POETS OF WORLD WAR I

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       John McCrae 1915
           
In Flanders Fields
  Wilfred Owen 1917
     Anthem for Doomed Youth
    Philip Johnstone 1918
       High Wood

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
  Loved and were loved, and now we lie
           In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
           In Flanders fields.
                                                        John McCrae  1915
John McCrae (1872-1918)

In Flanders Fields, probably the best-known poem of the First World War, was written in 1915 during the second Battle of Ypres. John McRae was a Canadian doctor who was appointed surgeon with the First Canadian Brigade. The death of one of his closest friends the day before caused him to write this timeless poem, which reflected his growing disillusion with the war and its unimaginable human cost. It is in part due to this poem that the poppy was adopted as the Flower of Remembrance. John Mcrae fell ill during the summer of 1917, and died of pneumonia and meningitis in January 1918
                        
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Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?
  Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
  Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
  Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
  And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
  Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
  The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
                                           
Wilfred Owen 1917

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Wilfred Owen, born in Oswestry. He enlisted in the Artists' Rifles and having completed military training, sailed for France December 1916. Nothing fully prepared him for the shock and suffering of front line experience. Within twelve days of arriving in France the easy-going chatter of his letters home turned to a cry of anguish. Most of his poetry was written while recovering in hospital from shell shock. Owen returned to the front in September 1918, won the Military Cross for gallantry in October, and was killed leading his men on 4 November, one week before the Armistice, at the age of 25
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High Wood

Ladies and gentlemen, this is High Wood,
Called by the French, Bois des Fourneaux,
The famous spot which in Nineteen-Sixteen,
July, August and September was the scene
Of long and bitterly contested strife,
By reason of its High commanding site.
Observe the effect of shell-fire in the trees
Standing and fallen; here is wire; this trench
For months inhabited, twelve times changed hands;
(They soon fall in), used later as a grave.
It has been said on good authority
That in the fighting for this patch of wood
Were killed somewhere above eight thousand men,
Of whom the greater part were buried here,
This mound on which you stand being...
                                                  Madame, please,
You are requested kindly not to touch
Or take away the Company's property
As souvenirs; you'll find we have on sale
A large variety, all guaranteed.
As I was saying, all is as it was,
This is an unknown British officer,
The tunic having lately rotted off.
Please follow me - this way...
                                           the path, sir, please,
The ground which was secured at great expense
The Company keeps absolutely untouched,
And in that dug-out (genuine) we provide
Refreshments at a reasonable rate.
You are requested not to leave about
Paper, or ginger-beer bottles, or orange-peel,
There are waste-paper baskets at the gate.
                                                   Philip Johnstone  1918

Philip Johnstone  1895-1968

Lieutenant John Purvis, under the pseudonym of Philip Johnstone, wrote this poem in February 1918, 8 months before the Armistice. Remarkably he foresees tourists visiting the killing fields after the conflict's end. High Wood, referred to in this bizarre poem, was fought over during the Battle of the Somme and finally captured by the British in September 1916 after 3 months of heavy fighting. In fact, Purvis' inspired prediction became reality sooner than he might have envisaged: soon after the war, High Wood became one of the first places to be visited by tourists. This macabre place has never been totally cleared of bodies and the debris of war. Estimates suggest that the ground contains the remains of some 8,000 British and German soldiers who were killed in action here. Even today, parts of the wood still conceal live ammunition and it is unsafe to stray from the paths.

How shall we feel at High Wood? Certainly more respectful than the seemingly indifferent visitors in Purvis' prophetic poem
                                      
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