Monday, August 07, 2006


It is midday; the deep trench glares...
A buzz and blaze of flies...
The hot wind puffs the giddy airs...
The great sun rakes the skies.

No sound in all the stagnant trench
Where forty standing men
Endure the sweat and grit and stench,
Like cattle in a pen.

Sometimes a sniper's bullet whirs
Or twangs the whining wire;
Sometimes a soldier sighs and stirs
As in Hell's frying fire.

From out a high cool cloud descends
As aeroplane's far moan...
The sun strikes down, the thin cloud rends
The black spot travels on.

And sweating, dizzied, isolate
In the hot trench beneath,
We bide the next shrewd move of fate
Be it of life or death.

Robert Nichols (1893-1944)

From 'Poetry of the first world war', published in June 1917

Nichols' First World War military service - which lasted from from 1914-16 - saw him participate in the
Battle of Loos in 1915 in the role of artillery officer.

His front-line service was however brief - after just a few weeks serving in the trenches he was invalided home with
shell shock; an illness which caused him to be sent home to England in 1916. Subsequently serving with the British Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Information, he went on to pen war poetry that he often read to large gatherings, which included tours of the U.S.

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