I’m not sure how much coverage during the centenary has been given to those poor men who were shot by their own side during WW1 – executed for “cowardice” or desertion.
But this is part of a letter written by a young man and smuggled out to his family on the eve of his execution.
Albert Troughton from Coventry had simply obeyed his Co’s last order:”Every man for himself”
He fought clear of the Germans and was then told one of his brothers had been killed and wandered off in shock. When arrested most of those who could vouch for him were dead or captured.
“Dear Mother and Father, Sisters and Brothers,
Just a few lines to let you know I am in the best of health and hope you are mother.
I am sorry to have to tell you that I am to be shot tomorrow at 7 o’clock in the morning.
….I shall die like a solider, so goodbye mother, father, sisters and brothers – if any left.
…I thought the most they would give me would be about ten years. It is worse than waiting to be hung.
..I am only a common soldier and all civilians should know that I have fought for my country in hail, sleet and snow. …..all my comrades have been slaughtered which I think everyone should know….this is the punishment I get for getting clear of the Germans.
I have been silly to go away but if you knew how worried I was, and almost off my head. Think how we had been slaughtered at the beginning of the war….you think they would have had a bit of pity for those who are living and dying for their country. Goodbye to all at home.
Albert Troughton was executed on April 22, 1915.
He was 22 years old.
The same age as my son.
About ten years ago while wandering around an antiques fair in Newark I came across a slim, scrappy, yellowing copy of a book called Soldier Poets: Songs of the Fighting Men.
It was published in 1916 and featured the heartfelt words of long forgotten men.
I seem to recall that the publisher was something of a rogue and there was some sort of scandal..either the soldiers were never paid or had to pay for the publication themselves.
It has been buried among other books on my shelves since the day I bought it.
I’ve been occasionally disturbed by some of the recent coverage of the WW1 centenary. At times it’s felt like something of celebration: an occasion for national pride.
I know few people will ever read these words but I thought now might be the time to re-produce some of the works of these forgotten men who never reached the heights of Owen or Sassoon.
And I thought it might be interesting to see what happened to them….
Here’s the first….
Julian Grenfell, DSO.
Captain, Royal Dragoons.
The naked earth is warm with Spring,
and with green grass and bursting trees,
Leans to the Sun’s gaze glorying,And quivers in the sunny breeze;
And life is colour and warmth and light,
and a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight;
And who dies fighting has increase.
The fighting man shall from the sun
Take warmth, and life from the glowing earth;
Speed with the light-foot winds to run,
And with the trees to newer birth;
And find, when fighting shall be done,
Great rest. and fullness after dearth.
(several more verses follow but these are my favourites..)
The blackbird sings to him:”Brother, brother
If this be the last song you shall sing,
Sing well for you may sing another;
“The thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air Death moans and sings;
But Day shall claspo him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings.”
Flanders, April 1915.
The Hon Julian Henry Francis Grenfell died a month after writing this poem. He was 27 years old.
I suppose he was one of the better known poets in this anthology. Into Battle was published in The Times after his death.