Journal For Poetry Challenge#7 12/2/2012

THE DESERTER

There was a man, – don’t mind his name,Whom Fear had dogged by night and day.
He could not face the German guns And so he turned and ran away.
Just that – he turned and ran away, But who can judge him, you or I ?
God makes a man of flesh and blood Who yearns to live and not to die.
And this man when he feared to die Was scared as any frightened child,
His knees were shaking under him, His breath came fast, his eyes were wild.
I’ve seen a hare with eyes as wild,With throbbing heart and sobbing breath.
But oh ! it shames one’s soul to see A man in abject fear of death,
But fear had gripped him, so had death; His number had gone up that day,
They might not heed his frightened eyes, They shot him when the dawn was grey.
Blindfolded, when the dawn was grey, He stood there in a place apart,
The shots rang out and down he fell, An English bullet in his heart.
An English bullet in his heart ! But here’s the irony of life, –
His mother thinks he fought and fell A hero, foremost in the strife.
So she goes proudly; to the strife. Her best, her hero son she gave.
O well for her she does not know He lies in a deserter’s grave.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winifred_Mary_Letts

She was born on 10 February 1882 in Broughton, Salford, in what was then the County of Lancaster, (now Greater Manchester), to an English father (the Revd Ernest Letts) and Irish mother (Isabel Mary Ferrier).[1] She spent many childhood holidays in Knockmaroon, Phoenix Park, Dublin, which was her mother’s home.[2] After her father’s death, she and her mother returned to Ireland and lived in a house called Dal Riada in Blackrock, County Dublin.[3] She was educated first in Bromley in Kent and later at Alexandra College in Dublin. She trained as a masseuse and during World War I worked at army camps in Manchester.[4]

One of these ladies is Winifred Mary Letts I do not know which one.

In 1926 she married widower William Henry Foster Verschoyle, of Kilberry, County Kildare; they lived in Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, and in County Kildare. After his death in 1943 she lived for a time with her sisters in Faversham, Kent. She returned to Ireland in 1950 and bought Beech Cottage in Killiney, County Dublin, where she lived until finally moving to Tivoli Nursing Home, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin in the late 1960s. She died in 1972 and is buried in Rathcoole, County Dublin.[5]

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The poem is so sad, it truly displays the horror and grief of war. Young men many not old enough to vote then or even now, thrown into a hell of noise, mud , guns, bullets dying men horrible wounded shells and grenades. The noise alone was enough to drive them mad, the mud and the seeping water, trench foot, wet and cold all the time .Food infested with maggots, body lice, rats and of course the enemy trying to kill you all the time, need I go on?

Today they would be treated for Traumatic Distress Syndrome. They did eventually admit that some were suffering from shell shock, but there was hardly any treatment and many were sent  back to the front far too soon. Those who refused to go to war were known as Concious Objectors. They were shunned from society, they were tried, either sent to do the worst, dirtiest and most dangerous jobs. Some were stretcher carriers   these men never carried a rifle so staunch was their conviction that war is wrong.

The poem shows how men were reduced to frightened children or even animals. Many of these men would of been brave and ready to join up for war. How could they known that what awaited them would affect them so badly. Then shot by their own with British  bullets , in their hearts? who knows, 16 men of a firing squad, who knows? Not all their relatives were lucky enough to be left with the idea that their son died in battle , usually they were informed in harsh terms the exact details of their, son, wife or brothers’ death.  Harsh times  harsh treatment of poor ill souls.

If a men deserted when in the army he was summarily tried  and eventually taken out at dawn blind folded and shot at dawn. In ww1 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers took place. Such executions, for crimes such as desertion and cowardice, remain a source of controversy with some believing that many of those executed should be pardoned as they were suffering from what is now called shell shock. The executions, primarily of non-commissioned ranks, included 25 Canadians, 22 Irishmen and 5 New Zealanders.

Between 1914 and 1918, the British Army identified 80,000 men with what would now be defined as the symptoms of shellshock. There were those who suffered from severe shell shock. They could not stand the thought of being on the front line any longer and deserted. Once caught, they received a court martial and, if sentenced to death, shot by a twelve man firing squad.

The horrors that men from all sides endured while on the front line can only be imagined.                      If you wish to read more       http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world_war_one_executions.htm

I could say more, a lot more but I do not wish to offend anyone. I make no apology for including a poem about the deserter because they were there and they were treated badly.

Poetry Challenge #7 is to create a journal of links and your reactions to poems by established (living or dead poets.) Details are here.  Example response is here. Mr. Linky for Challenge #7 is directly below:

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