Selection of WW1 poems

In Flanders Fields

by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Inspiration for the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ by John McCrae (30th November 1872 — 28th January 1918) began the draft for his famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ on the evening of the 2nd May, 1915 in the second week of fighting during the Second Battle of Ypres.

It is believed that the death of his friend, Alexis Helmer, was the inspiration for McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. The exact details of when the first draft was written may never be known because there are various accounts by those who were with McCrae at that time.

  • One account says that he was seen writing the poem sitting on the rearstep of an ambulance the next day while looking at Helmer’s grave and the vivid red poppies that were springing up amongst the graves in the burial ground.

  • Another account says that McCrae was so upset after Helmer’s burial that he wrote the poem in twenty minutes in an attempt to compose himself.

  • A third account by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Morrison, states that John told him he drafted the poem partly to pass the time between the arrival of two groups of wounded at the first aid post and partly to experiment with different variations of the poem’s metre.

A Soldier’s Cemetery

by John William Streets (killed and missing in action on 1st July 1916 aged 31)

Behind that long and lonely trenched line
To which men come and go, where brave men die,
There is a yet unmarked and unknown shrine,
A broken plot, a soldier’s cemetery.

There lie the flower of youth, the men who scorn’d
To live (so died) when languished Liberty:
Across their graves flowerless and unadorned
Still scream the shells of each artillery.

When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot
Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,
And flowers will shine in this now barren plot
And fame upon it through the years descend:
But many a heart upon each simple cross
Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.

Inspiration for his poems in a letter to the poetry publisher, Galloway Kyle:

“They were inspired while I was in the trenches, where I have been so busy I have had little time to polish them. I have tried to picture some thoughts that pass through a man’s brain when he dies. I may not see the end of the poems, but I hope to live to do so. We soldiers have our views of life to express, though the boom of death is in our ears. We try to convey something of what we feel in this great conflict to those who think of us, and sometimes, alas! Mourn our loss.”

Unfortunately, Will’s desire to live to see his poems published was never fulfilled.

On 1st July 1916 Sergeant John William Streets moved with the 12th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment into the assembly trenches behind John Copse on the Somme battlefield. The attack was launched at 07.30 hours. Will’s battalion went in on the second wave. Will was wounded and made his way back to the British line to get his wound seen to. He was seen going to help another wounded man but he subsequently disappeared.

Will’s body was missing for 10 months before it was identified; it was found in the area of No-Mans Land. On 1st May 1917 he was officially listed as “Killed”.

The Soldier

by Rupert Brooke

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

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