A bit of desert that will always be Scotland
“The graves of two Scottish soldiers are marked by upturned rifles in the sand, North Africa, 5 November 1942,” some 75 years ago this quiet Sunday.
This reminds me of Scottish poet Roderick Watson Kerr‘s piece, From the Line. Kerr himself was invalided out after picking up the MC while a junior officer in the 2nd Royal Tank Corps during the Great War.
From the Line
Have you seen men come from the Line,
Tottering, doddering, as if bad wine
Had drugged their very souls;
Their garments rent with holes
And caked with mud
And streaked with blood
Of others, or their own;
Haggard, weary-limbed and chilled to the bone,
Trudging aimless, hopeless, on
With listless eyes and faces drawn
Taut with woe?
Have you seen them aimless go
Bowed down with muddy pack
And muddy rifle slung on back,
And soaking overcoat,
Staring on with eyes that note
Nothing but the mire
Quenched of every fire?
Have you seen men when they come
From shell-holes filled with scum
Of mud and blood and flesh,
Where there’s nothing fresh
Like grass, or trees, or flowers,
And the numbing year-like hours
Lag on – drag on,
And the hopeless dawn
Brings naught but death, and rain –
The rain a fiend of pain
That scourges without end,
And Death, a smiling friend?
Have you seen men when they come from hell?
If not, – ah, well
Speak not with easy eloquence
That seems like sense
Of ‘War and its Necessity’!
And do not rant, I pray,
On ‘War’s Magnificent Nobility’!
If you’ve seen men come from the Line
You’ll know it’s Peace that is divine !
If you’ve not seen the things I’ve sung –
Let silence bind your tongue,
But, make all wars to cease,
And work, and work for Everlasting Peace !
–from War Daubs (London: John Lane, 1919) via the Scottish Poetry Library