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Red Ensign

Paul Nash, written at Passchendaele (Passendale) November 1917

Evil and the incarnate fiend alone can be master of this war, and no glimmer of Godís hand is seen anywhere. Sunset and sunrise are blasphemous, they are mockeries to man, only the black rain of the bruised and swollen clouds all through the bitter black of night is fit atmosphere in such a land. The rain drives on, the stinking mud becomes more evilly yellow, the shell holes fill up with green-white water, the roads and tracks are covered in inches of slime, the black dying trees ooze and sweat and the shells never cease. They alone plunge overhead, tearing away the rotting tree stumps, breaking the plank roads, striking down horses and mules, annihilating, maiming, maddening, they plunge into the grave which is this land; one huge grave, and cast upon it the poor dead. It is unspeakable, godless, hopeless. I am no longer an artist interested and curious, I am a messenger who will bring back the word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it burn their lousy souls.

Motorhead, "1916"

16 years old when I went to war,
To fight for a land fit for heroes.
God on my side, and a gun in my hand,
Counting my days down to zero.
And I marched and I fought,
And I bled and I died,
And I never did get any older.
But I knew at the time
That a year in the line
Is a long enough life for a soldier.
We all volunteered,
And we wrote down our names,
And we added two years to our ages.
Eager for life and ahead of the game,
Ready for history's pages.
And we fought and we brawled,
And we whored 'til we stood,
Ten thousand shoulder to shoulder.
A thirst for the Hun,
We were food for the gun, and that's
What you are when you're soldiers.
I heard my friend cry,
And he sank to his knees, coughing blood
As he screamed for his mother
And I fell by his side,
And that's how we died,
Clinging like kids to each other.
And I lay in the mud
And the guts and the blood,
And I wept as his body grew colder.
And I called for my mother
And she never came,
Though it wasn't my fault
And I wasn't to blame.
The day not half over
And ten thousand slain, and now
There's nobody remembers our names,
And that's how it is for a soldier.

Laurence Binyon, "For the Fallen" (September 1914)

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Paul Nash

Paul Nash