David Childs

The mudfest at Ypres continued throughout October with Australian, Canadian and New Zealand units joining the British in the mire. By the 4th the Australians, with significant losses, had captured one of their objectives but over the next 48 hours over 25mm. of rain fell leaving them floundering when they attempted the great prize of Passchendaele village on the dominating ridge. They had greater success elsewhere: in the Battle of Beersheba in Palestine the Australian Light Horse made a cavalry charge that swept the Turks, defending with machine-guns, to one side and thrust open the road to Gaza. Back in Ypres, in the Second Battle of Passchendaele the Canadians advanced some hundred yards at the cost of 12,000 casualties. But the most important event that October happened in St. Petersburg when on the 25th a Soviet Congress took power.


Siegfried Sassoon wrote many of his best poems while undergoing treatment at Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh, for what we would today call 'shell-shock'. Attack, written in October 1917 was penned after he had seen pictures of the British attack on the Hindenburg Line. At first glance it seems to be a traditional sonnet but note it has (significantly?) just thirteen lines not the usual fourteen.


At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow'ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!


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