Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Free Tram Rides


“The Belfast Corporation voted themselves free ‘passes’ on the new city tramways, on 1st January, 1905.” — City Press.

If you want gear, then never fear
   To grab and gather pelf;
But mind the penny, one or many,
   The pound will mind itself.

Our Councilmen of six times ten,
   The trustees of the people,
All sworn to ward our gold, and guard
   The town from sewer to steeple,

Have bought in fine the tramway line.
   And all its skinny horses;
And ere they die may 'lectrify
   The company’s old hearses.

But first they’ve tried and ’lectrified
   The people of the city
By issuing “pass” to every ass
   In office or committee.

Poor men may toil, and women moil.
   Their rags and hunger hiding,
While paying for each councillor
   On plush and velvet riding.

Our people work like Jap or Turk
   For barely food and clothing;
They’re so oppress’t they can’t protest,
   Nor show their silent loathing

For belted knights and baronites,
   And merchant princes many.
Who take their tram nor care a d------
   Who pays their wretched penny.

They’ll pay no more, nor go footsore,
   But show their “pass” and snigger,
And tax the poor, and crowd the car.
   And grin like any nigger!

The horses cheap can hardly creep
   Around from streets to stations.
Yet councillors now load the cars
   With their huge corporations.

No doubt they’re great and much elate,
   But then it’s hardly funny
That they should be so deuced free
   With other people’s money!

Great City Fathers! one soon gathers
   How stupid you must think us,
That we should vote and never note
   The way you all can blink us.

But are you not the meanest lot
   That ever ruled a city,
To tax the poor and load the car
   With neither shame nor pity?

From Antrim Idylls and other Poems 
by W Clarke Robinson (published 1907).


Image: Belfast City Tramways Horsecar No 23 taken in 1905 (after the corporation take-over). The car is still in the livery of the Belfast Street Tramways Company. From the National Tramway Museum.


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