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Rated: 13+ · Poetry · War · #2142575
battle of Delville Wood - the South Africans in WWI
{{center}b}Where trees cry{/b}

Lean they were, tanned, Khaki clad and battle ready,
African sons each, Englishman and Boer, in solemn step marching.
Sergeants ranted and bugles rang shouting troops to steady!
Serious peeked hat officers gave stern warning
“This is it, this the big one boys!” they mouthed grimly,
A rumble of far of guns signal a battle dawning
All eyes seeking that sign as they marched on primly.

The skirl of pipes from a mother division
Carries weary feet in cadence stepped precision.
Toward death and destruction with no decision,
No fear uttered, no cowardly discussion.
Onward, onward toward that insane rattle
Testing, daring, paring all men’s fettle-
These the sacred sounds of battle.

So the first day these quiet men were sent
To straighten out a bent line, a Salient.
Benafay wood was to be re-taken bold,
So little ground gained for so much sold.
There African blood French soil blessed
As rifle barked and steel blades hissed,
Far off thunder bringing screaming death
Ploughing man and soil in hellish torment.
So blooded they quietly withdrew
To attack again in some place new.

In that minor fracas alone
Five hundred, four and thirty would die.
And so forever marked in stone
Their bodies would in silence lie.
To where the quiet, quaint, ancient Longueval stood
A vital link urgently needed in that Battle of the Somme
Those quiet men marched to retake Delville Wood.

Quiet stood this wood,
Where ancient trees have long stood,
The wild providing many with food,
Song of bird and dappled sunlight so good,
Little know soon this peace would
Be ruptured and torn so rude.

So a shy dawn blushes and kisses the Eastern night sky
This fifteenth day of July.
Led by one hundred and twenty one high born,
Three thousand and some quietly stand steady.
Scraped home long steel blades from scabbards worn
All look to their leaders, weapons ready.
With slow determination and greater trepidation
They entered that tangle overgrown wood.
The enemy retaliated with crashing artillery damnation
Flaying tree and man alike, many dying where they stood.

That whole day the guns thundered
Blasting fire, flaying steel and belching poisonous cloud.
Through man made hell the Springboks blundered,
Three times the Bosche attacked rifles barking loud,
Thrice were they beaten back by bayonet, spade and hand sundered.
All that terrible night hell rained down on those men,
Furious digging and scraping a cover to find.
Huddled together in small groups again and again
They fought through that dark night blind.

So in some chateau distant and warm
Starched uniforms gathered and muttered.
There another hellish plan was born
Behind elegant glass windows so cosily shuttered.
The order from the generals was given
“Lukin! The Bosche from the north woods must be driven!!”
Without as much as a star shell to guide those brave men,
He sent them with kilted brethren
To go out and get the ground back again.
But all for naught this endeavour
The Bavarian soldiers stood fast and fierce,
Laying low the bravest for ever
Their redoubt could not pierce.
This through bellowing hell and a dust riven sky,
The sun sank slowly as if to die,
This that sixteenth day of July.

Then at dawn,
The mist of battle covering the dead like a shroud,
The rising sun obscured by explosives cloud,
Came a warning to that Bavarian loud;
“To stand to!”
Again the division limped forward through woods tangled and torn,
Hindered by dying trees and crying men.
Through that artillery created maze of craters shorn
Only to be thrown back again.
Scurrying into the cover by the dead trees given,
Shooting over the bodies of those not yet shriven,
The whole day without shade to lie,
Not a drop to drink, nor rest for the eye.
Thus raged the battle that seventeenth day of July

Seeing his enemy so worn,
Unable to rest, wounded crying like a cattle forlorn,
No reserve of men to help stay the tide,
No more friends at their side.
The Bavarian warriors in the deep of night
Launched an attack hidden from sight.
But these quiet men from the veldt stood fast
And not only beat off that attack to last,
But drove the Bavarian from the Wood
Thinking, hoping, wishing for good.
Alas this scampering retreat was not as a result of their resolve-
But was to let those Germans find a place of cover.
For all artillery was called this battle to solve
To destroy this Brigade and have this small, vicious battle over.

Thus began this the fourth day.
All manner of machinery was brought to bear,
All manner of explosive and destruction poured down there.
So this punishment began to tell,
Brave flesh torn from comrades, ranks weakened and shorn,
So steadfast had they been these four days in hell
But even their courage was worn.
By that terrible pounding of the guns torn
The Bosche thought that truly this small force is spent,
And so from all points begun to advance.
Lying in mud, hiding in scrapes, broken rifles and bayonets bent,
Grimly tightening buckles for this last dance
The South Africans stormed out with fierce cry,
And once again men began to die.
The terror of battle once again roared and wailed
To and fro the enemies fought.
Hand to hand , rifles fired at point blank, with trenching tools assailed.
Inch by inch, foot by foot, so dearly bought,
Until only the very south of the Wood
Is where the Silent Men stood.
So huddled in pain and fear but with resolve that would not bend
This battles tide reached the fifth days end

The next day so that brave force whittled,
With endless barrage and with sniper skittled-
But still they held on.
Although some so spent and with nought to fight,
Quietly stood and withdrew into the night.
The rest stayed on through another hellish day
This small band kept the Germans at bay.
They lasted through the nights and into the next day-
When, at last, they were called back to rest.
So nine and twenty of the high born
Led the division so torn,
That only seven hundred and fifty could muster
On that the final morn.
As the sun rose in a bloody sky
That twentieth day of July.
An eerie silence came to that broken place
No bird sang, no wind sighing
Shattered stumps poked jagged,
Through shattered earth so ragged,
Only a soft keening of the wounded and dying.

As you walk now through that wood so sacred
You will see them lying there.
Regiments of white stones marching silent,
Their price paid for your care
By something so visceral, so violent
In that Delville Wood where so many came to die
So walk quietly on that sacred ground
And pay close heed to a haunting sound
This is Delville Wood
Silence bought with so much blood
That Battalion who came here to die
Delville Wood – where trees cry

{/center}On the Centenary of Delville Wood: July 18th 2016
©Robert Reid

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