Leaving for the Front

 

Before I die I must find this rhyme.

Be quiet, my friends, and do not waste my time.

 

We’re marching off in company with death.

I only wish my girl would hold her breath.

 

There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m glad to leave.

Now mother’s crying too. There’s no reprieve.

 

And now look how the sun’s begun to set.

A nice mass-grave is all that I shall get.

 

Once more the good old sunset’s glowing red.

In thirteen day’s I’ll probably be dead.

August 17, 1914

(Alfred Lichtenstein was killed seven weeks later)

 

Why talk to people when an angry arms-length note posted on a lamp post will do. It involves that heady cocktail of angry neighbours, canine excrement and dumped rubbish. Let battle commence…

 

War, riots, rising unemployment and civil disobedience. It’s like the Conservative Party has never been away.

 

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away rap music wasn’t all about trainers, bitches and gold jewellery. Cop a load of this…

 

“We’re the middle children of history…no purpose or place. We have no great war, no Great Depression. Our war is a spiritual war.”

Jim Uhls

 
rotater

An amusing variety of death cries rang out from the collective pen of war comic authors during their heyday in the 1960s and 70s.

The length of the enemy’s final gasp was dictated by their nationality and whatever heinous crime they had committed.

A blow to the back of a German soldier’s head was usually registered with a simple ‘UGH’ or slightly more pronounced ‘UGGH’, while being shot started at ‘ARRG’ before moving through an increasing range of tonal death rattles from ‘ARRRG’ to the choral ‘AAAAAAAGH’.

Jumping out of a flaming tank guaranteed a good response as did being blown up in an ammunition dump.

Writers sometimes combined it with an expletive for dramatic license, such as ‘BRITISHERS – AAAG!’, ‘ENEMY AIRCRAFT! AARH!’ or “IT WAS A TRAP FOR US! AAARGH!’

The Japanese always met their end with a more high pitched ‘AIE!’ or ‘AAAAAI!’ but it was always precluded by some good anti-western sentiment, such as ‘I WILL BLAST THESE WHITE DOGS OFF THE FACE OF BORNEO’, or ‘BANZAI! FOR THE EMPEROR!’

In contrast, Allied soldiers meet their fate with stoic silence extolling the virtues of the stiff upper lip. The exception is an Australian who squeezes out an ‘EUGH!’ Then again, it can be hard to understand those antipodean accents.

 

Tony Blair’s gesture of donating the advance of his forthcoming memoirs to a veteran’s hospital has been a spectacular PR disaster.

 The ex-PM has somehow managed stumble out the ensuing wreckage with his image in even more tatters than before.

Just imagine the carnage he could wreck with outgoing BP chief executive Tony Hayward if they both found themselves employed as modern day grandees on some executive board.

It seems the higher up the greasy pole you climb, the more you are allowed to spectacularly fail and then be rewarded for it.

 

A medical orderly found the last words of Leslie Coulson carefully folded inside the dead soldier’s tunic.

They were stained in the poet’s blood and described the horror of life in the trenches during World War One.

Coulson, born the son of a warehouseman in north London, is not as well known as some of the major war poets like Wilfred Own, Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon.

But his poems continue to haunt readers several generations later.

The Times described him as ‘the most brilliant of our younger writers’ and his most famous work, Who Made the Law? and But a Short Time to Live, rank among the finest war poems written.

Coulson’s two great passions were Nature and writing, and the dreamy youngster often spent his weekends wandering the countryside surrounding London penning verse.

His ambitions as a writer led him to Fleet Street where he became an assistant editor of the Morning Post before enlisting at the outbreak of ware in 1914.

Coulson turned down the opportunity of being an officer and set sail in a troopship bound for Malta on Christmas Eve.

He would never see home again.

The 25 year-old private’s short military career got off to an inglorious start when he went down with mumps and wrote his first war poem, A Soldier in Hospital, followed by The Ebb.

A year later Coulson went into action on the beaches of Gallipoli

It was a bloody introduction to the reality of war and thousands of soldiers were slaughtered before retreating in disarray.

Coulson was wounded but promoted and then sent to France. There he found it hard to reconcile his love of Nature with the carnage of the Western Front

The landscape had become a featureless mass of mud and crater holes. Few trees were left in a countryside pounded by incessant shellfire.

The slaughter of millions of soldiers on both sides inspired Coulson to pen Who Made the Law? and But a Short Time to Live in the claustrophobic confines of the trenches.

He managed to survive nearly a year including the Battle of the Somme were some 60,000 soldiers were injured or killed on the first day.

But time was already running out.

Weeks later he was among the first wave of soldiers advancing on a fortified German position Called De-Drop Trench.

He was hit by machine gun fire and dragged back to a casualty clearing station where he died the next day.

His grief stricken father later honoured his memory by publishing a posthumous collection of his son’s poetry called From an Outpost.

Nowadays, his poetry rarely appears but the Londoner’s words continue to echo the futility of war more than 90 years after his death.

Who Made the Law? (extract)

Who spake the word that blood should splash in the lanes?

Who gave it forth that gardens should be boneyards?

Who spread the hills with flesh, and blood and brains?
Who made the law?

Who made the Law that death should stalk the village?

Who spake the word to kill among the sheaves?

Who gave it forth that death should lurk in the hedgerows?

Who flung the dead among the fallen leaves
Who made the law?

 

No boy’s journey through adolescence is complete without reading a few Sven Hassel novels about the exploits of a German penal regiment during World War II.

Penal regiments consisted of regular army conscripts convicted of various crimes. They were given the choice of lengthy sentences in military jail or service in penal units often sent to fight in the most dangerous areas.

The most infamous of these was the Dirlewanger Brigade, which was initially a unit of convicted poachers whose ranks were later swelled by criminals with convictions for rape, assault and theft along with patients from psychiatric hospitals.

Hassel wrote more than 15 novels about the adventures of the fictional 27th Panzer Regiment (penal) and its various miscreants including Porta, Tiny, the Legionnaire, Barcelona Blom and Julius Heide.

Hassel is in the books himself claiming they are based on his real life exploits as a Danish conscript sent to the regiment for desertion.

This has been challenged by several sources including Danish writer Erik Haaest who claims Hassel gathered his material from former soldiers while in jail and was, in fact, a member of a special Danish police unit established by the Gestapo.

Others say that Hassel was indeed a serving member who was heavily decorated during his military career.

Regardless, they are a cracking read and sold millions of copies during their heyday in the late 1970s/early 80s.

There are several films based on Hassels’s novels.  None have translated well to the big screen although the highlighted clip does capture the classic face-off between Tiny and the Legionnaire when they first meet.

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