Untitled Poem from WWI

by Lieutenant Ewart Mackintosh   1915

So you were David’s father,
And he was your only son,
And the new-cut peas are rotting
And the work is left undone,
Because of an old man weeping,
Just an old man in pain,
For David, his son David,
That will not come again.

Oh, the letters he wrote you,
And I can see them still,
Not a word of the fighting
But just the sheep on the hill
And how you should get the crops in
Ere the year gets stormier,
And the Bosches have got his body,
And I was his Officer.

You were only David’s father,
But I had fifty sons
Where we went up in the evening
Under the arch of guns,
And we came back at twilight —
O God! I heard them call
To me for help and pity
That could not help at all.

Oh, never will I forget you,
My men that trusted me,
More my sons than your fathers’,
For they could only see
The little helpless babies
And the young men in their pride.
They could not see you doing,
And hold you while you died.

Happy and young and gallant,
They saw their first born go,
But not the strong limbs broken
And the beautiful men brought low,
The piteous writhing bodies,
That screamed, “Don’t leave me, sir,”
For they were only your father
But I was your officer.

[Suggested by Timothy Lane]

One duty commanders must perform, at least in some military organizations, is reporting the deaths of their subordinates to their families. One interesting example from 1915 was printed in Martin Gilbert’s history of World War I (which includes many examples of poetry from the war). The poet was Lieutenant Ewart Mackintosh, who received a medal for retrieving Private David Sutherland under fire, after the latter died.
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