Great Military Poetry

In another forum "Songs that bring a lump to your throat" I submitted
"The band played waltzing matilda" I know it's not poetry but with no apoligies I am posting the lyrics to that song as I think it is the saddest there is. The words are by Eric Bogle

When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murrays green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in nineteen fifteen my country said Son
It's time to stop rambling 'cause there's work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we sailed away from the quay
And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli

How well I remember that terrible day
How the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He chased us with bullets, he rained us with shells
And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia
But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again

Now those that were left, well we tried to survive
In a mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
But around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
And when I woke up in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying
For no more I'll go waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then turned all their faces away

And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
And their ghosts may be heard as you pass the Billabong
Who'll come-a-waltzing Matilda with me?
Kipling again --
Its called CELLS

I've a head like a concertina ,I've a tongue like a button stick
I've a mouth like an old potato and I'm more than a little sick
But I've had my fun o' the Corp'rals Guard ; I've made the cinders fly
And I'm here in the clink for a thundering drink and blacking the
Corporals eye

I started on canteen porter ,I finished on canteen beer
But a dose of gin that a mate slipped in ,it were the last that brought me here.
Twas that and an extry double guard that rubbed my nose in the dirt -
but I fell away with the Corprals stock and the best of the corporals shirt .

there's two more verses ---- and a chorus
Kipling is really good. I have his complete verse in one volume .

:nemo: :nemo:
Seaweed said:
Temporarily separated from my Kipling so only a brief quote ..
"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains .. '

.. may be a bit near the knuckle so will understand if the MOD removes this ref. The Indian Army has published Intelligence summaries on all the frontier wars giving the order of battle & many intriguing details dealing with such things as the deployment of guns in elephant draft.

Lots more Kipling - the 'Song of the Draught Animals', 'There's a Regiment A-coming up the Grand Trunk Road', 'Boots', one about the time-expired man trying not to let on that he knows all the drill when he re-enlists under a false name, 'The Troopship's on The Tide','The Wreck of the Birkenhead' ('To stand and be still ..') etc etc etc.

I'm never without Barrack Room Ballads; here's a link to all the poetry that Kipling wrote including the little known The Ballad of the Bo Da Thone. Hope that the link helps >

Quick PS:

Here's is a favourite of mine by GK Chesterton:-

The men that worked for England
They have their graves at home:
And bees and birds of England
About the cross can roam.

But they that fought for England
Following a falling star,
Alas, alas for England
They have their graves afar.

And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met,
Alas, alas for England
They have no graves as yet.

G.K. Chesterton



Lantern Swinger
A poem I adapted for Remembrance Day in Oz. With apologies and acknowledgements to John McCrae who crafted the original and Moina Michael who penned the original response.

In Flanders Fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark their place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
And, now, not hear the guns below.

The rows of dead; long years ago
They lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.
Loved and were loved; and now they lie
Beneath a peaceful, azure sky
In Flanders Fields.

Wherever right must take a stand,
From jungles green to desert sands,
From Long Tan to Afghanistan,
In near or distant foreign lands

We took the quarrel to the foe;
From failing hands we caught the torch.
We hold it high so they might know
In peace they rest, whilst poppies blow
In Flanders Fields

We hope our children never know
The pain, the misery and the woe
Of losing family, sons and daughters
Amidst the bombs, the shells, the slaughter
Of Flanders Fields

We cherish still the poppy red
That grows again where heroes bled.
We keep the faith with those who died,
Who now with former comrades bide
In Flanders Fields

For all who paid the greatest price,
Who made the final sacrifice.
This day, with pride, the poppy red
We wear in honour of all our dead.


Lantern Swinger
from Lessons of the War by Henry Reed

Naming of Parts

To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For to-day we have naming of parts.
One of my favourite poets is Robert Service:

These are from his collection, Rhymes of the Red Cross Man, 1916

Carry On!

It's easy to fight when everything's right,
And you're mad with the thrill and the glory;
It's easy to cheer when victory's near,
And wallow in fields that are gory.
It's a different song when everything's wrong,
When you're feeling infernally mortal;
When it's ten against one, and hope there is none,
Buck up, little soldier, and chortle:
Carry on! Carry on!
There isn't much punch in your blow.
You're glaring and staring and hitting out blind;
You're muddy and bloody, but never you mind.
Carry on! Carry on!
You haven't the ghost of a show.
It's looking like death, but while you've a breath,
Carry on, my son! Carry on!

And so in the strife of the battle of life
It's easy to fight when you're winning;
It's easy to slave, and starve and be brave,
When the dawn of success is beginning.
But the man who can meet despair and defeat
With a cheer, there's the man of God's choosing;
The man who can fight to Heaven's own height
Is the man who can fight when he's losing.

Carry on! Carry on!
Things never were looming so black.
But show that you haven't a cowardly streak,
And though you're unlucky you never are weak.
Carry on! Carry on!
Brace up for another attack.
It's looking like hell, but -- you never can tell:
Carry on, old man! Carry on!

There are some who drift out in the deserts of doubt,
And some who in brutishness wallow;
There are others, I know, who in piety go
Because of a Heaven to follow.
But to labour with zest, and to give of your best,
For the sweetness and joy of the giving;
To help folks along with a hand and a song;
Why, there's the real sunshine of living.

Carry on! Carry on!
Fight the good fight and true;
Believe in your mission, greet life with a cheer;
There's big work to do, and that's why you are here.
Carry on! Carry on!
Let the world be the better for you;
And at last when you die, let this be your cry:

The Song of the Soldier-born

Give me the scorn of the stars and a peak defiant;
Wail of the pines and a wind with the shout of a giant;
Night and a trail unknown and a heart reliant.

Give me to live and love in the old, bold fashion;
A soldier's billet at night and a soldier's ration;
A heart that leaps to the fight with a soldier's passion.

For I hold as a simple faith there's no denying:
The trade of a soldier's the only trade worth plying;
The death of a soldier's the only death worth dying.

So let me go and leave your safety behind me;
Go to the spaces of hazard where nothing shall bind me;
Go till the word is War -- and then you will find me.

Then you will call me and claim me because you will need me;
Cheer me and gird me and into the battle-wrath speed me. . . .
And when it's over, spurn me and no longer heed me.

For guile and a purse gold-greased are the arms you carry;
With deeds of paper you fight and with pens you parry;
You call on the hounds of the law your foes to harry.

You with your "Art for its own sake", posing and prinking;
You with your "Live and be merry", eating and drinking;
You with your "Peace at all hazard", from bright blood shrinking.

Fools! I will tell you now: though the red rain patters,
And a million of men go down, it's little it matters. . . .
There's the Flag upflung to the stars, though it streams in tatters.

There's a glory gold never can buy to yearn and to cry for;
There's a hope that's as old as the sky to suffer and sigh for;
There's a faith that out-dazzles the sun to martyr and die for.

Ah no! it's my dream that War will never be ended;
That men will perish like men, and valour be splendid;
That the Flag by the sword will be served, and honour defended.

That the tale of my fights will never be ancient story;
That though my eye may be dim and my beard be hoary,
I'll die as a soldier dies on the Field of Glory.

So give me a strong right arm for a wrong's swift righting;
Stave of a song on my lips as my sword is smiting;
Death in my boots may-be, but fighting, fighting.

My Bay'nit

When first I left Blighty they gave me a bay'nit
And told me it 'ad to be smothered wiv gore;
But blimey! I 'aven't been able to stain it,
So far as I've gone wiv the vintage of war.
For ain't it a fraud! when a Boche and yours truly
Gits into a mix in the grit and the grime,
'E jerks up 'is 'ands wiv a yell and 'e's duly
Part of me outfit every time.
Left, right, Hans and Fritz!
Goose step, keep up yer mits!
Oh my, Ain't it a shyme!
Part of me outfit every time.

At toasting a biscuit me bay'nit's a dandy;
I've used it to open a bully beef can;
For pokin' the fire it comes in werry 'andy;
For any old thing but for stickin' a man.
'Ow often I've said: "'Ere, I'm goin' to press you
Into a 'Un till you're seasoned for prime,"
And fiercely I rushes to do it, but bless you!
Part of me outfit every time.

Lor, yus; DON'T they look glad?
Right O! 'Owl Kamerad!
Oh my, always the syme!
Part of me outfit every time.

I'm 'untin' for someone to christen me bay'nit,
Some nice juicy Chewton wot's fightin' in France;
I'm fairly down-'earted -- 'ow CAN yer explain it?
I keeps gettin' prisoners every chance.
As soon as they sees me they ups and surrenders,
Extended like monkeys wot's tryin' to climb;
And I uses me bay'nit -- to slit their suspenders --
Part of me outfit every time.

Four 'Uns; lor, wot a bag!
'Ere, Fritz, sample a fag!
Oh my, ain't it a gyme!
Part of me outfit every time.


Lantern Swinger
For me its not a well known one and was penned by my Great-Grandfather when he was stationed in South africa during the Boer War. Its about his Pal, a scotsman called John Gow who. like all scotsmen was fond of the devils buttermilk. now Great Grandad was a methodist lay preacher and as such was against drinking. However despite this they were really good pals.

I have a Scottish chum, John Gow,
His cot is next to mine,
Three months' acquaintance we've had now,
So here's to him a line.

We often have our little joke,
And much he laughs at me,
He thinks me quite funny bloke,
Though this I fail to see.

To "kirk" on a Sunday eve he goes,
The "church" I make my goal;
Each service coming to a close,
We take a pleasant stroll.

The pictures sometimes us decoy,
When to the Rink we hie,
Nor could we ought much more enjoy,
Than "Comin' Through The Rye".

But sometimes, not content with tea,
John quietly slips away,
And takes a pint, or two or three,
And come back feeling gay.

Whch habit is regrettable,
In this Edinburgh lad,
So otherwise acceptable,
But for this bit of bad.

We'll soon be parting now, I fear,
Safe home I hope he'll get,
Be good as now, and let no beer
His lips again e'er wet.


War Hero
Book Reviewer
I'm a huge fan of Siegfried Sassoon myself. This one sums it up about WWI in my opinion. It's called The General.

"Good-morning; good-morning!" the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
"He’s a cheery old card," grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.
Greetings, I started the Great War at Sea Poetry Project a few months ago, trying to highlight why so little poetry relating to the war at sea gets included in World War 1 poetry anthologies. In my own research have started to look at sea themed poetry generally and war at sea poems from other wars.

Have enjoyed reading this thread....

A current favourite of mine is 'The Mine Sweepers' by Editha Jenkinson, first published in 1916.


A WORLD of heaving waves, wide skies of night,
Dark blue and shadow-filled and infinite,

Blown by the salt wind's breath.
Above — the light of stars, moon-tinted clouds,
Below — the gleaming silver surf which shrouds

The deep-laid mines of death.

And out of port and quay across the foam
Leaving familiar scenes, the joys of home.

The brave mine-sweepers go ;
Facing sea perils while our homesteads sleep,
Lone guardians of the Fleet, they vigil keep

In storm, and wind, and snow.

Signalled across the skies in flaming rift
And heralded by horns of winds which lift

Dark waves with fang-like spray
Rise heaven's tempests, but to seaman's gaze
No shade nor sound upon the vast sea-ways

Man's deadlier mines betray.

Yet out across the bar with every tide

Clearing the ship's way through the waters wide,

Fearless of storm or foe,
Guarding the traffic of the east and west,
Giving with hearts heroic of their best,

The brave mine-sweepers go.

And when the long night of the war's dark reign
Is ended, and the skies are clear again,

Of these it shall be said
No nobler lives were given for England's need,
Nor unrecorded shall be one brave deed

When the sea gives up its dead.

Greetings, the Great War at Sea Poetry Project website now has a webpage about the Zeebrugge Raid of 23rd April 1918.

The blog will be updated soon, and will be expanded to include World War 2 at Sea poetry starting with the work of Alan Ross, who saw military action with the Arctic Convoy

Alan Ross -'Survivors'

" With the ship burning in their eyes

The white faces float like refuse

In the darkness - the water screwing

Oily circles where the hot steel lies.

They clutch with fingers frozen into claws

The lifebelts thrown from a destroyer,

And see, between the future's doors,

The gasping entrance of the sea.

Taken on board as many as lived, who

Had a mind left for living and the ocean,

They open eyes running with surf,

Heavy with the grey ghosts of explosion.

The meaning is not yet clear,

Where daybreak died in the smile -

And the mouth remained stiff

And grinning, stupid for a while.

But soon they joke, easy and warm,

As men will who have died once

Yet somehow were able to find their way -

Muttering this was not included in their pay.

Later, sleepless at night, the brain spinning

With cracked images, they won't forget

The confusion and the oily dead,

Nor yet the casual knack of living."

Taken from 'Alan Ross Poems selected and introduced by David Hughes' , 2005.

epsom salt

Lantern Swinger
"Have you ever been out in the great unknown
With a hand on your dick and it isn't your own ?
Want to live in Swilly, you must be f***g bent;

To live in council housing and never pay the rent.

A place so full of scrubbers, with pimps and w**kers too,

But when it come to fighting, they'd like to piss all over you!

So come you up to Swilly, which isn't so F 'ing bad,

Our girls are free and easy, with knickers that ain't ironclad,

Their skirts are shorter than mini's, their knockers will titillate

Though their amorous aims, lead to maternity claims, its a Swilly girl for you mate
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Just come across this thread. There's some wonderful poetry in it. There is one poem that means a lot to me and ever since I came across it I have kept a copy on me. I don't know who wrote it I'm afraid, but here it is: -


When you pin that poppy on and remember those who died Remember too, the men who fought beside them and survived.

They came home to start again and struggled with their minds to forget the horror of the days and hell they left behind.

Wounded though they did not bleed, they cried for close friends lost, but fought on bravely, for they knew freedom was worth the cost.

Though they are old and scarred for life, they suffered for us all.

And in dreams, the battles rage and fallen comrades call.

So when you hear that honour roll, the names of those who died Remember too, the men who fought beside them and survived.

So agree Pete. I know of one war memorial in Brighton in a redundant church, now the Fabrica Gallery, where the men of the parish who served and returned during World War 1 are also honoured along with those who did not.
It's great to see both remembered.
War at Sea Poetry blog updated; featuring World War 2 RN poet Alan Ross 'Arctic Waking ' and Restoration poet Sir Charles Sedley.

Trying to look as some of the earlier 'War at Sea' poetry in English
One example would be John Donne (1572- 1631) 's poem 'A Burnt Ship', most probably about the Spanish ship 'San Felipe' : Donne witnessed the loss of the ship in 1597.

'A Burnt Ship'

"Out of a fired ship, which by no way
But drowning could be rescued from the flame,
Some men leap’d forth, and ever as they came
Near the foes’ ships, did by their shot decay;
So all were lost, which in the ship were found,
They in the sea being burnt, they in the burnt ship drown’d. "

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