The Great War

from War, The Liberator and Other Pieces, an electronic edition

The Charge of the Light

Brought Up to Date

HALF a league, half a league,

Half a league onward--

" That is, unless some damned

Airman has blundered,

If the map isn't right

We'll be a funny sight."

So as they tramped along

Officers pondered,

While, with equipment hung,

Curses on every tongue,

Forward with rifles slung,

Slouched the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them,

Volleyed and thundered,

" And--what was twice as bad--

Our gunners never had

Strafed that machine-gun lad.

I always wondered

If our old barrage could

Be half as bloody good

As the Staff said it would."

Was there a man dismayed?

Yes, they were damned afraid,

Loathing both shot and shell,

Into the mouth of Hell,

Sticking it pretty well,

Slouched the six hundred.

Through the barrage they passed,

Men falling thick and fast,

Till the machine-gun blast

Smote them to lying

Down in the grass a bit;

Over the roar of it

Officers yelled, were hit,

Dropped and lay dying.

Then the retreat began,

Every unwounded man

Staggered or crawled or ran

Back to the trench again,

While on the broken plain

Dead and untroubling,

Wounded and wondering,

What help the night would bring,

Lay the six hundred.