Sunday, 9 November 2014
When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, ‘They are dead.’ Then add thereto,
‘Yet many a better one has died before.’
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.
Charles Hamilton Sorley, 1895-1915
Sorley was killed in action near Hulluch,where he was shot in the head by a sniper at the Battle of Loos on 13 October 1915. He was twenty years old and this sonnet was found in his kitbag.
Harry Patch, the last surivior of the trenches of the First World War who died in 2009 and, although three years younger than Sorley, outlived him by 94 years.
As Patch said when contemplating the war graves at a cemetery in Flanders in 2007: "Any one of them could have been me. Millions of men came to fight in this war and I find it incredible that I am the only one left" As he also said, "Too many died. War isn't worth one life"
We don't seem to be very good at remembering that particular lesson.... but we must try harder never forget it.