aka the First World War
Written on the centenary of the start of the appalling slaughter that was the Gallipoli campaign in World War One:
Rank corpses carpeted Gallipoli
At Russell's Top, Lone Pine and Suvla Bay
By bullet, bayonet or dysentery
Eight months of folly fighting lives away
Young Albert Booth got out of there alive
From hell to hell, from Dardanelles to trench
No others from his landing craft survived
But joined the dead, the ANZACs, Turks and French
One hundred thousand gone from those sad nations
And all for what? A great futility
Did lives not figure in the calculations
Of Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty?
- Excuse me if I don't take out a sub
- To Winston Churchill's great admirers' club
The WSF was the organisation led by Sylvia Pankhurst, which had previously been the Workers' Suffrage Federation, and before that, the East London Federation of the Suffragettes. It had previously fought militantly, first for votes for women, and then more explicitly for votes for all, and in 1917 was advocating supporting international socialists in parliamentary elections.
When an officer was killed in World War One, the British Army told his next of kin by telegram. Lower-ranked men’s deaths were reported on Form B104-82. ‘Calamity’ is a poem by E.H. Visiak. Private Ted was my great uncle.
Visiak’s Calamity once said
From heart to heart grief’s wireless sped
No officer, this Hoxton lad
No telegram to mum and dad
Grief’s letters only slowly plod
Five weeks through Flanders’ shell-churned sod
’Til death’s cold-morning cockerel crowed
Outside a house on Edgware Road
Five weeks false hope for Private Ted
At last they learned their son was dead
'From the Youth of All Nations' reads to me as a bitter complaint against the ruling classes on all sides of the First World War playing out their arguments with the sufferings and lives of soldiers.
Published in Solidarity 337, 24 September 2014
The Workers’ Dreadnought published this poem on its front page, heading an article entitled “Soldiers ask what they are fighting for” on 20 October 1917.
Published in Solidarity 335, 10 September 2014
From The Workers’ Dreadnought, 29 June 1918
A poem was found on the dead body of a German soldier. The British authorities reproduced it in facsimile and threw it from aeroplanes into the German lines.