Goods were scarce we got not even full uniforms
so the CLB gave us leggings that reached up to our knees
but still we marched proudly through the streets of old St. Johns
figuring the world would marvel at the exploits of the Blue Puttees.
Our dreams of glory were shot to pieces in the bitter cold
in ’15 at the Dardanelles where we stood rear-guard for the retreat.
Among the first to enter and the lines were ours to hold;
we stood our ground until evacuation was complete.
And next to France, taking our place at Beaumont Hamel IN ’16—
part of the ill-fated July Drive that started the bloodletting on the Somme.
On the other side the 119th stood experienced, trained and ready;
machine guns aimed; ready to kill, despite the sense of calm.
And on 8:45 AM on July 1, the whistle blew and over the top we climbed
little did we know then that we were the only thing moving on the field.
The guns rained death upon us as we trod through no man’s land.
We tried to continue. It was no use, our fate was sealed.
All 780 of us faced forward while bullets cut us down.
Hardly anyone even made a hundred yards,
and twenty minutes was all it took before
I lay there, amid the bodies, shot, torn, forever scarred.
At roll call the next morning we crawled out; we numbered but 63,
the rest of our fellows dead or left able to fight no more.
Because I could read and write, to me the job of writing letters back home fell
and I set to telling mothers how their sons fell victim to the war.
But it was not over for my regiment, now called Royal;
still more action at Flanders, Arras and Poelcappelle
until finally the guns fell silent and I was home, a fisher once again.
The stormy North Atlantic was my relief from years of hell.
I’m long gone from this earth living only in the memory of my grandson
and I know that he thinks of me all the time,
but unlike me he never had to hold a gun and fight
in the name of peace, never saw his friends cut down in their prime.
Still year by year when they come and gather
though they chant “lest we forget” it seems to me
they just don’t understand for they never lived it;
never saw those hundreds cut down right by the danger tree.
They promised us that would be the one to end all wars
but we saw it all arose time and time again
and even now I wonder, as they gather in silent reflection
when, in the name of peace or freedom we’ll wage the next campaign.