Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

The Minor Poets of WW1

Some of the ‘battlefield poets’ of the First World War are well-known: Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Alan Seeger, Francis Ledwidge, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Julian Grenfell, Guillaume Apollinaire,  August Stramm, John McRae and A. Joyce Kilmer among others. You can read more about some of these by clicking here.

But there were many, many others, not polished and never published, who nevertheless captured the essence of the moment with their verse. Remember that the years preceding the war had been a romantic age, and poetry was studied in school, so it was a commonly used expository medium. Here are two examples of poetry written by anonymous British soldiers (“My Little Grey Home in the West” was a popular song of the era):

I’ve a little wet home in a trench
And the rainstorms continually drench
There’s the sky overhead, clay or mud for a bed
And stone we use as a bench
Bully beef and hard biscuits we chew
It seems years since we tasted a stew
Shells crackle and scare, yet no place can compare
With my little wet home in the trench.

Camaraderie and homesickness come out in this poem by a soldier in the Durham Pals (18th, 19th, 20th and 22nd Battalions of The Durham Light Infantry).

Harken all ye whom duty calls
to spend time within these friendly walls.
Others will sojourn when you have passed.
You were not the first and will not be the last.

Therefore take heed and do what ye may
for safety or comfort while ye stay!
Just put a sandbag here, a picture there
to make a room more safe, a wall less bare.

Think as you tread the thorny path of duty
of comfort, of security, and of beauty. So your successors when they come shall say ‘A fine battalion we relieved today.’

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official from Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and has memberships in the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Indian Military Historical Society and the Salonika Campaign Society.

1 Comment

  1. Connie Ruzich

    More forgotten poems of the war can be found at “Behind Their Lines”: https://behindtheirlines.blogspot.com

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