Thursday 26 November 2015

At Duty's Call

Out on the front
Where the battle's brunt
   Was heavy as war may be,
In a ruined town,
With the houses down,
   Where one might but wreckage see,
I reach two dwellings without a roof,
   Walls standing bare to heaven.
Where the shrapnel shells had awful proof
   Of disastrous fury given.

Here I found,
Amid havoc around,
   A shattered, roofless wreck,
Where, undismayed,
Two ladies stayed,
   In answer to duty's beck.
Desolation spread on every side,
   Yet there those ladies stayed,
And by ceaseless foraging supplied
   For the wounded soldiers' aid.

They worked every day
To shed some ray
   Of comfort on broken men;
In wet and dry
They found supply
   For their noble mission. Then
They rested and slept when passed daylight,
   Ready for any call;
While the cannons roared through the fearful night.
   In a way that might heroes appal.
Officers frowned,
Yet smiled when they found
   How the ladies felt no fear.
How they lived on
Where ruin won
   Everything far and near.
The town had been captured more than once
   Recaptured and captured again,
Again recaptured; and ever since
   The Germans attacked in vain.

Of the British race
In heart and face,
   Aristocrats born were they;
Nursed amid ease
Themselves to please,
   War brought this new display —
At duty's call their homes they left,
   Luxury, safety, all;
And at the front, of comfort bereft,
   They formed their hospital.

A roofless house,
All ruinous,
   Sheltered these dauntless two.
They gathered food
With a fortitude
   That angels' work could do,
Day by day, and night by night
   Succouring, cheering those
Who wounded fell in the ceaseless fight
   Against relentless foes.

So there they were,
That noble pair,
   Worthy of Fatherland,
Doing Christ's work
Where perils lurk
   At duty's stern command,
An honour to gracious womanhood,
   A glory to human name,
Caring for nothing but doing good,
   Nothing for empty fame.

But when the scroll
Of heroes unroll,
   And the names of martyrs stand
Emblazoned abroad
In the smile of God,
   The noblest from every land,
Methinks, those two shall wear a light
   Of beauty and high renown,
And on each brow shall be stainless bright
   Christ's gift, an immortal crown.

R. W. R. Rentoul

This poem was entitled "What an American Lady saw at the Front" and was printed in The Witness, 26th November 1915.
Image: Nurses treating soldiers at a clearing station in France (Mary Evans Picture Library).

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