We’d gained our first objective hours before
While dawn broke like a face with blinking eyes,
Pallid, unshaved and thirsty, blind with smoke.
Things seemed all right at first. We held their line
With bombers posted, Lewis guns well placed,
And clink of shovels deepening the shallow trench.
The place was rotten with dead; green, clumsy legs,
High-booted, sprawled and grovelled along the saps;
And trunks, face-downward in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trampled sand-bags loosely-filled;
And naked sodden buttocks, – mats of hair, –
Bulged, clotted heads, slept in the plastering slime.
And then the rain began, – the jolly old rain!

A yawning soldier knelt against the bank,
Staring across the morning blear with fog;
He wondered when the Allemands would get busy;
And then, of course, they started with five-nines
Traversing, sure as fate, and never a dud.
Mute in the clamour of shells, he watched them burst,
Spouting dark earth and wire with gusts from hell,
While posturing giants dissolved in drifts of smoke.
He crouched and flinched, dizzy with galloping fear,
Sick for escape, loathing the strangled horror
And butchered, frantic gestures of the dead.
An officer came blundering down the trench;
‘Stand-to and man the fire-step!’ On he went,
Gasping and bawling, ‘Fire-step . . . counter-attack!’
The the haze lifted. Bombing on the right
Down the old sap; machine-guns on the left;
And stumbling figures looming out in front.
‘O Christ, they’re coming at us’ … Bullets spat,
And he remembered his rifle … rapid-fire …
And started blazing wildly … then a bang
Crumpled and spun him sideways, knocked him out
To grunt and wriggle: none heeded him; he choked
And fought the flapping veils of smothering gloom,
Lost in a blurred confusion of yells and groans …
Down and down and down, he sank and drowned,
Bleeding to death. The counter-attack had failed.


“Counter Attack and other poems,” First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed August 5, 2015, http://ww1lit.nsms.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/items/show/10512.

This item is from The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford (www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit);