“Underneath the open sky” is the title of this LJ, and has been since I started it. It’s one of those rare phrases that sticks in my mind long after the source has faded, memorable for its own simple beauty. I like the phrase; I’ve used it in some writing of my own, and though I’ve occasionally idly looked for it, most hits on search engines come to here, or lyrics of songs I know I’ve never heard.
The other day I happened upon its origin. It’s a poem which I now vaguely remember I read for GCSE English with Mrs Arnold, whose name I’d almost forgotten now but whose face I still know clear; studying that endless torrent of soldiers’ poetry that’s all anyone ever seems to know about the Great War, through a hot distant summer in the Elton Road block.
It was penned by EA Mackintosh, a soldier who wrote a good deal on war and death before meeting his own at Cambrai, and is a fascinating piece; it reflects an utter, perfect contempt for every aspect of the Great War save the act of battle itself, and a terrible love for the perceived purity of purpose of fighting men.
“Lads, you’re wanted, go and help,”
On the railway carriage wall
Stuck the poster, and I thought
Of the hands that penned the call.
Fat civilians wishing they
“Could go out and fight the Hun.”
Can’t you see them thanking God
That they’re over forty-one?
Girls with feathers, vulgar songs
Washy verse on England’s need
God and don’t we damned well know
How the message ought to read.
“Lads, you’re wanted! over there,”
Shiver in the morning dew,
More poor devils like yourselves
Waiting to be killed by you.
Go and help to swell the names
In the casualty lists.
Help to make a column’s stuff
For the blasted journalists.
Help to keep them nice and safe
From the wicked German foe.
Don’t let him come over here!
“Lads, you’re wanted out you go.”
There’s a better word than that,
Lads, and can’t you hear it come
From a million men that call
You to share their martyrdom.
Leave the harlots still to sing
Comic songs about the Hun,
Leave the fat old men to say
Now we’ve got them on the run.
Better twenty honest years
Than their dull three score and ten.
Lads, you’re wanted. Come and learn
To live and die with honest men.
You shall learn what men can do
If you will but pay the price,
Learn the gaiety and strength
In the gallant sacrifice.
Take your risk of life and death
Underneath the open sky.
Live clean or go out quick
Lads, you’re wanted. Come and die.