Finally the detachment laid aside their shovels, moving back into place and we all stood there, hands folded, heads bowed. A mile away the sound of shellfire continued unabated as we stood there in the grey morning in our ranks. The chaplain stepped forward and read, not The Lord’s Prayer, not the burial service, but from a slim volume unordained by the Church.
‘Come you home a hero
Or come not home at all,
The lads you leave will mind you
Till Ludlow tower shall fall.
And you will list the bugle
That blows in lands of morn,
And make the foes of England
Be sorry you were born.
And you till trump of doomsday
On lands of morn may lie,
And make the hearts of comrades
Be heavy where you die.’*
As the bugler stepped forward to sound The Last Post, a single tear rolled down the young Captain’s cheek. Twenty-two years old and a veteran of just a week, his first duty was to oversee the burial of our dead. Talk about the blind leading the blind, he was greener than we were. Poor chap. I felt sorry for the man. All that on his shoulders, while we just have to do as we’re told. And in front of him, the reality of a misguided strategy.
The last notes of the bugle died away, the wind blew softly, and grey clouds promised rain.
*A E Houseman's A Shropshire Lad