Monday, 14 November 2016

Lest we forget


A day late for Armistice Day, this is Housman's one great poem, Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries. It's said to be inspired by the ‘Old Contemptibles’, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) of 1914— the professional British army that existed before Kitchener’s ‘New Army’ of volunteers and then conscription. 


These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

I don't think my grandfather, who fought in the First World War, read Housman. William Le Queux was more his thing. But Housman's A Shropshire Lad was carried in the pockets of a lot of our soldiers in the trenches.

Let's hope there are no more wars in Europe, though I think one is being waged even now.


  1. Arguably the best and most consistent professional infantry met their final fate in the early battles that helped save France.

    Lions led by Donkeys. May God grant them eternal rest with their American and French brothers.

    I'm a big fan of AE Houseman.

    I also love Kipling which sadly remains out of style today (as do I).

    " E'en now their vanguard gathers,
    E'en now we face the fray—
    As Thou didst help our fathers,
    Help Thou our host to-day!
    Fulfilled of signs and wonders,
    In life, in death made clear—
    Jehovah of the Thunders,
    Lord God of Battles, hear!"
    --Hymn before action.

    1. I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
      The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
      The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
      I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
      O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
      But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
      The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
      O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

    2. Yep.

      Walk wide o' the Widow at Windsor,
      For 'alf o' Creation she owns:
      We 'ave bought 'er the same with the sword an' the flame,
      An' we've salted it down with our bones.
      (Poor beggars! -- it's blue with our bones!)