Private John Scott
GAVRELLE – MAY 1917
“Of course you’ll remember (p’raps only too well)
Them trenches we dug just in front o’ Gavrelle?
We’d only entrenchin’ tools there at the start,
And ‘ackin’ through chalk why it fair broke your ‘eart.
“Them chaps we took over from ‘opped it “toot-sweet’
They’d only dug down ‘p’raps a couple of feet,
B’ye mind ‘ow we scratted and scraped all that night
To get under cover before it was light?
“All that chalk about gave the position away
and we looked for a hammering from Jerry next day –
But nothing much ‘appenend it wasn’t so ‘ot
When relief came next night we’d ‘ad ‘ardly a shot.
“Next time in the line, though ‘e knew we was there
But them R.F.A. blokes didn’t know where we were!
We even got strafed with our own eighteen-pounders
Dropping shorts – slap bang into me bunk ‘ole – the bounders!
“And salvo on salvo from Jerry came over
All day long, never giving us chance to recover
Some in front, some behind,
some just short, and some wide,
Some too near for our likin’ though never inside.
“When at “stand to” it rained we ‘oped shellin’ would cease –
We thought surely now Jerry will leave us in peace,
But still round our trenches his whizz-bangs kept droppin’
It was plain, Jerry ‘ad no intention of stoppin’!
“And then, ‘twas ‘look out! here ‘e comes wi’ some more’;
In the village behind – in the barbed wire before –
Still it rained, and still Jerry repeated the dose,
Ev’ry now and again getting damnably close!
“But at length came a lull: we breathed freely again,
And a figure appears through the murk and the rain.
‘Twas the Company runner, who gave a hoarse shout
From the parapet edge ‘Jerry’s out! Jerry’s out!’
“So we looked to our rifles, all plastered wi’ mud
And we says to ourselves ‘Them’s not much bloomin’ good!
And we know jolly well, though no-one was sayin’ it
We ‘ad naught to depend upon now but the bayonet!
“And we waited and watched, through the darkness and rain,
Until, in the stillness we ‘eard, plain as plain
That far away sound (‘twas an enemy gun)
And we knew that the strafing once more had begun.
Along comes a salvo a-skimmin’ the top.
Quick follows another, and this time they drop,
Close to the parapet makin’ us duck,
Crashin’! and Fillin’ the trenches wi’ muck.
“And me pal, ‘e broke down, and just screamed as ‘e lay
In the trench. I said ‘Chum, did you ne’er think to pray?
Would you let the side down? Come you know that’s not cricket!
Through the uproar I ‘eard ‘im: – ‘God ‘elp me to stick it?
“When dawn came at last, and that long night was through,
I heard a bird singing up there in the blue:
Yes, I ‘eard a bird sing, and I couldn’t care less
For all Jerry’s shelling, the muck and the mess.
“That song challenged Jerry to do ‘is damned worst.
‘Let ‘im know you’re still ‘ere lads. Just give ‘im a burst’
Though Jerry made answer with shell after shell
On the bricks and the rubble that once was Gavrelle,
And clouds o’ red dust to the heavens was flingin’.
Still there, mid the tumult the bird kept singin’!
“To this day I can’t tell why me ‘eart should be stirred.
At so foolish a thing – just the song of a bird!”
©Copyright May 1917 by Private John Scott