The theme at my local writers’ group today was war. As it is the centenary of the start of WW1 there are many events in the UK this year to enable us to reflect on this collective madness, where a generation on both sides was sacrificed. I, along with most people, respond strongly to the pity of war. There have been a number of programmes on TV which have underlined this aspect. I’m thinking mainly of the documentaries on BBC. The Crimson Field was an attempt to fictionalise the front-line hospital experience but I think it was the sanitised version with soap opera elements thrown in. A more factual account by a serving nurse during WW1 can be found in War Diaries; A Nurse at the Front, by Edith Appleton.
Two of my father’s brothers were killed in action during 1915. One, John B. Nicholson was a journalist and he wrote the following poem two months before he was shot by a sniper. He was 21.
On Hearing a Lark Singing at Dawn in the Trenches.
O, Wonder Bird, what song is this you sing?
What message to us weary, war-worn men?
Is it to memories of peace you cling?
Of sunlit strath and flower-bejewelled glen?
Would you remind us of quiet country lanes?
Of ivied homesteads nestling ‘mong the hills?
Of rose-cheeked maids meandering with their swains?
Of pebbly rivulets and whispering rills?
Or do your notes protest against the fate
That forced you, neutral, from your love-lined nest,
To share the humans’ agony of hate
That found no echo in your joyous breast?
I think at times you mock great Man’s strange mind,
Which, civilised, creates an earthly Hell,
Calling it war; red murder of a kind
Undreamt by Attila before he fell.
There was a tremble in your song just now
That spoke of mate, of child-birds lost to you.
O Wonder Bird, we watchers marvel how
Your wings still flutter in that sky of blue.
Haste, herald lark, for soon your silver tune
Will die among the discord of the guns;
The heavens will shriek in agony by noon.
Hide, Wonder bird.
John B Nicholson
France, May 1915