The Great War

from Great Poems of the World War, an electronic edition

Runner McGee
(Who Had "Return if Possible" Orders.)

YOU'VE heard a good deal of the telephone wires,"

He said as we sat at our ease,

And talked of the struggle that's taking men's lives

In these terrible days o'er the seas,

"But I've been through the thick of the thing

And I know when a battle's begun

It isn't the 'phone you depend on for help.

It's the legs of a boy who can run.

It isn't because of the 'phone that I'm here.

Today you are talking to me

Because of the grit and the pluck of a boy.

His title was Runner McGee.

We were up to our dead line an' fighting alone;

Some plan had miscarried, I guess,

And the help we were promised had failed to arrive.

We were showing all signs of distress.

"Our curtain of fire was ahead of us still,

An' theirs was behind us an' thick,

An' there wasn't a thing we could do for ourselves

The few of us left had to stick.

You haven't much chance to get central an' talk

On the 'phone to the music of guns;

Getting' word to the chief is a matter right then

That is up to the fellow who runs.

"I'd sent four of 'em back with the R. I. P. sign,

Which means to return if you can,

But none of 'em got through the curtain of fire;

My hurry call died with the man.

Then Runner McGee said he'd try to get through.

I hated to order the kid

On his mission of death; thought he'd never get by,

But somehow or other he did.

"Yes, he's dead. Died an hour after bringing us word

That the chief was aware of our plight,

An' for us to hang onto the ditch that we held;

The reserves would relieve us at night.

Then we stuck to our trench an' we stuck to our guns;

You know how you'll fight when you know

That new strength is coming to fill up the gaps.

There's heart in the force of your blow.

"It wasn't till later I got all the facts.

They wanted McGee to remain.

They begged him to stay. He had cheated death once,

An' was foolish to try it again.

'R. I. P. are my orders,' he answered them all,

'An' back to the boys I must go;

Four of us died comin' out with the news.

It will help them to know that you know.'"