David Childs


At the start of the month Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, a move that contributed to the USA severing diplomatic relations with them on the 3rd. That relationship would be further strained when Britain passed to the US a copy of the Zimmerman telegram in which Germany promised Mexico a vast swathe of US territory as a reward if that country would declare war on its neighbour. In the last week of the month Germany began a withdrawal on the Western Front to the stronger Hindenburg line.

The February Poem

Ivor Gurney, was a composer and poet who had studied at the Royal School of Music where it was prophesied that he would have an illustrious career. His progress was interrupted by the war and he served on the Western Front from May 1916 until he was gassed in September 1917. He had shown signs of mental disorder before enlisting and his experiences on the front led to him spending the rest of his life in institutions, dying of TB in 1937.

It seems appropriate that this is a poem, written in February 1917, deals with the mind, the three spectres commentating on the soldier's fate recalling the prophesies made by the witches in Macbeth.

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.

The Three Spectres
As I went up by Ovillers
In mud and water cold to the knee,
There went three jeering, fleering spectres,
That walked abreast and talked of me.
The first said, 'Here's a right brave soldier
That walks the dark unfearingly;
Soon he'll come back on a fine stretcher,
And laughing for a nice Blighty.'
The second, 'Read his face, old comrade,
No kind of lucky chance I see;
One day he'll freeze in mud to the marrow,
Then look his last on Picardie.'

Though bitter the word of these first twain
Curses the third spat venomously;
'He'll stay untouched till the war's last dawning
Then live one hour of agony.'
Liars the first two were. Behold me
At sloping arms by one - two - three;
Waiting the time I shall discover
Whether the third spake verity.

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