David Childs



At the beginning of November 1915 Prime Minister Asquith announced that Serbian independence would be an essential object of the war. A few days later Lord Kitchener left for a tour of inspection of the stalemated action at Gallipoli, knowing that a withdrawal of allied forces from this front would release troops to be sent to the Balkans. He would also have had confidence that the British advance on Baghdad, which eventually began on 11 November would be a success. In this he was wrong. After the three day Battle of Ctesiphon ended on 25 November the British were forced to retire to Kut al Amara where they soon became under siege. Meanwhile, at home, there was a growing concern over the threat to supplies of food and the raw materials essential to the war effort. The German mining and submarine campaign was taking its toll.


Siegfried Sassoon's first poem from the front line was written in November 1915. It reflects, as so many works did at this time, the link between the human sacrifice in the trenches and the suffering of Christ on Calvary. It is entitled, The Redeemer

Darkness: the rain sluiced down; the mire was deep;
It was past twelve on a mid-winter night,
When peaceful folk in beds lay snug asleep;
There, with much work to do before the light,
We lugged our clay-sucked boots as best we might
Along the trench; sometimes a bullet sang,
And droning shells burst with a hollow bang;
We were soaked, chilled and wretched, every one;
Darkness; the distant wink of a huge gun.

I turned in the black ditch, loathing the storm;
A rocket fizzed and burned with blanching flare,
And lit the face of what had been a form
Floundering in mirk. He stood before me there;
I say that He was Christ; stiff in the glare,
And leaning forward from His burdening task,
Both arms supporting it; His eyes on mine
Stared from the woeful head that seemed a mask
Of mortal pain in Hell's unholy shine.

No thorny crown, only a woollen cap
He wore-an English soldier, white and strong,
Who loved his time like any simple chap,
Good days of work and sport and homely song;
Now he has learned that nights are very long,
And dawn a watching of the windowed sky.
But to the end, unjudging, he'll endure
Horror and pain, not uncontent to die
That Lancaster on Lune may stand secure.

He faced me, reeling in his weariness,
Shouldering his load of planks, so hard to bear.
I say that He was Christ, who wrought to bless
All groping things with freedom bright as air,
And with His mercy washed and made them fair.
Then the flame sank, and all grew black as pitch,
While we began to struggle along the ditch;
And someone flung his burden in the muck,
Mumbling: 'O Christ Almighty, now I'm stuck!'

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