange love, they started holding

& kiss’d at once in tender tryst
She to her chambers led them
Let lioness lustiness insist
That passion-phrenzy fed them

Fruit juice of silken succulence
‘Til them both satisfied
At breathless death of innocence
Something in Sarah died

BBWB 25: Mortal Wounds

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THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK

CANTO 25

Mortal Wounds


All night had Sarah Fullarton
To trembling victims tended
Upon her temple felt the sun
The endless night was ended

But still the boys brought bleeding in
With myriads of pains
A mass of human wounds akin
To Genghiz Khan’s campaigns

Then stoppeth Sarah in her track
She dropp’d the tray of dressings
The man she loved, who loved her back,
With all the Angels’ blessings

Was led upon a stretcher by
A nothingness of wall
A thunderbolting lullaby
Did fly from out her soul

“O farewell grief & welcome joy,
Ten thousand times therefore
For now I’ve found my one true boy
Whom I thought would see no more!”

“Sarah,” he sigh’d, “I don’t have long,
Come kiss me at life’s ending,”
For his last wish she must stay strong
Fastidious, heart-rending

“Ever the wide world over lass
As ever my word is true
As battles rise, as battles pass,
‘Til back at the last with you,

Of those soft lips, oft did I dream
Ours pressing close together
Next to Cnocan’s bounding stream
Led, holding, in the heather

With falt’ring voice salt-laced with sighs,
“Thou art monarch of my being,”
She kiss’d his lips, his cheeks, his eyes
That her true love was seeing

Then up whisper’d her handsome man
Smiling so smooth & slender,
“We’ll meet in Heaven if you can
Remember love so tender.”

“My love, forever & a day,
I’ll loyal be, with constant heart,
To every sphere of Heaven pray
Our souls shall never part.”

As wild hawk in the windswept sky
As roe deer to the wholesome wold
A man’s heart to his lass shall sigh
As it was in the days of old

“Beloved land, that western land,
Arran by the waters wide
We fell in love, there, hand-in-hand
& wish we could abide

A lifetime on that precious isle
Poseidon climbing from the seas
Ever shining, ever fertile,
Bouncing bairnlings on our knees.”

Then boreing deep thro’ Sarah’s eyes
He saw the Lord above
Him beckoning, twas time to prise
A man from mortal love

As George died in his Sarah’s arms
Her sadness swarms like locusts
Her happiness, her cheer, her charms
Were render’d ruinous

“O mother, mother, mak’ my bed
Where I shall lie in sorrow,
Today my one pure love lies dead
& now I want no morrow,

My death, my death, alone can show
The everlasting love we share…”
Nurses about this tryst tiptoe
For they were full aware

How much she loved her English George
She’d talk about him always
No finer love did Heaven forge,
Or elves, or fairies praise

She’d made a harp of her breast-bone
& strung it with his kisses
Music to melt all hearts of stone
So seismic was its blisses

Now swung the moment when the dike
Doth overcome the finger
Or flames sprung up from match’s strike,
Tears rumbl’d thro’ a wringer

“Flow, flow, my grief, unbounded gush,
Rise, rise my sobs, I set ye free,
Bleed, bleed my heart, I need not blush
To know my love did loveth me…”

Into that sad & sighing scene
Came striding head nurse Fletcher,
“I’m sorry, Sarah…” soft, serene,
“We’re going to need that stretcher.”

& so it was two bodies part
One living & one dead
One choking on a broken heart
One buried where he’d bled

In battle on some foreign field
Among the countless crosses
That to Eternitie reveal’d
The cost of Scottish losses

Most tragic day they’d ever seen
The Twenty-fifth of September
In the Autumn bleak, Nineteen Fifteen
Let everyone remember

How Mankind can so unkind be
To those who share his species
& Womanhood thro’ love of he
Such miseries she sees.

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!”

BBWB 22: The Lady Of Loos

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THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK

CANTO 22

The Lady Of Loos


On entering Loos-en-Gohelle,
Just thirty after zero,
The Black Watch & the Seaforths swell
Together, as lone hero

Attacks the antique cemetery
Maxims stall the surge,
Sizzling like oil spit, tutelary
On the village verge

As battye-bombs assault the nest
They halt its deadly spray
“Right lads, lets tackle all the rest,”
The Push, well underway

Went rattling down abandon’d street
A lass of seventeen
In schoolclass English them did meet
“My name is Emileen

Its dangerous, you must beware,
In houses all around
Are Germans hidden everywhere
In cellars undergound.”

As Gordons, Black Watch, Camerons
With teams of Seaforth mingle
What bevy of battalions
Brose-brought-up by the ingle

Whom bomb-by-bomb, whom room by room,
The danger zones did clear
Each cellar-dweller, dead, exhum’d
Reduces furtive fear

Among the yards & gardens search
McAllister & Currie
Stumbling across a humble church
Where white flags wave with worry

“Lets bomb the bastards,” Peter hiss’d
“Not in the good Lord’s house…” quoth John
…Come out! Come out! stern shouts insist,
Respond despondants one-by-one

Slow slide outside with empty hands
At Heaven’s goodness pointed
None notic’d one man awkward stands
His backbone double-jointed

Who slowly eas’d his rifle down
His spine & with a flashing
One second’s worth of shock, of frown,
Of gunshot temple smashing

Pete Currie watch’d his good friend fall
Then saw that rifle turning
Towards his chest, he made the call,
With jet propulsion burning

There was a beast inside him now
Some lycanthropic change
Wild cat uncaged in rage & how
Moralities estrange

& stab & stab & stab; enthus’d,
Dark Angels make men merrie
Slaying arch-traitors who’ve abused
The truth of sanctuary

His mate was dead, ‘though, bullet pit
Up-gushing blood & brains
For those who think he’s done his bit
Whose sacrifice obtains

An inch of Flanders for the King,
“We’ll fetch ‘im later, Peter!”
Two dead lads left they, holding hands,
Arran John, Austrian Dieter

The village was a kettle-pot
Of battle, at each corner
Bomb, shell & shot, the combat hot
Enough to steam a sauna

As Emileen’s famous family store
Transmorphs to dressing station
She bandag’d lads, she wash’d the floor
She trusted innovation

She improvis’d a bed for him
A splint for those legs broken
& where survivor’s chances slim
Took time for sweet words spoken

‘Pop-Pop’ a doctor drops down dead
“There’s snipers in the district,
All men seek cover,” but instead
Young Emi joins the conflict

“Can I take zese,” the soldiers stare,
& nod, their green grenades
Gone out the door, gone off elsewhere
With the bravest of maids

Who knew the streets, could walk them blind
Soon finds the snipers hiding
Within an attic hole confined
& felt an over-riding

Hate for them, for all they stood for
Conquerors most crass
She pulls the pins, across the floor
Slow rolls each metal mass

Explosions blow those men apart
On whom the roof implodes
Now Emileen has play’d her part
& walks back to the crossroads

Where stood her shop, she steps inside,
“You’re safe, now, carry on,”
The soldiers gaz’d on boggle-eyed
Guess’d what this ‘frog’ had done

The village soon was fully mopp’d
But further east, alas,
Oer St Auguste the Black Watch stopp’d
Atop the sloping mass

Of armour-plated, barbellate,
Hill Seventy; below
Them fresh-built lines of trenchworks wait
The next dice fate would throw

BBWB 21: Into the Breach

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THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK

CANTO 21

Into the Breach


Heroic, stoic, stern with clout,
Men close towards their foes
Encroaching on a stout redoubt
They’ve call’d the Jewish Nose

As murder’s prattling rattles peak
At life & limbs exacting
As eyeballs rest upon the cheek
Lungs in & out contracting –

Most horrendous exhibitions
Of complex anatomy
Crudely sculptur’d by munitions
Of this vicious enemy –

George Goldthorpe wonders how far war
Slouches beyond romance
When gnashing groups of schleppy gore
Usurps the clash of lance

Despite the firestorm’s withering
No thought was sought fae stopping
Leg-wounded lads, unswithering,
Still forwards go, hop-hopping

When following their leaders on
Thro’ terror’s vaults unseal’d
Exhorting leaders, one-by-one,
Caught death upon that field

McAllister passes rantings
Of captains, blood profuse,
Singing swinging swansong chantings,
Latin verses most obtuse

Beside them screams Leuitenant Hailes
Clutching his stomach’s squirting
For morphia he begs & wails
Awfully disconcerting

Tho’ Major Henderson’s concuss,
& noble bloodflow slowing,
Strength found enough to raise his puss,
“Pure barry lads, keep going!”

Brave Hamilton waves back his men,
Sieve-riddl’d, dying fast
“I’m nae worth rescue, lads, ya ken,”
As now his men amass’d

Before the Jew’s Nose rudderless,
& charg’d it gallantly
Defying death, on bloody crest
Men died valiantly

Trying to hack thro’ tanglewire
Shellfire had fail’d to cut
Form piles, like branches on a pyre,
Of bodies, rising glut

Thro’ carnage indescribable,
At last the Black Watch reach
A battle recognizable
Gone bursting thro’ the breach

They’ve dropp’d into chaotic ditch
Of bodies, clods & pebbles
To pack of pouncing panthers switch
Like royals routing rebels

All living thing that mov’d were shot
Or stricken-struck straight thro
Like spitted meat, “Ach, nee!” “Mein Gott!”
Each second-split miscue

Stab, throttle, slash; rage unconfin’d
Surfs on a Trojan bloodlust
Thro’ chest, back, throats, so smooth, unkind
Track bayonets that thrust

Its fecht or fa’ for Fritz & a’
Those braw lads wearing tartan
The Hun soon huddl’d, big or sma,’
Like kids at kindergarten

Pleading for life, subdued & cow’d,
Hoping because they’d halted
Their killing spree, which scything plough’d
Thro’ Black Watch boys unfalter’d

They’d let them live as are the ways
Of war twyx noble nations
“A bloody nuisance” Currie says
But being good creations

Of Scottish values hearth & kirk
Good hearts save murderers’ lives
& pack them off to payless work
In a prison camp by St Ives

The whole event five minutes took
The front line for to clear,
The battle on a tenterhook
Shifts to a higher gear

“On! On! & Onwards!” “Glory!” cried
The corporals in command
For all the other ranks had died
Or damag’d could not stand

With an intoxic’ battlecry
The paths of slaughter chosen
As when Hellenic heroes fly
Across the plains of Troezen

As when Scots Greys did dash about
The columns of D’Erlon
The Hun push’d backwards at the rout
While pipers got a skirl on

Cannons respond, with fiery roar
Fell shell on frantic shell
The dense & frightning din of war
Progress escorts thro’ Hell

Where blown to bits & blown apart
Men blown to kingdom come,
Whose whizzing, fizzing souls depart
To immortal martydom

That tough procession reach’d a wall
LOOS painted on the plaster
They might just win this after all
Despite the dawn’s disaster.

BBWB 20: No Mans Land

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THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK

CANTO 20

No Mans Land


How hard had train’d true-hearted men
For this elusive moment
On, steady, in platoons of ten
The Black Watch went

Tho’ pipes did strike a Spartan pace
No spirit needeth stirring
The valourness of Fingal’s race
Was every footstep spurring

With impetus & oestro high
March Scotia’s soldier-bards
A sergeant major’s next to die
Those hard two hundred yards

Across the way the Germans say,
“The moles have left their holes,”
Them with a sweeping bullet spray
This steady progress stalls

A tumbling here, a stumbling there
As crumbles the advance
Once solid mass now spaced with air
Unsewn by happenstance

Wrought from the random wheel of War
Men spun upon roulette tables
With Heaven as their warrantor
Them fram’d as Cains & Abels

A rat-a-tat, a rat-a-tat
& rat-a-tat Death roams
Lead scattering this way & that
In gory honeycombs

For thirty yards they brave the burst
Then drop as if in training
When synchronicity rehears’d
Avoids the hell-hail raining

Alas the facing firing trench
Hath swiftly suss’d the tactic
Off-holding triggers ’til each wrench
Of khaki barques upstick

With rat-a-tat along the line
Men batter’d broke & bleeding
Grass splattering with claret wine
By men for mothers pleading

Those parents who had paid the tolls
Of lifetimes, for their boys,
Only to turn to lifeless dolls,
Like royalty’s toys

‘O tis a terrifying thing
To walk towards one’s death
This step I take, is there a sting
Is this my final breath?’

Thought George, then drops, a boy’s clean cheeks
Beside, whose face was flapping
“I’ll be alright,” soft Doric creaks
As if awoke from napping

For glorious assault was theirs,
“I’m wounded but not slain
I’ll lie awhile,” the lad declares,
“Then rise & fight again.”

From out beyond the Loss-Lens lines
Enemy artillery
Shoots shrapnel spines of porcupines
To this savage pillory

Of jagged iron insanities
Exploding flagellant
To level off the vanities
With sinister intent

Sharp-pointed leadbarbs struck the Watch
In legs, in arms, in head
In chest, in throat, in knees, in crotch
In foot, in jaws.. as bled

Deep seeping into Flanders soil
The bloodlines of the Scottish
Gone swaggering into the boil
Of bullets swish-swish-swish

As Wullie McIntyre did stride
Across the field of view
Men fell away on either side
& now he takes one too

He hit the ground, he tasted dust
He knew his life was ending
His plans of youth & age all crush’d,
The cloak of death descending

He hit the ground, he smelt the earth
He felt each fibre dying
Long flashback to his babybirth
Like then he started crying

For Arran’s large & lofty crags
Rose up so splendid grand
Inside his mind, while antler’d stags
Did silhouetted stand

Then conjur’d he Kildonan strand;
There’s Ailsa Craig, there’s Pladda
As lighthouse lit the lantern sand
Each second soul slain sadder

Until he saw a silver light
Moonshining, astral zones
Like temples spread, where sharp upright
In starlight stood the stones

Of Machrie Moor, a sacred space
Where druids once paid service
To maidens of an ancyent race
In sacrificial bliss

For Arran is a magic isle
For anyone who knows
Where Danaan princes cairns did pile
Consecrating heroes

“Goodbye my island,” Wullie sigh’d
His whisperings disband
The very moment that he died
In the middle of No Mans Land

BBWB 19: Over The Top

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THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK

CANTO 19

Over The Top


The greatest battle of the Scots
Lurches towards its breaking
Thoughts clawing stomach pits in knots
How long’s the twilight taking?

Dawnlight like water struggles in,
Rain promising, as lads
From heaps of limbs sleep-snuggl’d in
Cast off the cloaks of nomads

Puffing under the parapet’s
Immovable rampart,
One hundred thousand cigarettes
Await the gig to start

As teas brew’d up, as hot soup pour’d,
As razors smooth the cheek,
The army’s like a pirate moor’d
Ready to raid & wreak.

Ready to slay Les Boches today
Most pleasurable of pursuits
To fetch back home a coat of grey
& a pair of marching boots

A helmet & a mauser too,
But first they’ll have to bag one…
When such a vast hullabaloo
Exploded gun on gun

Howitzers, eighteen pounders sound
Symphonies of flying fish
Like shrieking birds shells shook the ground
In smoke the Hun’s lines vanish

Time passes porous with suspense
Drags on or rushes by
Awaiting evanescence
When the days solidify

As to them zero hour doth sweep
On hooves of adamant
Captain’s read out, with vocals deep,
To every regiment

“All ranks will prove to Scotland, we
Were able to uphold
Traditions of the north contree
Most glorious of auld!

For Highlanders have ever been
The finest of all fighters
Whether fae chieftain, prince, or queen
No force could e’er outmight us

As for the Black Watch, we shall go
Most fast, most firm, most far,”

A former brawler from Glasgow
Slow finger’d his cheek’s scar

An Airdrie lad bless’d Him above
For steeling him undaunted
While some feel for their ladylove
Like George Goldthorpe, thought-chaunted;

O gentle wind that blows from south
To where my love repaireth
Convey a kiss to her dear mouth
& ask her how she faireth

For evermair shall Sarah be
My one, my true desire
,’
In such diffus’d tranquility
Mus’d Wullie Mcintyre

To do one’s duty must be done!’
Whose nerves had turn’d to stone,
That tighter gripp’d his rifle gun
With heighten’d muscle tone

McAllister spat, sung, touch’d wood,
Besides him young Pete Currie
Did calculate the likelihood
Of deaths for those that worry

Cautious or brave, which course is best?
Thought he, ‘should I be hero?
Or canny crawl from crest to crest?…
…Lang time deid
‘… hand struck zero

The barrage halts, the silence sets
The seconds overloaded
“Company – fix bayonets,”
Throughout the front line order’d

As sharpen’d spikes were firmly fix’d
A sudden infestation
Of polarised emotions mix’d
Hysteria, exultation

Is everybody ready,” “Sir”
As back hairs, neck hairs bristle
At last the drastic brainwaves’ blur,
Attacks the straining whistle

Up, up, the ladders & over the top
Up over the top they went,
The finest chop of the Highland crop
To ever represent

Up over the top with the best of luck
Up over the top they sped
The first man up by a bullet struck
& dropped down dead

Up over the top, & onto the plain,
Then over the grain them borne
Where barb’d wire bush in a bramble bane
Spread like the low lean thorn

The Black Watch pipers struck the chords
Play’d ‘Heilan laddie’ loudly,
Uprousing hearted march towards
Their enemies, most proudly

Were heads held high, no craven host
Eyes firmly forging forth
Craving to do their uttermost
For the honour of the North

When sighting Hohenzollorn mound
Ahead, men caught their breath,
Amang that slag heap battleground,
They’ll jest at the dawn with death

BBWB 18: The Watchameron

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THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK

CANTO 18

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 hellish deaths did send us

So furious, & so incessant
A fire was ne’er endur’d
Six hours valourous & candescent,
A legend has assured

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

The Black Watch obstinate remain’d
Twas not ’till their third order
To leave the field, when 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 he were canny
,

When on his way to Waterloo
He stopp’d at Quatra Bras
For Wellington a long line drew
His 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
With Black Watch Scots entwine
Before we could form solid squares
They’d decimate oor line

All chaos was, deep lances thrust
Into our 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

Now well-aim’d volleys well repell’d
The Gallic cavalry
Tho’ half oor boys on 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
Wi’ Wellington fought 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 thud & shock, uncharter’d rocks
Along the hull did shred

From using lifeboats Skip’ forbids,
Two gigs & one wee cutter
Meant for the ladies & the kids
Whom
off to safety stutter

“Stand firm, be still,” terminal drill,
A damn tough bullet to chew
But all must pay our final bill
When Fate has told us to

No man did mutter, silence reign’d
But for the kicks of stallions
For in those lads honour’s ingrain’d
Hearts worn like chain medallions

The sea poured in, the bulkheads tore
The ship did rip 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!”

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

The day of battle almost dawns
Grey, heavy, overcast,
For all those croaking snory yawns
This morn might be their last

BBWB 17: The Big Push

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THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK

CANTO 17

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 blacken badlands

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

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

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 wonder’d who’d contrive
In such an infernal hurricane
To keep alive

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
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!”