Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Life


Life to most is but a tangle
   Woven to a web;
Music made of endless jangle
   From which no love doth ebb.

Each day's monotony and pain
   Glides rapidly away,
To swell the ever-rolling main
   Of long eternity.

And so each day moves slowly past,
   And ne’er returns again;
But memory cannot be erased
   Of sufferings past and gain.

Then let us fill each passing day
   With little deeds of love;
Then, when we too shall pass away,
   'Twill be to realms above.

M. M., Maghera.



Poem: The Witness, 12th July 1917.
Image: Spider Web in Spring, a painting by Jessica Meredith.





Wednesday, 4 July 2018

My Prayer


Help me to love instead of hate;
Help me to hope; help me to wait.
From out my store, help me give;
Thou, who knowest, help me forgive.

Help me to trust, for this is life;
Help me to work and shun all strife;
Help me to share my brother's ills;
Help me to spare, for censure kills.

Help me to lift along life’s road
My comrade, weighed with heavy load,
Help me to soar above the fret
And wrongs of life. Help me forget.




Poem from The Witness, 5th July 1918.  
Image: Meditation Mountain

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The First of July – A reflection in 1953

by H. Malcolm M‘Kee, M.C.


THE approach of Ulster's greatest day carries my mind back thirty-seven years. And I think of the men of West Belfast who formed the 9th Royal Irish Rifles. They were nearly all shipyard workers of Harland and Wolff who had left splendid wages to accept one shilling per day.

They felt it was their duty and, without a second thought, they did their duty.

Ireland was then all one. But there was danger, and the Ulster Volunteer Force had been formed, to resist force from the South. Yet when war broke out the 36th Division was formed almost completely from U.V.F. Except the Artillery.

Till the “Princess Victoria” disaster Maynard Sinclair and I were the only surviving Northern Ireland officers who went over the top in the advance on 1st July, 1916. (Or so I thought till I heard that Mr. McAuley was with us. But he was a reinforcement officer, and I had never met him.) It is wonderful how distance lends enchantment to the view. I am sometimes reminded of the film “I Spy a Dark Stranger.” In it a character says the G.P.O. in Dublin wouldn’t hold those who say they were in it on Easter Monday, 1916. And it is a large building.

The reason is that thirty per cent of officers were left behind on 1st July to replace casualties. It was anticipated that there would be heavy casualties, and there were, but if new men had come along, the old officers could have carried on. But Ulstermen, did not come, and the 36th Division, after being filled up with Englishmen, etc., finally dwindled to nothing.

But that does not detract from the glory of the 1st July. Every military critic was amazed at the steadiness and discipline of the Division, and not one other Division got so much praise.

But, as a Division from Ulster, it ended on 1st July. For example, only seventy survived out of seven hundred of the 9th Royal Irish Rifles.

As Brigadier-General F. P. Crozier, who commanded the Battalion, wrote . . . . “War is a contradiction. The fighters seldom come out best, save in this, they keep their souls intact. And that is a possession no man can take from them.

The net result of the barren, glorious bloody battle of Thiepval is that over seven hundred men of the West Belfast Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles proved their ability to subordinate matter to mind. Intellectual discipline had triumphed.

The acid test of killing and being killed had been passed by us with credit. What remained? The memories, the confidence and seventy men to carry on the torch.”

60,000 Casualties


The Battle of the Somme was barren in one sense, for no ground was gained there, and sixty thousand casualties taken on 1st July. Three hundred and sixty were taken in the whole Battle of the Somme. And no ground was taken. But the pressure on Verdun was relieved, and the Channel Ports saved. Everybody knows what happened in the recent war when the Channel Ports were lost. The French were conquered, and we had to wait for years for the Second Front.

It is rather strange the similarity in the figures. 360,000 casualties were suffered in the Battle of the Somme. 337,000 were evacuated from Dunkirk. It took 360,000 casualties to save the Ports, and France.

As Crozier writes in another book . . . “When I marched up through Thiepval Wood into action that July morn, at the head of the pick of Belfast, to the accompaniment of the deafening din of battle, I felt
   ‘Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife,
       To all the sensual world proclaim.
    One crowded hour of glorious life
       Is worth an age without a name!’

“Literally my blood boiled and saw red. The day — yea, even the hour — had arrived and I thanked my God for permitting me to share in its glories.”

That, of course, is all very well. But Crozier had been ordered not to go over at all. He did go over, for a few yards, and for a few minutes. Then he retired into a forty-foot deep dug-out where, no doubt, his blood continued to boil. Those of us who had to remain in no-man’s land felt that an age without a name was the very thing the doctor ordered. No-man’s land was far too crowded for comfort . . . with shells, machine-gun bullets, and, later, with Germans with bombs and bayonets.

Long Range War


But that sort of personal war is a thing of the past. Modern war is fought at long range. When combatants get near each other, one surrenders.

The casualties are nothing like so high. In the First War those killed in our Army alone were three times the total death in all three Services in the recent war. It was, in fact, quite a war.

In the whole of the Boer War there were 5,774 killed and 22,829 wounded. Total, 28,503. As I have said, the casualties on the first day of the Somme were over 60,000. Almost 20,000 killed.

Under 6,000 were filled in the Boer War. In the first war 1,069,825 were killed. Of these 912,451 were killed in the Army.

So war, in spite of tanks, aircraft and bombs, is getting safer. But when atom bombs are used, all the fun will depart from war. And civilians will join in whatever fun there is.

The only way to prevent war is to be strong. We are not strong. Our solitary battleship is Vanguard. Our aircraft are in plastic as there are no skilled ground-crews to look after them. Our Army hardly exists on an international scale.

I really cannot see much good in spending millions on academic education and Health Services and neglecting to prepare against annihilation.

I really cannot see much good in spending millions on academic education and Health Services and neglecting to prepare against annihilation. But any politician who uttered such a sentiment would be thrown out immediately. For people have not learned from two terrible wars that you cannot have guns and butter. Our weakness caused both wars. We got through both, but instead of having a navy twice as big as the next biggest, we are third, and America and Russia both have larger navies than ours. We are not exactly a third-rate power, but we are third.

We are nowhere as regards army and air force, and have few skilled men.

Free drugs may keep us fit, though I doubt it. But fit, may I ask, for what?

These are sad reflections on the eve of the 37th anniversary of the greatest battle the world has ever seen. When so many died in the war to end war.

The Americans did not win the First War, but they won the Second. Without America we could not even do anything except surrender in the Third.

It is our fault our fellows died in vain.



The above article was published in the County Down Spectator of Saturday, 27th June 1953.


Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Our Boys


Away in France and Flanders,
   'Neath, the rays of a scorching sun,
Our boys are bravely fighting.
   To quell the ruthless Hun.

There where the guns' loud thunder
   Rends the air with a booming sound;
Fighting, wounded, or dying.
   Faithful our lads are found.

Here is the cuckoo calling,
   While the swallow skims 'neath the blue,
And thrushes blithely carol.
   And bees sip honey dew.

For God has given us spring time,
   With its singing of birds so sweet;
And fragrant, sun-kissed flowers --
   A Paradise complete.

But still to France and Flanders,
   Or wherever the boys may be;
Our thoughts are ever turning,
   Yearning our loved to see.

Weary at times with waiting,
   We heed not the thrushes' song.
For life has so much anguish.
   And waiting days seem long.

O, here the cuckoo's calling;
   But there is the cry of pain;
And hearts fn love are yearning
   To soothe, but all in vain.

O, Father, be Thou with them!
   Guide them, guard them night and day;
Thy loving arms still round them,
   Their succour and their stay.

And speed the day, O Father,
   When this cruel war shall cease;
And nations dwell for ever
   Beneath the bow of peace.

MARGARET S. NORRIS.



Poem from The Witness, 14th June 1918
Image: On the Wire by Harvey Thomas Dunn (oil on canvas 1918)


Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Evening Brings A’ Hame.


Just a simple Scottish saying,
   Yet it comes to the mind again;
So suggestive it is of rest —
   That evening brings a’ hame.

The thought to the weary toiler,
   Whether, with hand or with brain,
Comes like a whiff of caller air,
   That evening brings a’ hame.

To dwellers on heather-clad hills,
   Or in cities of world-wide fame,
The words have a pleasant echo —
   That evening brings a’ hame.

We stand in a busy street
   When the light begins to wane;
We see the crowd of folk who pass —
   For evening brings a’ hame.

The country children watch for dad,
   They hide in the shady lane
To give him a hearty welcome
   When evening brings a’ hame.

To the tired, but patient mother,
   Whose work seems sordid and plain,
Each duty is glorified
   Since evening brings a’ home.

Now many hearts throughout the world
   With quivering lips exclaim —
“Ah, not to us, O nevermore,
   Will evening bring a’ hame.

To the weary and tempest-tossed,
   Who trust in the Father’s Name,
The Home of Rest is safe and sure,
   Then — evening will bring a’ hame.

JANE THOMSON
Cullycapple, Aghadowey.



Poem: The Witness, 31st May 1918
Image: Fields of Wild Heather on the Highlands by Paul Wolber


Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Strange Facts in War


Only one in the family,
    One loved and only son;
He fell out there on the battle line
    Where noble deeds were done:
Now there is not one.

Six sons were in the home circle;
    Now all of them are gone;
They perished there on the battle line;
    The parents are alone.
Mourning every son.

Twelve sons were in the house at home;
    And there has died not one;
One has the scar of a little wound;
    Yet all have brave deeds done,
And have bright glory won.

How is it, Lord, that such can be?
    That the one loved son is gone,
That all six sons have perished there
    To help the triumph won,
And that twelve brave sons live on?

O, say the parents who have none,
    Amid the tears they shed,
Our sons are wearing crowns of bliss
    In the bright Home overhead;
They live; they are not dead.

R. W. R. RENTOUL.



From The Witness, 16th November 1917.
Image: The Cemetery, √Čtaples, 1919 by John Lavery




Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Waitin' on the Sea


The Irish Mariner's Soliloquy

With the soul o' me in Erin, an' meself upon the sea
    Where the soundin' o' the battle I can hear,
Shure me thoughts are all in Erin, where I'm thinkin' long to be,
An the Autumn whispers tremble o'er the shinin' wave to me.
    For the time is in the fadin' o' the year.

Over there the lads are fightin' where the ceaseless bullets fall,
    But the waitin' on the waters falls to me,
An' they say the waitin's needed, but it tries you most of all,
An' you wouldn't be awonderin' why I hear me Erin call
    If you've listened to the callin' o' the sea.

Once you've seen the look o' Erin when the mists are on the corn
    You'll be mindin' it no matter where you roam,
Shure it's now I'm seein' visions o' the golden harvest morn,
An' across the rollin' waters there's a tender music borne
    That recalls to me the song o' “Harvest Home.”

Oh, they're singin' it in Erin, but they're sighin' as they sing
    For the sorrow o' the reapin' at the War,
They are wonderin' what the comin' o' the victory will bring,
For it's Erin's sons have mingled in the flghtin' for the King,
    Aye, they've answered her from other lands afar.

Shure before I did the waitin', it was me that used to go
    Where the sons o' Erin trod an alien strand,
An' I brought them back to Erin o'er the ocean's fretful flow,
There were some she'd near forgotten they had gone so long ago!
    But they hadn't lost the likin' for their land.

An' they couldn't help the yearnin' that the call o' Erin gave,
    For it whispered o' a memory pure an' blest,
An' 'twas me that took them onward to the lands that need the brave,
An' they've shared the pride o' Erin, some have shared a hero-grave
    For the glory o' the homeland in the West.

Have you ever gone athinkin' when the breakin' wave you see
    How on every shore it's just the same to view?
Other charms o' Nature differ when in distant lands you be,
But you'll always be familiar with the image o' the sea,
    An' you'll hear it singin' things you always knew.

It's the likes o' me that knows it, an' I'm thinkin' as I stay
    Where the rollin' ocean wave around me parts,
How the sea was also breakin' o'er the shore so far away,
Where I sailed the sons o' Erin to their honour's battle-day,
    Shure it seemed a link o' Erin to their hearts!

You'd have heard a welcome soundin' in its music's boundless strain,
    It had sung farewell by Erin's peaceful shore,
But the same unbroken spirit rang from out each proud refrain—
It was Glory out in Erin, it was Glory o'er the main
    Where another land it's trace o' battle bore.

I'd be likin' them to hear it when in battle now they stand,
    For they'd feel the guardian love o' Erin near.
Or if ever they were passin' to the silent Shadow-land
It would sing o' higher Glory, till they'd sleep, an' understand
    Why they died to do the winnin' o' it here.

Shure I'm wishin' I was needed where the battleships have gone,
    For you'd feel that you were doin' somethin' great,
An' you wouldn't be afearin' when the foe comes sailin' on,
But there's other kind o' danger that you mightn't think upon,
    An' it's this that makes them say you need to wait.

So I'm proud to do the waitin', though me thoughts are often twined
    With the land that sets me deepest longin' free,
But you're always like to thinkin' on the things you leave behind,
An' it's just the sorb o' Erin to be comin' to your mind
    When you have to do the waitin' on the sea.

LILY MARCUS.
Londonderry

The Witness, 15th September 1916.