Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Seaside Thoughts


I looked on the silver, shimmering sea,
And a message of peace it brought to me,
As it mirrored the infinite blue above
’Twas an emblem fair of eternal love;
A message of peace to a world of woe,
A healing balm to the souls that know
Of the wounds of sorrow, and pangs of grief,
Unto tired hearts a sweet relief.

A holy calm like a healing balm
Or hallowed hush at the close of day;
Were life’s sea like thee from tempests free
What a peaceful haven this earth would be;
Not a ripple of care on its bosom fair,
No sob of sorrow, or dark despair.

Then the glassy bosom rose and fell
As if a sob caused that surging swell;
But presently like a child at play
Over the rocks tossed the feathery spray;
And I thought of the varying scenes of life,
The playful prank's and the storms of strife,
The peaceful calm and the sunshine fair,
The nights of sorrow and days of care.

O ever changing, restless sea!
Such must life’s ocean ever be;
Not always for us the sunshine sweet,
The holy calm and restful retreat;
But storms and sorrows, tempests and tears,
Mingle with joys thro' the passing years.

I looked on the sea when the billows roared
And the frowning sky its torrents poured,
While not a gleam illumed the grey,
Save the seething foam of the silv’ry spray,
And all night long the storm raged high;
But morning came with a cloudless sky,
And I thought of the conflicts stern and grim
When my flickering faith waxed weak and dim.

When life’s skies were grey and on my way
No beacon gleamed or sunshine lay;
But dawning came at the darkest hour,
God’s sunshine dispelled the storm-cloud’s power;
So may the woes of warfare cease,
And Freedom’s dawn bring eternal peace.

MARGARET S. NORRIS


Poem from The Witness, 20th September 1918




Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Lough Neagh, and Home.


Son of Old Ireland, but his lot
Lies in a foreign, far-off spot;
He pauses oft, to think of — what?
   Lough Neagh; and home!

Twin pictures they have ever been,
A white familiar sheet — no scene
To thrill strange eyes — then fields of green,
    Lough Neagh, and home!

A house p’rhaps near the water’s edge,
Where grows the reed and clusters sedge,
And broods the crane like any sage;
    Lough Neagh, and home!

Maybe the Lough was miles away,
A treasured, view, as fair it lay —
How it sparkled in the morning ray!
    Lough Neagh, and home!

With water calm and weather fine
Someone, remembering Moore’s line.
Would try to see the “Round Towers” shine.
    Lough Neagh, and home!

Then bits of folklore, some old saying,
And some old tale is heard again,
Links here and there in memory’s chain:
    Lough Neagh, and home!

And will he not recall with both
The kindly province of his youth,
The very heart of which, in truth,
    Is Lough Neagh — and home?

And should he meet a pal or host,
Perchance, who makes the self-same boast,
Athrill they’d drink the common toast:
    “Lough Neagh, and Home!”

“NEAR LOUGH NEAGH.”



Poem from The Witness, 13 September 1918.
Image: Across Lough Neagh by John Halliday.


Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Verdun, 1917


The following poem is [was then] written by a schoolboy of fourteen,
at the C.I.M. school of Chefoe, China.

The German view:—

"It must be done!” the War Lord cries.
To Paris now your pathway lies.
Break thro’ the ranks, and all is done,
Our land is saved, the war is won.

"It must be done!" Despite the loss.
’Tis but a narrow line to cross.
But once you’ve crossed the battlefield
Your country’s fate, and yours, is sealed.

"It must be done!” Now to the work!
Your country’s crushed, if now, you shirk
Break thro’ the line — ’tis not for gain,
Break thro’ the line by might and main.

"It must be done!” Spare not the gun.
Begin e'en now, before the sun.
At once the foe, in dreadful fright
Will leave the field at your first sight.

“It must be done!” ’Tis done at last,
The foe has fled before our blast;
The line is won, and all is done,
The war and battle both are won.

“It has been done!” But we are pushed,
Our fondest dreams have now been crushed,
But we'll begin the strife anew,
And all, from us, for peace shall sue.

French View:–

“They shall not pass1!” A solemn hush
Greet at the dawn the foeman’s rush.
And when the Germans reach our wire,
Out bursts a living flame of fire.

“They shall not pass!" Fatigued, forlorn,
We fight throughout the sultry morn;
At e’en we tread with weary feet
The sombre pathway of retreat.

“They shall not pass!" The midnight pall,
With inky blackness covers all;
The star-shells flame — the shrapnels scream,
And loose their fatal leaden stream.

“They shall not pass!” The forest aisles
Ring to the tread of marching files,
The fertile fields are green no more.
But torn with shells, and, red with gore.

"They shall not pass!” With clarion blare
The stirring bugles rend the air.
And, following on its fearsome note,
A cheer bursts forth from every throat.

“They shall not pass!” The Marseillaise
Sounds forth anon our country’s praise;
And, re-encouraged by the strain,
We summon strength, and fight again.

“They shall not pass!” And once again
Are Douaumont and Vaux reta’en.
Once more we strive for liberty.
Once more our foes before us flee.

"They shall not pass!" The p├Žan sound
Awakes the echoes far around.
And now, in majesty unfurl'd,
Proud flies the flag that saved the world.

KEITH CHARLES STEVENSON.
Chefoo, Feb., 1918.


Poem from The Witness, 23rd August 1918.
Painting Verdun, artist unknown.

 

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.