Photo by Candia Dixon- Stuart
A re-blog from 5/11/16
I visited the church today as I wanted to somehow commemorate five
brothers who were all killed in World War 1. Their youngest brother-
Percy Soul- died of meningitis after the war. He was the sixth son.
Apparently some villagers were annoyed that Mrs Soul received financial
‘compensation’ for her five sons’ deaths in service.
Later she moved to Great Barrington. She had three daughters who must
have been traumatised by the loss of their brothers.
I kept thinking of Fry’s Five Boys chocolate, for some reason and I checked
that it was in production when the boys were young. It was. I hope they
were able to enjoy this childish luxury as they ran around the fields,
scratching their names on the beams of a barn. Maybe not, if they were
(Photo by Kim Traynor, 2013. Own work of enamel sign.)
It was freezing cold today. Inside there were wall monuments to others
who had died – centuries before. One girl had only been 19 when she
There was a little trapped wren inside and an aspiring organist who
arrived for a practice. I don’t know how he could have attempted to play
with cold hands!
Anyway, I went home and thought I’d try a villanelle. The rhymes are
limited, but there are 5 tercets- one for each brother, maybe. It ends with
a quatrain, where the rhyme feels a bit anti-climactic. But then, maybe it
suits the content… All ready for Remembrance Day. Let’s Not Forget.
The Lost Souls of Great Rissington
So, she wouldn’t stand for God Save The King,
though all five sons lay down for him and died.
For each life she pocketed a shilling.
The candle in her window kept burning,
watched by a girl who’d never be a bride.
And a mother and three sisters crying
was no salve for the sharpness of Death’s sting.
Over the cow-common, The Windrush sighed
and, in a drawer, telegrams were yellowing.
The candle guttered- a Soul was leaving.
The Roll up yonder couldn’t be denied.
No bugler registered this sibling.
In a village barn there is a carving-
names of hopeful lads which emphasised
desires for immortality. Living
in a peaceful hamlet? No, perishing-
even a twin had no one at his side.
While some entrenched neighbours were gossiping,
lethal as shrapnel and more exacting.
(St John the Baptist Church, Great Rissington
Photo by Jonathan Billinger, 2007)
autorotation, Beaumont Hamel, Bois des Fourcaux, Bois l'Eveque, calvaire, Cambrai, Craiglockhart, del Gesu, Delville Wood, Dufay, dunnock, Hamel, Hebuterne, Last Tree, lynchet, Mametz, mandrake, Maricourt, Napier University, Ors, Queen's Hall, remblais, Sassoon, Somme, Steve Burnett, sycamore, The Branch, Wilfred Owen, World War 1 poetry
A friend told me about an amazing radio programme about Steve Burnett,
in Edinburgh, making a Wilfred Owen violin from a fallen branch from a
sycamore tree from Craiglockhart Hospital, now Napier University,where
Sassoon and Owen met and discussed their poetry, before Owen
returned to the trenches and met his untimely death.
I listened to the programme and then felt compelled to write the
The Sycamore Sings
Shall life renew these bodies? Of a truth
All death will he annul…
(amended words from his poetry on Wilfred Owen’s gravestone)
Where a mother muted her offspring’s ire,
deleting his line’s interrogative;
where Dufay scored his music at Cambrai;
St Quentin’s corpse loomed from the Somme marshland,
to hallow the grandest basilica;
where guillotines did their grisly work,
fog lifted from shattered Bois l’Eveque-
new dawn drawing back night’s curtain of war.
On a towpath, a twenty five year old,
tried not to fret how he would cross the bridge.
Mesmerised by the autorotation
of seeds, he foresaw his own slow spiral,
where magpies croaked in blasted canopies.
Dark, stark poplars had been lopped long before;
the copses razed; the rides and lynchets scarred.
Mametz, Maricourt and Bois des Fourcaux:
sweet chestnut, lime, beech, hazel, oak, hornbeam-
mad mandrakes uprooted; bi-furcated trunks.
Sad remblais of Hebuterne (No Man’s Land)
absorbed shrill batteries near sunken lanes.
Calvaires bowed before continuous suffering.
In Beaumont Hamel, a single tree remains,
petrified. In Delville Wood, The Last Tree
stands like a gibbet. Sycamores survive.
They grow where other trees give up the ghost.
One such, at Craiglockhart, he could recall.
Again he heard the dunnock’s douce refrain,
singing for dear life, from lush foliage,
before its notes were silenced, once for all.
Fragments of father’s sermon rose to mind-
about The Branch, hope, regeneration.
Now, while still green, a supple slice is bent
into a tongue which will tell of all loss,
tears oozing like resin from a wounded bark:
man and nature in divine harmony.
In Queen’s Hall, it will sob and it will sing
of the pity of war – the air fleshily weeping.
And, one being dead, yet will be speaking
through a universal language of peace,
from a pattern once conceived by Gesu.
Photo by Lord Mayonnaise, 2012 (Bolton)
Mushroom Observer. Wiki
Atrebates, the Belgae,
A whiff of Arthur,
as he defended this land
from the foreigners –
whom Voltigern had welcomed.
Was Mons Badonicus here?
I stumble across
some pushy Marasnius
rejuvenate with raindrops,
blown in from mainland Europe.
Challenged, they go underground.
They know coasts are never clear,
but invasion is a fact.
They are here for the long term.
Willandra Lakes area, NASA image
post Dreamtime terminal decline Willandra Lakes
Wattle seeds emu eggs dried basin
widespread bushfires preserved footprints wandering child
bilbies and dingos
widespread footsteps bush child dried lakes
Robert- gassed at Ypres. Lived to 90s
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
Photo- Stephen Sweeney. Titan crane
The trench gaped to receive him at last,
over seventy years since he’d escaped its maw
at Ypres. Other bombshells had been cast:
his daughter’s death at four; her hair as straw-
hued as bales bedded in Picardy barns.
She’d waited for him in the nether tier,
between the pewter Clyde; Kilpatrick tarns –
close to where he’d toiled as an engineer,
in ruts of rusty shipyards, hail or thaw.
I stroked Wilfred, Pip, Squeak in childish awe;
loved the sepia photo of Five Bobs;
marvelled that only one of them came back
to supplement the King’s shilling with jobs,
where the main goal was to avoid ‘the sack.’
It was little better than digging graves.
I used to ask him how he’d survived the gas.
He said he’d run away from its green waves.
I asked him to recount how lads would burn, en masse,
lice from their tunic seams with candle flame,
until they heard shells crack. Then and I unrolled
his trouser leg, amazed he was not lame,
with that lump of shrapnel, which was pure gold,
as a Blighty wound, taking him away
from the Front line, to Palestine.
The cranes, his guard of honour, now gone too.