Friday, 17 October 2014

Fairy Annals of Ulster -- No 2

"There is in all literature, nothing that can be produced which shall represent the essential spirit of a man or of a people so completely as a legend or a fairy tale." -- Household Words.

"I confess I have but a limited interest in the discoveries of antiquarians; for the best mines of antiquities are not the ruins of buried cities, but the minds of living populations." -- Ibid.


The following Annals, which terminate those collected at the Giant's Causeway, were communicated by an old man and woman, descendants of "Adam Morning," whose melancholy story is told by Hamilton in his Letters concerning the Northern Coast of Co. Antrim. To judge by outward appearance, the family circumstances are not in a more flourishing condition than they were when first noticed by Hamilton in 1784. But the realities of life, adverse as they may have been, have left the romantic element unsubdued in those ancient Mornings of the Causeway, who smiled scorn fully at the legends of the guides, as gigantic fictions, but whose faith in "Grogans" and "Fairies" was firm and undoubting.


"In troth we all know there's plenty of Fairies, as you call them, but not just about the Causeway; but there's great haunts of them between this and Knocklayde, and Carrick-a-rede. There was a man of the name of Jack McBurney that lived at the foot of Knocklayde some years ago, and one of the Gintry sent him word to change the door of his barn that faced the south to the other side, as the noise and the stour perplexed him at times. Jack changed the door; and from that out, every thing prospered with him, and there was no end to the property he left when he died.a

"There was a strange ould woman, low set, with a red cloak round her head, kem into my grandmother's one day, and says she, 'Molly, will you lind me the loan of three quarts of meal?' 'I can badly spare it,' says my grandmother, 'but here it's for you.' 'I can set no time,' says the ould woman, 'but I'll pay you when I can.' ' Very well,' says my grandmother, 'you're intirely welcome.' There was a scarcity of meal a while after that, and it was hard enough for the neighbours to get what they wanted; when in kem the little ancient woman one ev'nin', and says she, 'I'm come to pay the meal you lint me.' 'Troth an' I was'nt thinkin' about it,' says my grandmother. 'I know that,' says the little woman, 'but here its back to you, lucky.' 'There's too much, intirely,' says my grandmother, 'and far over what I gev you.' 'No matter for that,' says the ancient woman, 'I did'nt intind you to want meal till the harvest, and mind, Molly, what I'm telUn' you, its made of our top pickle, and it wont fail you;' and no more it did, we had neither to by nor borrow from that day till long after the harvest was settled.

"The top pickle of all grain belongs to the Gintry; sometimes they claim it, and sometimes not, accordin' as it's required. When it falls of itself, or in a shako by the wind, it's never left on the ground to go to loss. People should give or lind when they have it; a stingy man or woman never thrives with what they keep, and nobody knows who they're refusin' -- God save us from harm.

"I had an aunt that was taken away by the Gintry different times whin she was an infant, but they always brought her back before day-break; when she was just born, they wanted to take both mother and child, but were privinted. The husband happened to be late out in the fields one evenin', and was sittin' restin' himself, and he hears some talk near him, and what was it but a small troop of Gintry plannin' what they were goin' to do. He listened, and heard them sayin', 'We'll go to such a house (his own), and carry off the woman, and lave a black stick in her place;' thin they began to prepare double horses, two to every rag-weed, and off they wint. 'I'll go there too,' says the man to himself, 'and may-be be there before you.' He mounted his horse, that was grazin' beside him with the halter on, and takin' a near cut, was at the house first, and the wife was safe for that time. My aunt grew up very good lookin', and married a boy that was a weaver by trade; the father and mother did'nt like the match too well, for they thought him hard and selfish; and sure enough, before ever she wint home to him, he asked her to spin him a web's yarn. The mother thought he was early settin' her to work; but the girl wished to plaze him, and comminced spinnin' early and late, but there was hardly a day that something did'nt go wrong with the wheel, and nobody could mend it right. This vexed my aunt sorely, for she wished to have the yarn ready at the time her husband mentioned. One day, the spool having gone to smash, she was sittin' sorrowful, while her father was tryin' to mend it, when something that she could'nt see whispered to her to look in the blind window beside the fire place; so she wint to the window, and under some chaff that happened to be in it, she found a heap of silver. She called to her father never to mind botherin' himself mendin' the broken spool any more, as she had found as much money as would buy all the yarn she wanted. 'Let it stand till I see it,' says her father; but as true as the sun is shinin', not a fraction of the silver was in the blind window when he came.b My aunt was wrong intirely to let on about the silver; it was a gift from the Gintle people, and she should'nt have mentioned it to man or mortial."


"I don't know much about the Fairies, or 'Gintle people,' as we call them, barrin' that if they don't do us any good these times, they niver did us any harm that ever I heard tell of.

"The Grogans used to give great help to them they took a fancy to. They are little men, about two feet high or so, stout built, broad-shouldered, and as strong as any twelve men. One of them gev great help to my grandfather, time after time, at the harvest, and would have left a rood of oats cut and stooked neater than any man livin' could do. But the Grogan gev the most help in the winter at the thrashin'; many a sack of oats he thrashed for my grandfather, leavin' the straw bottled, and the corn neatly sorted up in the corner of the barn; he always took the flail away with him, not wishin' any one to handle it after him.

"There was something past common in the way of meat at one time in the house during the winter, and my grandfather thought he would give the Grogan share, so he left it in the barn ready for him; but from that out, he forsook the place intirely, takin' affront because my grandfather thought he wanted meat, or would work for the like. They are no ways rivingeful; but it is best not to cross them, but let them take their own way in every respect, and to offer them nothin'. They are often heard in the night, workin' for themselves, or the owner of the place, if they like him. They have no fancy for a man that's stingy in his ways or ill-tempered; but they work hard for a man that has a spirit and is good-humoured.c It is easy knowing when a Grogan is at work by the noise he makes in the night-time. They are greatly out of date by what they were in my grandfather's time; but there's plenty of them to the fore, both in this country and in Scotland, no doubt, if they were inquired after."

To be continued...

[a] The Scottish fairies sometimes reside in subterranean abodes, in the vicinity of human habitations -- or, according to the popular phrase, under the "door stane," or thresh hold, in which situation they sometimes establish an intercourse with men by borrowing and lending, and other kindly offices. In this capacity they are termed "good neighbours," from supplying privately the wants of their friends, and assisting them in all their transactions, while their favours are concealed. Of this the traditionary story of Sir Godfrey Maculloch forms a curious example. As this Gallovidian gentleman was taking the air on horseback, near his own house, he was suddenly accosted by a little old man, arrayed in green, and mounted on a white palfrey. After mutual salutation, the old man gave Sir Godfrey to understand that he resided under his habitation, and that he had great reason to complain of the direction of a drain, or common sewer, which emptied itself directly into his chamber of dais.* Sir Godfrey Maculloch was a good deal startled at this extraordinary complaint; but, guessing the nature of the being he had to deal with, he assured the old man, with the greatest courtesy, that the direction of the drain should be altered, which was done accordingly. Many years afterwards, Sir Godfrey had the misfortune to kill, in a fray, a gentleman of the neighbourhood. He was apprehended, tried, and condemned: † the scaffold upon which his head was to have been struck off was erected on the Castle-hill of Edinburgh; but hardly had he reached the fatal spot, when the old man, upon his white palfrey, pressed through the crowd with the rapidity of lightning. Sir Godfrey, at his command, sprang on behind him; the "good neighbour" spurred his horse down the steep bank, and neither he nor the criminal was ever again seen.
Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, vol. 2.

* The best chamber was thus currently denominated in Scotland, from the French dais, signifying that part of the ancient halls elevated above the rest, covered with a canopy. The turf seats which occupy the sunny side of a cottage wall are also termed the dais.
† In this particular the tradition coincides with the real fact -- the trial took place in 1697.

[b] "Like fairy gifts, fading away." -- Moore.

[c] If it be true "that primitive fairy traditions are modified both by the character of the people and the romance peculiar to each district in which they are received," his country confers on the Irish Grogan or Goblin a moral superiority which his English relative, immortalized in Milton's L'Allegro, might envy, could he be supposed capable of appreciating it.
The Saxon Goblin drudges and sweats, and plies his shadowy flail solely for the sake of the "cream-bowl duly set," and flings out of doors, crop full, before cock-crow, leaving his character of a selfish, sensual, lubbar-fiend, behind him.
The Irish Goblin works for love, and for those who deserve his love; and is mortally offended at the bare idea of a recompense in any shape. It is true he takes the flail away; but, used by him, it had become the implement of a gentleman, never afterwards to be soiled by vulgar handling.

The above article is reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 7, 1859.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

To the Living among the Dead

Go and seek the flowering blooms
Blossoming round the silent tombs,
While the pale moonlight doth fall
Softly o'er the churchyard wall.

Let only sacred thoughts pervade
Our hearts, while where our friends are laid
We wander, and still the heartache so fierce.
While sorrow our bosom doth keenly pierce.

Softly tread among the dead,
Let them rest in their earthly bed,
While the moon doth hallow the sacred ground,
Softly casting its light around.

Cast away all thoughts of woe.
Let sin and suffering from us go,
And as a mantle clothes us round,
This holy spell wraps us -- deep, profound.

An organ near doth sweetly flow
With sounds, now dulcet, soft, and low,
Now thundering forth its deep applause --
E'en forming a ladder from earth to God.

Oh! beauteous night of calm and peace,
That, from the day's hard toil released
Soft issues, while the zephyr's blow
The star shine on night's brow doth glow.

Then happy they whose thoughts commune
With those who, from the cold grey tomb,
Have upwards fled, and now sublime,
Aloft in heaven, they glorious shine.

Why mourn, then, for the happy dead,
Whose race is run, whose sorrows fled?
But with our purpose nobler planned,
May'st then our life in God command.

So that when earth has passed away,
Our sunset gone, our life now in decay,
Our star, more golden, more divine,
May in heaven's firmament more lustrous shine.

A. M.

Reprinted from The Witness of 16th October 1914

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Fairy Annals of Ulster -- No 1 (pt 2)

"FAREWELL rewards and Fairies,
Good housewives now may say;
For now foule sluts in dairies
Doe fare as well as they.
And though they swepe their hearths no less
Than mayds were wont to doe;
Yet who of late, for cleanlynesse,
Finds sixpence in her shoe?"
            DR. CORBET, 1635.

The following Annals, redolent of the County Donegal, are given, as nearly as possible, in the words of the narrator, an elderly woman, of the Roman Catholic persuasion, born and bred in Innishowen, but settled down in the vicinity of Bushmills, in the Co. Antrim.

As might be expected from her antecedents, she was a sincere professor of the Fairy faith, one who loved and feared the Gentle People, and an honest chronicler of their sayings and doings.


Are there any Fairies about the Giants' Causeway? "Oh no," she replied, "but they say there's some above Bushmills, up the Bush river, at the Ness Rocks, and such like places; but there's far more, aye, plinty of them, in Innishowen, where I came from; and the rayson of that is, there's few churches there. The Gintry don't like to live near churches, or ugly Meetin'-houses; they like a scroggery, where there be's heaps of gentle bushes, and to be about the walls of ould castles that was destroyed at the time of the disolation of Ireland."

"They were the only Gintry in the world at one time, but a bigger people took place, and things changed by degrees; they were put down, and they live underground ever since.e If they are molested in their habitations, and they warn you about it, take the warning, or be sure it will be worse for you. My mother tould us when we were near Gintle bushes, or the green rings that the little Gintry makes, to spake them fair and mannerly, and to say -- 'Come when you will, and go when you will, but your heels to me;' and we never forgot that. The childer used to be far more mannerly and gentler like then nor they are now, because they don't hear about the Gintle People as they did in my time. They were kinder in their behaviour to ould people, and liked to sweep up the floor before they wint to their beds, thinkin' the Gintle People might be on it before mornin': they don't think that way now, move's the pity, for they're far rougher in their ways, and uncivil like.

"My grandfather lived in Innishowen, and took a sore leg, and wrought with the doctors for many a day, and had to sell one of the cows to pay them; but no matter for that, the leg grew the longer the worse: so he got up one night before day-break, for he could'nt lie with the pain of it, and he went a piece along the road on the crutches. It was summer, and the road was dusty, and the times bad, and markets high. All at once he heard a sound as if somebody was batin' the dust off the boots or shoes; and he sees a little Gintleman, dressed in green, with beautiful top-boots, ridin' on somethin', and batin' the dust off his boots with an elegant cuttin' whip he had in his hand. 'Good mornin', good man,' says the little Gintleman. 'God save your Honour,' says my grandfather. 'What's the matter with you?' says the little Gintleman; 'you look but poorly.' 'It's a leg I have, please your Honour, that's killin' me outright.' 'Well,' says the little Gintleman, 'work no more with the doctors these times when money's scarce and markets high, but make a salve of herbs, after my directions, and you'll do.' So he tould my grandfather what herbs he was to gather, and thin he put his hand in his pocket, and gev him the full of it of silver.

'Who am I to thank for this kindness?' says my grandfather. 'I am the Commander of the small Gintry of Ireland,' says the little Gintleman, 'goin to war with the officers of the little Gintry of Scotland, on account of them raisin' the markets in that country, till the meal is seven thirteens a score.'

'God prosper your Honour,' says my grandfather, 'but when you're fightin', how am I to know who wins the battle?'

'I'll tell you what you'll do,' says the Commander, 'go up to the fort to-morrow evenin', and sit down under the Gintle bush that's growin' beside it, and put your car to the ground, and listen, and you'll hear music. It will be loud and bould at first, and as long as you hear that, I'm bate; listen on, and when you hear music sweet and gentle, I'm winnin'.'

"So the Commander disappeared, and my grandfather wint accordin' to direction, the next evenin', to the Gentle bush, beside the fort; and he listened and heard music, loud and impident like, for a long time, and his heart failed, for he knew our side was a batin'; but after a while he hears the sweet, low music beginnin', and it put the other out entirely, and thin my grandfather clapped his hands, and shouted 'We've won!' and, sure enough, the markets fell, and the meal come down to three thirteens the score."

"Was the loud and impudent music the Bagpipes?" said I, "To be sure it was," was the reply, "and the sweet music was the harp all out. -----

"My grandmother used to sweep up the hearth, and put on a fire, and set a creepy beside it for any of the little Gintry, or any friend (God knows) belongin' to her who was under the ground, that might like to come and sit at it in the night time. A little Gintlewoman, dressed in green, used to come, night after night, and sit, mournful like, by the fire; and my grandmother used to watch her goin' to the childer's beds, and happin' them if the clothes went aft' them.

"One night my grandmother took it into her head, that may-be the little Gintlewoman might be hungry, and she got ready some tay, and put it on the dresser, to be waitin' for her: so, when the little Gintlewoman went down to the room, as usual, to see the childer, when she came up, my grandmother asked her, might she make so free as to requist her to take some refrishment. The Gintlewoman never spoke a word, but laid her hand on my grandmother's shoulder, and looked in her face, not angry, but stedfast, and grieved like, and went out, and never came back. It affronts the Gintry if you offer them meat, as if it was for the sake of that, or any lucre, that they do you a good turn; they have plinty of victuals in their own habitations underground, and they dont like any of ours to be evened to them.

"If any of their Gintle bushes happens to be cut down, the Gintry is sure to revinge it some way or an other. There was a boy in Innishowen that wanted a stick to mend his boat, and he set himself to cut a bush belonging to the Gintry. My grandfather warned him not to do it, but the boy was rash, and needed the stick, so he cut the bush, and repaired his boat. He went out in it to fish, and got three other boys to go with him, and my grandfather was in his own boat, fishin', not far from them. The day was fine, and the sea as smooth as a pan of milk; but he saw the boat with the boys in it tossin' and swayin', and pitchin' at a fearful rate, and them pullin' for the bare life to get her ashore; and they did, with enough to do, for they were within an ace of being drownded. After some time, the boy took out his boat again to the fishin', and got another buy to go with him; but, as true as we have all to meet death, they were both drownded, and the boat drifted ashore, and lay for years on the strand, nobody touchin' her.

"At last, when the matter was mostly out of people's minds, a bad year of firin' came on, and one of the neighbours thought he might make use of the ould boat; so he broke it up, and carried part of it home to help the fire. When it was put on, it crackled, and spit, and flashed, and flamed up to the roof-tree, and it was as much as they could do to prev hit the house being burnt to the ground; so the neighbours gathered, and buried the rest of the boat, and thin there was pace with it."

[e] "Our Celtic and Gothic ancestors, whether Germans, Scandinavians, or Gauls, imagining there was something magical and beyond the reach of man in "mechanic" skill and industry, could scarcely believe that an able artist was one of their own species, or descended from the same common origin. This, it must be granted, was a very foolish conceit. These conceit, but let us consider what might facilitate the entrance of it into their minds. There was, perhaps, some neighbouring people which bordered upon some Celtic or Gothic tribe, which, though less warlike than themselves, and much inferior in strength and stature, might yet excel them in dexterity, and, addicting themselves to manful arts, might carry on a commerce with them sufficiently extensive to have the fame of it spread pretty far.
"These circumstances agree with the Laplanders, who are still as famous for their magic as remarkable for the [--?--] of their stature; pacific, even to a degree of cowardice, but of a mechanic industry which must have appeared very considerable. The stories that were invented of this people, passing through the mouths of so many ignorant relators, would soon acquire all the degrees of the marvellous of which they were susceptible.
"As the dwarfs were feeble and of small courage, they were supposed to be crafty, full of artifice and fancies, having received the seal of time and universal consent, it was the business of the poets to assign a fit origin for such ungracious beings; this was done in their pretended rise from the dead carcase of a great giant. Maggots at first, afterwards God bestowed upon them understanding and cunning, By this fiction, the Northern warriors justified their contempt of them, and, at the same time, accounted for their small stature, their industry, and their supposed propensity for inhabiting caves and clefts of the rocks.
"After all, the notion is not every where exploded, that there are, in the bowels of the earth, "Fairies,* or a kind of dwarfish and tiny beings, of human shape, remarkable for their riches, their activity, and malevolence. In many countries of the North, the people are still firmly persuaded of their existence. In Iceland, at this day, the good folks shew the very rocks and hills in which they maintain that there are swarms of these subterraneous men, of the most tiny size, hut most delicate figures." Mallet's Northern Antiquities.
* "I have, in this one place of the translation, applied the word "Fairies" in our common English notion of it; but our author generally uses the French word Fees (or fairies) to signify, not the little imaginary dwarfish beings to which we appropriate the to the words, but to express the Fates or Destinies, or these inferior female Divinities who are supposed to watch over the lives and fortunes of individuals. In this, he seems to have had an eye Oriental fables, rather than to those of genuine Gothic origin: the dut vol' translator requiring me to follow him, I beg to apprize the reader of our author's application of the word." -- Translator.

The above article is reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 6, 1858.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Fairy Annals of Ulster -- No 1

In the old days of the King Artour

•      •      •      •      •      •      •

All was this londe ful filled of faerie;
The elf-quene, with her joly compagnie
Danced ful oft in many a grene mede,
This was the old opinion, as I rede;
I speke of many hundred yeres ago;
But now can no man see none elves mo.
              CHAUCER. -- Wife of Bath's Tale.

"BUT lost -- for ever lost to me those joys,
Which reason scatters, and which time destroys.
Too dearly bought, maturer judgment calls
My busied mind from tales and madrigals;
My doughty giants, all are slain or fled,
And all my knights -- blue, green, and yellow -- dead!
No more the midnight fairy tribe I view,
All in the merry moonshine, tippling dew;
Ev'n the last lingering fiction of the brain,
The churchyard ghost, is now at rest again.
Enchantment bows to wisdom's serious plan,
And pain and prudence mar and make the man.


The following legends or "Fairy Annals" were collected during a residence, in the summer of 1857, in the vicinity of the Giants' Causeway, and in that of 1858, in the neighbourhood of Cushendall (Co. Antrim), at the request of the Editor of this Journal, who wished to ascertain to what extent the belief in the supernatural, in its various manifestations, still existed in our northern province. The conditions favourable to the success of an investigation of this nature were wanting, apparently at least, in the locality first mentioned. The scenery of the coast, magnificent as it is, was not "Fairy" scenery. The land, though well cultivated, possessed but little sylvan beauty; and was inhabited chiefly by a sober, industrious, Presbyterian community, working hard for daily bread, diligent in attendance at their Calvinistic places of worship, and in whom the "romantic element," had it ever existed, might have been supposed to be -- if not preached outa -- at least ground out, under the pressure of high rents. But the land though not picturesque, had a few green spots, still believed to be the haunts of the "Gentle People;" and a friendly intercourse established with its kind-hearted and simple inhabitants, sufficiently proved that the profession of a stern and gloomy mode of faith was not incompatible with this element, and that the pressure from without had not altogether extinguished it.

In Dunluce Castle, Mave Roe, the Banshee or Warning Spirit of the MacDonnells, was believed to rest occasionally from her wanderings, in one of the desolate chambers of those magnificent ruins, remarkable for its cleanliness; but, beyond the silent awe with which her apartment was regarded, little seemed to be felt or known respecting the mournful spirit.

What visitor to the "Causeway" has not heard some of the thousand-and-one tales of its Giant artificers -- Fin Mac Cool and his legions -- of whose work the world has seen no second copy? But these local tales (ingenious and humorous as many of them are) are no longer believed even by their probable authors -- the "Causeway Guides." Science has almost smiled them down; and, in their stead, we must now be content to listen to a dry chapter of Geology, illustrated by a box of specimens of the unvarying model adopted by these learned Thebans, whose "doughty giants" are alas! "all slain or fled."

Powerful in utterly demolishing the strongholds of the Giants, the torch of science must "pale its ineffectual fires" beneath the lights from Fairy-land. We have yet to learn why those lights, still brightly shining among ourselves, should have also illumined the popular mind in all countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and, as has been recently shown, have shed their rays in the far West, amidst our brethren, the Red Indians of the American prairies.b

It is more than poetically true that the belief in Fairies is not a mere "mid-summer night's dream." We have them in Ulster, in this nineteenth century, in all the "pomp, pride, and circumstance" with which they are invested in the ancient mythology of Iceland. They are with us (as is clearly demonstrated in these Annals) to improve our morals and our habits, to reward and punish, to delight and terrify, to torment and amuse, and even to combat in serried legions for our material interests; while, unlike some spirits of modern times, they come without "rapping."

Dr. Dryasdust, the sage philosopher, who probably presides over this and other similar Journals, may, if he can, in the plenitude of his wisdom, discredit the universal testimony of mankind as to the reality of these spiritual existences. The annalist of the Fairies of Ulster bows in modest silence before it; and, to sanction the introduction of their "Annals" into pages so erudite, pleads the words of Charles Dickens, who assures us that "There is in all literature nothing that can be produced which shall represent the essential spirit of a man, or of a people, so completely as a legend, or a Fairy-tale. The wild freaks of fancy reveal more of the real inner life of man than the well-trimmed ideas of the judicious thinker." K.

The adventures recorded in the two following Annals were communicated by a respectable farmer, far advanced in years (now no more), who resided in a well-known hamlet or "town," consisting of six houses only, situated at the confluence of the river Bush with the sea, and from that circumstance deriving its name, Bush-foot. This river, celebrated for its salmon-fishing, attracts, as might be expected, the lovers of "the gentle craft," in great numbers, each season to its banks; some of whom, with occasionally a few families of the so-called better classes, prefer the accommodations the "town" affords, to those of watering-places of greater size and pretension, on account of its vicinity to the Giant's Causeway, and other portions of the magnificent scenery of the Antrim coast; and who, at times, gladly avail themselves of the companionship of its singularly unsophisticated, quiet, and intelligent inhabitants. This companionship has insensibly refined the manners and language of the villagers, and accounts, in some measure, for the style in which our old friend the farmer told his tale. In him, the belief in Fairies and other supernatural beings was not a superstition, but a faith; and in all earnestness and sincerity he commenced his narrative, as follows:


"I was tradin' at one time, back and forward on the coast of Scotland, in a smack belongin' to a merchant in Greenock; our cargo was sometimes fish, but mostly oil of different kinds, that we took from one port to another. I never can forget what happened to me one winter, many years ago.

We were off the west coast, and the weather was rough and stormy; it blew so hard one day that we had to run for it, and took shelter in a small bay in Islay, along with eight or ten fishing boats, driven in by the gale to the same place. There were three men besides myself on board the smack. We got the oil-casks ashore, and hauled the smack up as far as 'we could on the beach, and kept her up with a leg on each side; and the three hands went to spend the remainder of the day and night with some acquaintances they had on the island, leavin' me in charge of the smack.

I amused myself watchin' the fishermen settlin' their nets and sortin' their fish, for they had caught plenty before the wind got up; and when it grew dark I went below, took my supper, and got into my berth for the night. I can't say how long I slept, until I was awoke by a noise on deck like people dancin'; and nice music, softer and sweeter than any ever I heard before, playin' at a little distance: at times I took it for the pipes, but no pipes ever came up to it for sweetness. After listenin' for a while, I got up and looked out; there was nothin' to be seen on deck, and the music sounded as if it was a mile off, and at last died away.

I went below, greatly surprised at what had happened, and was soon asleep once more in my berth. Again I was awoke by the dancin' over my head, and the music, that sounded louder than at first. I lay for some time listenin', and expectin' it would stop, but no such thing: at last I got up and called out, crossly enough, for them to leave that, whoever they were, or it would be worse for them. I had a pair of pistols in the cabin, and takin' one of them in my hand, I went up a second time; but nothin' was to be seen, and the music soundin' as before, at a great distance, soit as ever. I began to think it was some of the fishermen that were playin' these tricks on me, so I says, "Boys, there has been enough of this; mind your own business, and let me alone from this out, or maybe you'll get the like of this about your ears;" and with that, I fired off the pistol, but no one spoke: all was quiet, except the music far away.

I lay down, and after a time fell asleep, but once more I was startled worse than ever; for I heard the oil-casks scringin' on the beach -- which was shingly -- as if they were goin' to be staved, rollin' backwards and forwards at a fearful rate. I charged the pistols, and takin' one in each hand, I went up, determined, whoever it was, to make them pay dearly for that sort of fun; but I declare I was scared when I saw nobody on, or in sight of the smack, and the barrels lyin' as we left them on the beach; but the music had stopped, and instead of it, I heard a noise like children laughin' and talkin' far off in the distance. All I could do was to rage and swear that I would shoot whoever made any more disturbance, and down I went to ray berth; but there was no sleep for me the remainder of the night: sometimes the dancin' would begin, and the music; then that would stop, and the casks would begin scringin' over the shingles; then I would hear scrapin' and borin', as if they were makin' holes in the sides of the smack. Day broke at last, and when I looked out I saw some of the fishermen coming down the country to their boats. 'Well,' said they to me, 'you had pleasant company last night.' 'I had plenty of noise,' says I, 'but no company that I saw.' 'Well, we saw plenty of good company on and about the smack; but we left the place entirely to them and you, thinkin' it safest not to stay when we wer'nt wanted.' They saw the Gentle People dancin' on the deck to the music, and sportin' about the smack, and they went off, leaving their boats and the fish lyin' about."

"And you really think, Mr. H. it was the Fairies all the time?" I asked.

"To be sure it was," he replied; "and I would have seen them as well as the fishermen did, if I had'nt sworn and spoke so cross at the start. People should speak civilly to the Gentle People, or else say nothin'; for if you provoke them they will have their revenge, one way or other.

I was comin' home from Coleraine one night long ago, with my wife and the schoolmaster on the car. I was sittin' on one side, and they on the other. We saw a great light shinin' on the road a good way on before us. When we came up to it I saw nothin' on my side but the bright light: it was at a new road that had been made, where a hill had been levelled through an old fort that was there at that time. My wife and the schoolmaster saw a company of small ladies and gentlemen in a large room, blazin' with light, in the bank under where the fort was, some walkin', some sittin', but all talkin' and laughin'. None of us spoke, for fear, as we drove past; but the schoolmaster, to the day of his death, never forgot the sight he saw of the beautiful company in that blazin' room, and many a time spoke to my wife about it."

"Where do you think the Fairies came from?" I asked.

"Many of them have been in this country from the earliest time," he replied. "Fleets of them came over from Orkney and Norway, sailing in egg-shells; and it is a fashion still among the country-people to teach their children, after they have eaten an egg, to run their spoon through the end of the shell, to prevent the Gentle People using them again for boats to sail away from us."c

"Where do you think they live now?" I inquired.

"Mostly in their underground habitations; but since the gospel was preached in this country, it was too strong for them, and they are greatly dispersed; some say they have taken to the air, but God only knows.


"One mornin', some years ago, in hind-harvest, before day-break, Jemmy Thompson and I got up to look about some young cattle we had grazin' near the Bush; there had been a great deal of rain, and there was the largest flood in the river that any of us had seen; it was over the Cutts entirely when we went down. It was one of the spring-tides at the fall of the moon, at the time, and a westerly wind blowin' in pretty strong. I never saw a greater commotion at the mouth of the Bush than there was that mornin', -- between the breakers as they came foamin' up, and the flood in the river. We stood lookin' at the wild picture before us, when all at once we saw a tall figure of a man standin' on one of the pillars in the middle of the Bush, with a long, loose grey cloak on him, his face turned next the strand, so that we could not see it. We were scared at first -- Jemmy worse than I was -- when we saw the man (as we took him to be) in such a place, where nobody could have got to him, even in a boat, in such a surge of water. Scared as I was, I hailed him, and asked how he got there. There was no answer. I hailed a second time, and asked could we help him: after a little he moved himself, but did not speak or turn his face to us. 'Come away, Alick,' says Jemmy, 'we're too long here:' and indeed by that time I was ready enough to go, for I was weak at the heart with fear, and Jemmy was worse. We turned home, never looking back. Jemmy went to his bed, but I did'nt; and when the family got up, and the breakfast over, I went in to see Jemmy. I found him in bed, and it shakin' under him, he trembled at such a rate, and the perspiration hailin' off him with the fright he got!"

"What do you think the figure was?" I asked.

"It was the Grey Man" he replied, "he has been often seen along this coast; there is a path called after him 'the Grey Man's path,' at Fair Head, as every body knows."

"Who or what is the Grey Man?

"I know very well what he was," replied he; "it was clear enough that mornin' for us to see the colour of the cloak he had on, and we could have seen his cloven foot, only he was standin' in the water that was over the pillar at the time!"d

The foregoing startling incident forms a striking contrast, in its details, to the former "Gentle" experience of our friend, the farmer. If, as the poet informs us,
"From his brimstone bed, at break of day,
A-walking the Devil had gone,"
the intense realism of his appearance to the two awe-struck and terrified spectators proves the fact, that a belief in this living and terrible personage still exists in the Church of which they were members.

To be continued...

[a] "The Kirk was the agent in suppressing the romantic element in Scotland; and this explains the fact that so many Scotch literati have been Episcopalians." Athenaeum, May, 1858.

[b] Far and wide among the nations
      Spread the name and fame of Kwasind;
      No man dar'd to strive with Kwasind,
      But the mischievous Puk-Wudjies,
      They the envious little people,
      They the fairies and the pygmies,
      Plotted and conspired against him.
                           LONGFELLOW'S Hiawatha.

[c] Reginald Scott, in his Discovery of Witchcraft (1584), says it was believed that witches could sail in an egg-shell, a cockle, or a muscle shell, through and under the tempestuous seas. -- Stevens, Notes on Macbeth.

[d] The ghastly humour with which the "Deil" was associated in the popular Scottish mind, was, perhaps, more terrible than the awe which he inspired. Inexplicable as many of the phenomena of witchcraft scorn to be, the key to the whole belief is the intense realism with which our ancestors thought of the "Enemy." He was not a principle of evil only, but a real, living, terrible personage, who could manifest himself in the flesh whensoever he pleased. In fact, he was "a familiar terror, and might pass out of the invisible into the visible world any moment." Chambers.

The above article is reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 6, 1858.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Story of the Deluge - 4,600 years ago

The Ark Tablet in the hands of its decipherer,
Dr. Irving Finkel (Benjamin McMahon)
On Sunday's edition of Sunday Morning Live, one of the guests was Irving Finkle, an archeologist with the Middle East dept of the British Museum. Dr. Finkle has come to prominence recently after the publication of his book, The Ark before Noah. It tells the story of an Assyrian cuneiform tablet that was brought into the museum 30 years ago and which, after examination, was discovered to relate the story of the great Flood millennia before that of Noah and of Dr. Finkle's subsequent research into it.

The story of The Flood predating that of the Bible has a much longer history however being first brought to light in 1872 by George Smith, who worked in the British Museum studying fragments of cuneiform tablets from Nineveh in Mesopotamia. Among these fragments he found a story about the great deluge containing a Mesopotamian version of The Flood, with the dove, the ark and their equivalent of Noah. Funded by the Daily Telegraph Smith went to Nineveh where he found more tablets. The story, fleshed out from these Babylonian, Assyrian and Sumerian tablets, became known as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Since that time the story has come and gone and the article below tells the story of another such discovery which was reported in The Witness newspaper of 24th July 1914.


Flood Tablet - Penn Museum
Some remarkable tablets in the vaults of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, have recently been translated by Dr. A. Poebel, of the John Hopkins University. Dr. Poebel had written for the university museum some of the most interesting results of his work, an account of which appears in The New York "Times." These included the stories of the Creation and of the Deluge, as told on some of the tablets. In the Story of the Deluge it is stated --

"At that time Ziugiddu was King, a pashish-priest of Enki; daily and constantly he was in the service of his god." In order to requite him for his piety, Enki informs him that, at the request of Enlil it has been resolved "in the council of the gods, to destroy the seed of mankind," whereupon Ziugiddu -- this part of the story, however, is broken away -- builds a big boat and loads it with all kinds of animals.

For seven days and seven nights a rain-storm rages through the land, and the flood of waters carries the boat away, but then the sun appears again, and when its light shines into the boat Ziugiddu sacrifices an ox and a sheep.

Lastly we find Ziugiddu worshipping before Enlil, whose anger against men now has abated, for he says -- "Life like that of a god I gave to him," and "an eternal soul like that of a god I create for him," which means that Ziugiddu, the hero of the Deluge story, shall become a god.


A Babylonian story of the Deluge, continues Dr. Poebel, has been known ages for a long time from a poem, that is imbedded in the famous Gilgamesh epic. There exist, also, several fragments of other versions of the story, and the museum possesses a small fragment of thirteen partially preserved lines, which was published by Professor Hilprecht some years ago.

Our new text, however, is an entirely different account, as will be seen from the fact that the hero bears a name different from that found in the other Deluge stories.

A Flood tablet in the British Museum
But what makes the new account especially important is that it is not, like the other versions, written in the Semitic Babylonian language, but in Sumerian -- that is, the old tongue of the non-Semitic race which, in the earliest days of history, held away over Babylonia.

As will be seen from some of the quotations, the text is a kind of poetical composition, and as such was originally not intended to be merely a historical record, but served some practical, ritualistic, or other purpose. For various reasons, it seems to me that our tablet was written about the time of King Hammurabi (2117-2075), thus being the oldest Babylonian record we have at the present time of the Creation as well as the Deluge. The text, however, may go back to even a much earlier time.


Judging by the colour of the clay, the shape of the tablet, and the script, our text belongs with another tablet that contains a list of Kings. It even seems to me that there were three tablets of about equal size, measuring about 54 by 7 inches, on which a historically interested scribe wrote the world's history, or at least its outlines.

The first of these tablets, I believe contained the Babylonian theogony, and then related the famous fight between the younger generation of the gods and the deity of the primeval chaos, which ultimately resulted in the creation of heaven and earth out of the two parts of chaos.

Here the tablet I have just described comes in and gives the history of the world as far as the Deluge. Then a third tablet gave a complete list of the Kings of Babylonia from the time of the Deluge to the King under whom the tablets were written. A portion of this third tablet, or to be more accurate, the reverse of this portion, which contains about an eighth of the whole text, was published six years ago by Professor Hilprecht.

It contained two of the last dynasties of this list of Kings. I succeeded in copying also the much effaced obverse, which contains the names of Kings of the period immediately after the Deluge, and in addition to this I also found larger and smaller fragments of three other and older lists of Kings. I need hardly emphasise the great historical and chronological value of these new lists, since they gave us not only the names of the Kings, but the length of their respective reigns; and in some few instances even add some short historical references relating to these Kings.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Tales from the Huts (part 4)

The Red Cross and the Red Triangle.


WHEN the war clouds first burst upon an over-civilised world in August, 1914, the foundations of modern life were shaken. The proud pillars of Christianity and progress were overthrown. It needed but the barbarous methods of modern warfare, as introduced by Germany, to complete the debacle. To what purpose all the civilising processes of the last hundred years, the arts of peace, the piling-up of wealth and luxury -- nay, even the long-fought-for altruism of social reform? Man was to be hurled back into the Middle Ages. Barbarian he was born, barbarian he would die: civilisation but a veneer on the surface of life, swiftly to be brushed aside by the elemental horrors of war.

Two organisations alone have sustained our faith in the steady progress of the human species, in spite of appalling reversions. The Red Cross and the Triangle proclaim the forward march, the steady evolution of life. Surely an act of lunacy, this slaughter on the battlefield! necessitating this loving salvage of human wrecks by the angels of the Red Cross -- this re-building of the torn and lacerated body, this snatching of the dying out of the jaws of death! And yet here is the testimony of the modern mind to the sacredness of life in the body, and the triumph of mercy and love over hate and destruction; the perfection of science and surgery ever toiling to recover the lost. But the rescue of the wounded is nothing new: the utilitarian spirit of the past has always striven to save its man power if only to fight again!

What shall we say then of the Red Triangle in this war? That is a new sign of man's deep need of physical, mental and spiritual support. Man is after all a spirit, and not, as Germany has expounded, a machine. In every camp in England, France, and the East, where British manhood has withstood this false Teuton ideal, the Triangle -- the trinity of man's nature -- has raised a living protest. Wooden huts, canteens, music, games, religious services, a ministering womanhood -- these are the outward, visible sign of man's need of the humanities and the kindling fire of the spirit. The elemental courage and the robust endurance of an earlier age, man still shares with his ancestors, but the human and spiritual side of his nature has so developed that a righteous war needs the moral support of all that the Y.M.C.A. stands for, and all that the Triangle offers to the man at the front and the munition worker at home. Let it never be forgotten that the enemy is inflamed by the spirit of ambition, self-glory and hate, and the three are truly powerful levers. The wide-open doors of the Y.M.C.A. Huts, the incessant streams of khaki-clad soldiers, the peace of home in the camps of war, the loving service of the men and women who wait, the volume of song, sacred or profane, the letters home, the pipe of peace -- all these human needs supplied, speak of the evolution of man and the steady growth of Christian ideals and values on our earth. Let us take heart of grace; should the whole gamut of civilisation be swept from the face of the globe, to be replaced by some finer structure in the future, the Red Cross and the Red Triangle will still be found among the relics of our age, and tell the tale of the triumph of spirit over matter in the great Armageddon.

Y.M.C.A. Men Who Have Won the V.C.


MANY thousands of Association men have joined the Forces during the War. Hundreds have laid down their lives on Active Service. Distinctions have been won by brave deeds and fine comradeship. The V.C. has been awarded to a number of Y.M.C.A. members, and the present volume would not be complete without a brief account, as far as information is available, of the achievements that won them the Cross.

Lance-Corporal Leonard James Key worth, V.C.,

of the 24th County of London Battalion, was long known in Lincoln as a good sportsman. A keen footballer, he was also a valuable "left-hander" in the Y.M.C.A. cricket team. Captain F. B. Galer, Adjutant of the 3rd Battalion, who enlisted him, says: "I well remember him as one of the pick of the finest Territorials you could wish to see." The Germans will doubtless cherish similar recollections of him, for during the British attack on Givenchy trenches, fifty-eight out of seventy-five men from his battalion were killed or wounded, but he stood fully exposed on the top of the enemy's parapet and threw about 150 bombs among the Germans, who were only a few yards away. Like Sergeant O'Leary, he thought this quite the obvious thing to do, and after being recommended for special mention, wrote: "It is supposed to be for bravery, but I cannot understand where it came in, as I only did my duty. But how I came out God only knows."

He heard that he was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but found a fortnight later that he had been awarded the V.C. Officially, this was in recognition of his exploit as a bomb-thrower. As a matter of fact, he had also made a chivalrous attempt, at great risk to himself, to save a wounded Lieutenant that same night, and his mother received a letter from the Lieutenant's mother, adding this to the story of his bravery.

Like so many others who have won the supreme military distinction, he returned to the Front, after having been feted in his native city, to face again the ardours and perils of Active Service, only to fall in the fight.

Temp. Sec.-Lieut. Donald Simpson Bell, V.C.

The following is the official story of another who crowned his winning of the Cross by rendering the great sacrifice:

"Temp. Second-Lieutenant Donald Simpson Bell, late Yorkshire Regt., for most conspicuous bravery. During an attack a very heavy enfilade fire was opened on the attacking company by a hostile machine-gun. Second-Lieutenant Bell immediately, and on his own initiative, crept up a communication trench, and then, followed by Corporal Colwill and Private Batey, rushed across the open under very heavy fire and attacked the machine-gun, shooting the firer with his revolver, and destroying the gun and personnel with bombs. This very brave act saved many lives, and ensured the success of the attack. Five days later this gallant officer lost his life performing a very similar act of bravery."

The Secretary of the Harrogate Association writes: "D. S. Bell was an old member here, and one of the most popular ones; he represented Yorkshire in the International Y.M.C.A. Football Team that toured Denmark three winters ago."

Private Edward Barber, V.C.,

Grenadier Guards, aged twenty-two, a member of the Tring Y.M.C.A., was awarded the V.C. for bravery at Neuve Chapelle. He ran in front of a grenade company, and threw bombs with such effect that numbers of the Germans at once surrendered. When his company came up, Barber was found quite alone with the enemy surrendering all round him. He was afterwards killed by a sniper's bullet.

Sergeant Claude Castleton, V.C.,

late of the Australian Contingent, joined the Lowestoft Association in September, 1910, and was a member for two years up to the time of his leaving this country to seek a larger life in Australia. He is remembered by many of the present members as a keen gymnast and a strong, manly, open-air fellow. The record of his devotion, contained in a letter from one of his comrades, fully bears out their knowledge of his bravery and resolution of character.

"We were helping to hold a first line of trenches, when our infantrymen made an attack on the enemy. As may be expected, we had some casualties. Claude, knowing some of our wounded men to be out in 'No Man's Land,' could not resist going to their assistance. Amidst shrapnel and heavy machine-gun fire, rifle-fire, and gas, he leaped out, had rescued two wounded men, and was in the act of bringing in the third, when, to our sorrow, he was hit by either rifle or machine-gun fire. First-aid men went to his assistance immediately, but could do no good. He had done his last. We gave him a decent burial behind our front line, erecting a small cross with his name, number, etc., over his grave. His name will stand for ever amongst the officers and men of his company, and also with the infantrymen and officers to whom we were attached. His name is being mentioned by all, for not only is it on this occasion that we have found him a leader, but at Gallipoli, after losing an officer and sergeant, we looked to Claude as our leader, and from then up to the time of his death we were ready to follow him anywhere, having confidence in him as a leader of true British spirit, and we know how difficult it will be for a man of his ability to be replaced." He was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Corporal James L. Dawson, V.C.

The Victoria Cross was awarded to Corporal James L. Dawson, a former Alloa Y.M.C.A. member, for conspicuous bravery. A supplement to the London Gazette gave, amidst the particulars of deeds that had won the Cross, the following account of his achievement :

"No. 91608, Corporal J. L. Dawson, 187th Co. Royal Engineers, for most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on October 13th, 1915, at Hohenzollern Redoubt. During a gas attack, when the trenches were full of men, he walked backwards and forwards along the parades, fully exposed to a very heavy fire, in order to be better able to give directions to his own sappers, and to clear the infantry out of the sections of the trench that were full of gas. Finding three leaking cylinders, he rolled them some sixteen yards away from the trench again, under very heavy fire, and then fired rifle bullets into them to let the gas escape. There is no doubt that the cool gallantry of Corporal Dawson on this occasion saved many men from being gassed."

Corporal (Acting Sergeant-Major) Dawson is a native of Tillicoultry, was educated at Alloa, graduated M.A. at Glasgow University, and was, until enlistment in October, 1914, Science Master in a Govan School.

Corporal James D. Pollock, V.C.,

a member of the Paris Y.M.C.A. (Anglo-American Branch): "On September 27th last, when the enemy's bombers in superior numbers were successfully working up the Little Willie trench towards the Hohenzollern Redoubt, Corporal Pollock, after obtaining permission, got out of the trench alone, walked along the top edge with the utmost coolness and disregard of danger, and compelled the enemy's bombers to retire by bombing them from above. He was under heavy machine-gun fire the whole tune, but continued to hold up the progress of the Germans for an hour, when he was at length wounded."

Corporal Pollock has recently been granted a commission in the gallant Camerons.

Doubtless many more Y.M.C.A. men will win the Victoria Cross before the war is over. They will therein prove their loyalty to the motto written on the wall of every Red Triangle Hut in the world: "For God! For King! and for Country!"

Ghastly Experience of a 2nd Lieutenant.


I AM very sorry that I did not tell you how, when, and where I got my little dose, but you will remember that my first inquiries when I got here were chiefly for cake and clothes, and I got so sick of telling people all about it, that I thought you surely must have been one of the many to whom I detailed "ye hystorie of my woes." I am afraid that I cannot describe it with the pathos of the "Oh, was-not-it-beastly-ness?" that I could have a week or two ago, as I am feeling much better now; but it will doubtless be a saner account.

You will know that there has been three great attacks on the push front so far -- July 1st, 14th, and 22nd. On the 1st, as far as I can remember, the battery was in our new position, south of Arras, at Wailly, ready for the show, but at the last moment the attack on the Arras-Gommecourt was cancelled and we trekked south. On the 14th we were in reserve and saw most of the fighting for Contalmaison and in Montauban and Trones Wood; we were moved to Montauban about the 17th, and had our Brigadier-Major killed by shrapnel as soon as we got up on the ridge. Two valleys end at Fricourt, one going S.E. to Comoy, one east to Longueval and Delville Wood, which are at the top of the valley, and there is another valley running from Longueval N.W. to Bayentin-le-Grand. Our head-quarters, just west of Montauban, on the top of the ridge, were under continual shell-fire. The valley (H.F.) was full to the eyes with our guns and Bosche shells, and along the northern ridge of the same valley was the old Bosche second line; then, more north still, came the Longueval to Bayentin Valley, and across that -- two miles away -- was High wood, Pozieres. What we were after was Highwood and the sunken road between it and Delville Wood. I went up into the trenches we were holding on the 20th (the old Bosche second line on the N.E. ridge of Gun Valley) and watched the Gordons attack Highwood from our side of the valley in the early morning mist. They were mown down in dozens, but at the end of the day we held a line from between Pozieres and Bayentin, along the west edge of Highwood and down to Longueval. You will see that we were on the crest of the ridge, which on our brigade front was the sunken road. Fritz had a battery of maxims at M.G. on the corner of the Wood and absolutely enfiladed the sunken road just behind, and east of which were his trenches. The distance from our trenches to the sunken road was about 350 yards, all corn and long grass and shell-holes. The brigade was to advance and take the sunken road at 1.30 A.M. on the night of the 22nd-23rd, and my job was to smash the guns at M.G., the east corner of the Wood. After a lot of casualties among the carrying parties, I managed to get four guns and five hundred shells up to (G), a point about two hundred yards from Fritz's guns, and out in the open, well away from the Wood, which was being shelled to blazes continually. We were in the open field with no possible cover of any sort, with shrapnel coming over ten a minute at us. We only had one or two men killed and a gun knocked out and "blown to bits by the time we were ready, so we lay down and smoked as it gradually got darker, and wondered what it was like to be blown to rags. By ones and twos we got to know, and then an
H.E. exploded twenty of our shells and another gun went west. Half the battery and two guns gone before we made a start. We could do nothing -- no cover for miles -- so I lay and smoked and wondered whether they had "Gold Flake" across the Styx or whether the only rations there would be "Woodbines." I began to get disgusted, especially when a bit of H.E. from Heaven knows where smashed my water-bottle, a decent aluminium one which I had bagged from a dead German "Kapitan." After a bit, ten o'clock came and we started firing. We did pretty well, and were afterwards told that we had knocked out several of the Bosche machine-guns, but not all. Meanwhile Fritz was not idle, and the stuff was screaming and banging all round us incessantly. Our shells were bursting only just in front, and the rifle and machine-gun fire was deafening. The air was absolutely solid with lead, steel and smoke, and flame and crashing roars as the big shells screamed over and burst. The ground rocked with the explosions, and the guns were dismounted time after time only to be shoved back red-hot into their places. Here and there we could see men in front and behind us showing up in the darkness against the fitful orange splashes of flame, and occasionally we would catch one as he flung up his hands and dropped, or stood swaying with his hand to his head, or wherever he had been hit. The gun crews were fast diminishing, and after a time I had all my work cut out to keep some of them from bleeding to death. One or two men were dead. The only N.C.O. left us was minus half his left hand, but cheerful. At 1.30 prompt the W. Rents and 14th Warwicks were creeping past us through the darkness. We lengthened our range, and then Hell was let loose in front of us. The shrapnel crashed and roared in the air and the Bosche machine-guns rattled, and in five minutes the two regiments were wiped out. A few survivors crawled back helping wounded men along to the rear, and the roar died down a bit.

At 2 A.M. I was staggered by the arrival of a large party of fifty men with more shells, really intended for another battery which was now gone west poor beggars! So the party had been sent on to us and had had only two men hit on the way. Of all the luck! We started off with three men to a gun, and I went out 100 yards in front to get better observation. I got a good corrector for each gun, and was about half-way back when I heard a shell coming. There was a great crash behind me, and I was hit everywhere and knocked flying on my face. My head sang like a telephone. I saw a regular blaze of green flame in front of my eyes, and -------------

•   •   •   •   •   •   •   •

It was daylight when I woke up, lying in a shell-hole with the wounded Corporal slitting my tunic and equipment off with a clasp-knife. My head was roughly bandaged, and I was a mass of blood from head to foot. My back was in "ribbons," as the Corporal said, and he added, "You ain't got no blood left, sir," and he went on, "nor no left ear, either." This was greeting too cheerful, and I felt as if I would like to die at once and get it over. Clarke, one of the officers, came up to see how we were getting on fortunately he had got some brandy, so I had a good gulp, and fainted. Clarke tried to find a stretcher for me, but they were all smashed, and the bearers dead. And still Fritz went on with his beastly guns. I heard Clarke and the Corporal say, "We must carry him, then." But I crawled to my feet and staggered round; only one gun was left, and all the wounded were dead or carried away by the shell-party. The next I remember was Clarke dragging me down into the valley towards "home." The shrapnel still roared over us, and I cried like a kid with sheer loss of nerve and terror. We stumbled over dead and dying men everywhere and I bled on like a pig, as I crawled along on Clarke's arm. He dragged me down into Gun Valley and up the other side of Montauban, and a mile down the Fricourt Road we found an ambulance. Five minutes later Clarke was blown to atoms by a 5.9. H.E. shell. He was a good sort. An hour later I was in hospital and feeding. Then some morphia and to sleep. Just pleased to be out of it all alive even if in rags.

An Exchange of Favours.


IF anyone asks Pte. Bill Holmes the time, nolens volens, he's his friend for life. . . . You're curious? I'm delighted to be able to tell you the reason.

In the days before the Allies commenced Big Pushing it was the keen desire of practically every regiment in the British Army to be placed opposite the mild and friendly Saxons. Thus the Tommies were assured of a comparative rest, and a tin of bully-beef could readily be exchanged for a passable cigar. If the enemy sent out a working party to repair their entanglements, we sent out another to rebuild the parapets battered and smashed by "whizz-bangs," and in possession of the welcome knowledge that not a shot would be fired.

This lack of the "strafing" propensity, it will be understood, was anathema to our Brass Hats, so when the men of the 5th Blankshires were informed that the General of their Brigade was coming to inspect their trenches, they immediately decided that a small "strafe" was necessary.

Unfortunately, however, it happened that a fat officer of the German Army, weary of a dark dug-out, chose that very morning to sun himself, seated in a comfortable arm-chair, on the top of the trench parapet! This implied a striking trust in the fair-play of the 5th Blankshires, but unhappily the compliment came at an inopportune moment, and eventually Pte. Bill Holmes, the look-out man, popped his head over the top and excitedly signalled to the fat German officer to get down and go away.

The German officer regarded his gesticulations kindly, but did not move; so Bill procured a board, frequently used to convey messages to our friend the enemy, and indulged in linguistic exercises.

"Alley toot sweet," he wrote-- which, in case you don't know, is French for "Go away at once" -- adding, as an afterthought, the English equivalent, "Hop it quick!"

Herr Lieutenant shook his head uncomprehendingly, but smiled to atone for his ignorance.

Things were getting desperate. The Brigadier would be round at any moment, and Bill knew that if he saw a German lolling in calm security in the open he certainly would not be polite to the look-out man. . . . Accordingly, Pte. Holmes, after a spasm of concentrated thought, raised his rifle to his shoulder, taking careful aim at the fat German officer's big toe. He fired. The range was short; there was a wild howl as the chair toppled backwards, and the German disappeared with a somersault into his trench! . . .

Half an hour afterwards, when the satisfied General had been gone barely five minutes, Bill Holmes observed a message-board being pushed above the German trenches. With the help of his friends he deciphered the writing on it:

"Who shot our officer?"

"Charlie Chaplin," suggested Snooker Brown.

They all laughed -- except Holmes.

"I don't see anyfink to laugh at," said he, uneasily. "They p'r'aps mean to work off this 'ere vendetter stunt on me."

"Well, let 'em," said Snooker, valiantly. "I'll back you up."

So Bill wrote for the Huns' perusal: "Me -- Bill Holmes."

In the trench next morning a small package was found, to which was tied a label bearing the words: "To Mr. Bill Holmes." It was pointed out to the addressee, who picked it up gingerly.

"From Fritz" explained Snooker Brown expectantly, edging away. . . . "Don't open it, you fathead it'll go off!"

Holmes looked at it as a dog looks at a cat.

"Well, wot d'you fink I should do wif it?" he asked; but there was no reply. Bill was alone. His comrades were deep in the bowels of the earth listening for the bang.

At last he decided. With trembling fingers he opened the package -- to find therein a magnificent gold watch, heavy but elegant, and a short letter. He read the letter; then scratched his head in puzzled astonishment.

"Blimey," he said at last; "them blokes is almost human!"

For this is what he read:--

"My good friend, I send you the enclosed gift as a small token of my sincere thanks. You have to-day accomplished -- is my spelling correct? -- what I have been praying for for weeks. The wound is not serious, but now I shall be sent home for a time to see again my so-loved wife and children. So you see your so-much-to-be-admired shooting was kind to me. Good-bye."

And that is why if you ask Pte. Bill Holmes, of the 5th Blankshires, to tell you the time, and give him the opportunity to display a magnificent gold watch heavy but elegant you're his friend for life.

Concerts at the Front.


THE ancients symbolised war as a ravening beast -- armies as fierce dogs unleashed from hell; but this, the greatest of all the wars the world has ever seen, is only comparable to a flood, a devastating flood that has submerged all landmarks under the waste of its wild waters. But even as the rocks remain unmoved by the fiercest storm waves and emerge unchanged when the tide ebbs, so underneath the tumult of war the immutable facts of human nature remain. And the Y.M.C.A. realised in the early days of the war that the needs of our men would include not only food and shells, guns and hospital stores, but some of the amenities of civilisation -- food for the mind and spirit as well as for the body. It was when the war was six months old that the "Concerts at the Front" were started at the invitation of the Ladies' Auxiliary Committee, whose Chairman is H.H. Princess Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein.

In February, 1915, money was raised privately to send out a Concert Party to the Y.M.C.A. Huts at the Base Camps as an experiment. The troops were finding life under the conditions of modern warfare monotonous and boring; the hard work, an existence of rigid discipline in a sea of mud in a strange land, were enough to depress any but the irrepressible spirits of the British Army; and the rapturous welcome that greeted this first Concert Party was sufficient proof that some scheme for continuing the work was urgently needed.

Out of that tentative beginning the scheme has grown to large proportions, and is continually increasing in response to the demands of all our gallant armies. First of all we arranged two Concert Parties to tour the Base Camps and the Military Hospitals simultaneously. These Concert Parties stay for three weeks or a month, and give about three concerts a day, sometimes to audiences of two hundred men in a hospital or to nearly two thousand in a hut or hangar. Then permission was received for a Concert Party of men to go right up to the firing line. Then Malta asked for a Concert Party: one was sent out there last winter and stayed six months, giving concerts every day in the camps, hospitals, transports, Y.M.C.A. Huts, and finally paying a visit of three weeks to that part of our Fleet which is in Mediterranean waters, giving a Concert on a different ship every day, to the intense delight of the Navy, which is even more cut off from home than the troops. This winter a Concert Party has gone to our splendid regiments in Egypt, and the Committee of St. John and the Red Cross Society has sent another Concert Party out to visit the sick and wounded at Malta.

The Concert Parties consist of six artistes as a rule soprano, contralto, tenor, bass, violinist or 'cellist, and entertainer -- often a conjuror or ventriloquist. But this August, by way of celebrating the tercentenary of Shakespeare and the centenary of Sheridan, we took a dramatic party to give scenes from "Macbeth" and "The School for Scandal," and modern one-act plays by Sir James Barrie and Miss Gertrude Jennings. We have only sent out good music, good literature; we find that nothing else is wanted -- we only offer the best. The men do not want what is ugly or base, and it is difficult to make people at home realise how much what is beautiful and joyous means to the men who have literally nothing but the bare necessities of life -- and death.

"You don't know what it means to us," is said to us over and over again by the men themselves, their officers and "padres." But we do know what it means to them when we see men standing in long queues outside the huts in the sleet and rain for hours waiting to get into the concerts, coming straight from a strenuous day's work and going without their supper rather than miss a performance of Shakespeare, crowding round the windows outside a hut that is over-full -- nine deep to listen to what they can hear; and when in the hospitals we see white faces drawn with pain, tense with the awful memories of the horrors of a battle-field and the nerve shattering effects of our modern heavy artillery fire, relax into relief and laughter. They are never too ill to enjoy beautiful music or even to join in a favourite chorus song. When a nursing sister would have kept a "serious cases" ward quiet and undisturbed, the men asked that some music might come in to them. A dying man said to the violinist, "Give us something nippy, miss," and passed away as she played a happy tune.

The concerts are given anywhere -- in huts and warehouses; in the summer by the roadside, in woods, or open fields; or in barns under heavy shell fire. A member of one of our Firing Line Parties wrote: "You will be sorry to hear that one of our huts near the line has been blown to pieces. We were singing there only a few nights before. The guns were very busy then. Can you imagine what it feels like to sing Handel's 'Largo' to the sound of cannon? . . . We have been bombed in our billets, gassed, and shelled. What more can a fellow want? We are the happiest of Concert Parties."

Another letter from another Firing Line Concert Party says: "Yesterday we performed in a Trappist monastery which has been turned into a Rest Home. We played in the refectory to about four hundred officers and men from the trenches, all with that dreadful 'trench look' in their eyes. But, glory be! We took it out for an hour and a half. Our reception was astounding. They went mad over every item -- seized everything with rapture. I got them nearly hysterical with laughter, and the important Army Medical Officer in charge assured us that the beneficial effects of our performance on the patients would be enormous, and that the work we are doing is of great military value."

As long as the war lasts, these Concert Parties must go out. The men regard them as a loving gift from those at home, a token that those for whom they are fighting and suffering, for whom they are enduring undreamed-of pain or discomfort, exiled from everything that life has hitherto held for them -- that those at home do care, are with them, and are trying their best to help. The message brought back by one of our Concert Parties from a Senior Chaplain to the Forces is: "Tell all who sent you here that we bless them; if they only knew how much the music means to the men they would send Firing Line Concert Parties out in crowds."

But the letters that reach me at 36, Grosvenor Street, from the men themselves, in all branches of the Army, are the most touching evidence of their appreciation. A private, who had been in hospital wounded and returned to the Front the day after one of our Concerts, wrote: "We all agreed that we would go back to the trenches and fight all the better for the happy remembrance. . . I was feeling rather lonely, not having anybody to write to me while I was out there; I began to feel I was fighting for no one until that cheery Party came along. I can even now fancy I hear the sweet notes of the violin." That boy went back to the trenches and was wounded four times and poisoned by gas. Another lad wrote to me that: "It just made all the difference going into the firing line with that music stirring one's heart." That is the keynote of many infinitely touching letters which we get from the men themselves --" that music just makes all the difference." So all who have helped and are helping by giving time and work and money to make this work possible, have the assurance that it is of tremendous importance and "of great military value."

These stories appeared in Told in the Huts: The Y.M.C.A. Gift Book published in 1916.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The ANZAC's Tale...

How times change...

Next week I will finish extracting some of the stories from Told in the Huts: The YMCA Gift Book 1916 but when I read this poem which appeared in the book I felt compelled to post it.

The sentiment in the last verse so at odds with the reality of later years as expressed so eloquently in Eric Bogle's song And the band played Waltzing Matilda a version of which is posted below.

But in recent years with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the centenary of the Great War which is now upon us the role of those who serve in the armed forces and the sacrifices they may be called to make is once again being recognised.

A Bit of Bunting.


THEY have settled the ward for the evening,
And straightened every bed;
We have drunk our bowls of cocoa,
And they've covered the lights with red.
We are lying now till the morning--
'Tis a terrible time to wait,
When the day seems twenty-four hours
And the night seems forty-eight.
For the man to the right is restless,
I can hear him mutter and moan,
And the boy in the bed beside me
Is breaking his heart for home.
I dose a little at moments,
Till I'm back with the heat and flies
In the sniper's line of fire,
With the sunlight in my eyes.
It's curious, lying thinking,
When the clock strikes once and again,
How fate has formed us together
In a regiment of pain;
How from far-off town and village,
From the peace of the country sward,
We have answered the call of England--
To meet again in a ward!

You have heard of the old pied piper
Who came to the village street,
And played a tune to the children,
A melody strange and sweet;
And with eyes aglow with laughter,
And curls that shone in the sun,
They tramped to the sound of the music,
And followed him every one.
We all grow bitter at seasons
God knows we are battered and worn
And we feel in our darkest moments
  That nothing more can be borne;
But say what you will about it,
There is something in each man's breast
That would urge him to rise and follow,
Though he hungered for peace and rest.
It is stronger than home and comfort,
It is stronger than love and life,
Than the speechless grief of a mother
Or the clinging arms of a wife;
For whenever the old flag shall summon,
In the midst of his direst pain,
He would hear it out of the shadows,
And it would never call in vain.

Do we wonder why we have done it
When the pain is hardest to bear,
And the helpless years to come
Press like a load of care?
Do we wonder why we have done it,
When just at the break of day
We fancy we hear the sobbing
Of the loved ones far away?
Over the mantel yonder,
Between the glass and the wall,
They have wedged a piece of bunting
You can scarcely see it at all;
But my eyes go searching for it
Before they cover the light,
For it's brought a message with it,
And I read it every night;
For whether he's tired and weary,
Or whether he's hurt and sad,
Or whether he's old and helpless,
Or whether he is but a lad,
As long as England is England,
And as long as a man has his will,
He would rise from a bed of sickness
To hobble after it still.

They say that the grandest picture
In England, when war is done,
And we've dragged our own from the Germans,
And fought and bled and won,
Will not be the row of medals
That blaze on a general's breast,
Or the little letters of glory
  That follow a hero's name;
But the sight that will rouse the nation
And stir our pulses yet,
The sight that the women of England
Will count as a lasting debt,
Is the empty sleeve of a soldier
Who has braved the surgeon's knife,
And the man who goes on crutches
For the rest of his mortal life.