David Childs


Although February was a quiet month in the British sector of the Western Front, on the 21st the German assault on Verdun began and with it one of the major slaughters of the whole war as the French refused to let the town be taken and the German's refused to admit that they could not do so. In contrast to this charnel house, and to show that war could have a romantic element, the delightfully named HM Ships Mimi and Fifi sunk a German gunboat on Lake Tanganyika, an event that would eventually lead to the making of that magnificent film, The African Queen. The Royal Navy was in action also on the last day of this leap year month when in a two ship engagement in the North Sea the German raider Grief was sunk by the auxiliary cruiser HMS Alcantra which also went to the bottom.


In February Alan Seeger, an American fighting in the French Foreign Legion (and kia 4 July at the Somme), wrote one of the most famous opening lines of any war poem. This shown below alongside the February poem of a Frenchman, Marc de Larreguy de Civrieux (kia Verdun 18 Nov 1916), which echoes Seeger's sentiment but with a typical Gallic shrug.

I have a Rendezvous with Death

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air-
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath-
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.


After the Charleroi affair
And since we waved the Marne goodbye,
I drag my carcase everywhere,
But never know the reason why.

In trench or barn I spend my day,
From fort or attic glimpse the sky,
At this war simply slog away,
But never know the reason why.

I ask, hoping to understand
This slaughter's purpose. The reply
I get is: 'For the Motherland!"
But never know the reason why.

Better for me to just keep mum
And, when it's my own turn to die,
Depart this life for kingdom come,
But never know the reason why.

©  Tisbury History Society
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