Remembering the Blue Puttees on Canada Day

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.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
This entry was posted in Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, poetry/songs and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Remembering the Blue Puttees on Canada Day

  1. It’s embarrassing, how little Canadian history I know. Evangeline made it into our history books, but only because Henry Longfellow wrote a poem about her (and she’s mostly fiction, although the expulsion wasn’t!)

    Happy Canada Day!

  2. jennypellett says:

    Lovely tribute for Canada Day and remembering those who perished in WW1. But as you suggest, war never really ends and that should be our true reflection.

    • Thank you. It’s my belief that we should always honour those who serve in both our military and para-military forces. In particular we, as a society, need to do a MUCH better job of ensuring that we keep supporting them long after their years of active service have ended. As it is, ongoing support & benefits as well as pensions leave a lot to be desired. We also need to keep a much more active eye, though, on the complex conditions and realities that lead to conflicts, bot past and present and not just cover up our ignorance by stating they served “for our freedoms.” That bit of nonsense is not only naive, but also it dishonours the actions of those who did/do serve, living day after day in a dangerous, harsh reality and (for many) paying that ultimate price.

  3. Your words effectively convey a picture of the senselessness of it all. Perhaps without regard to a single campaign … but overall. If one could measure costs and benefits realized over the history of all wars … where would we be? Zero, I believe … if not in the red. What have we, as a species, gained? What a waste of so much. Remembering is important though. Very much so. Thanks for having us do so. D

    • Agreed. The thing to bear in mind, I suppose, is that aggression is something that will always be around and sometimes, when all else fails, all we are left with is violence. It’s therefore incumbent upon all of us to ensure that this is only ever used as a last resort.
      As for the sum total being likely in the red I am inclined to agree with you. Sure, wartime does tend to be a period in which significant technological advances are made. I figure materials science as well as most things mechanical came into being at least in part through some or other application to weaponry. But was it worth it? When the response starts by acknowledging that the “good” applications only came as a side-benefit then you know what the answer has to be, eh…

  4. Tiny says:

    Happy belated Canada Day! Good history lesson in form of a nice tribute! I also hope that the humankind would use aggression as the very last resort….

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