Saturday, 30 July 2016

Sapperton Manor and Hidden History

The church in Sapperton is dedicated to St.Kenhelm,
A much venerated Anglo-Saxon saint,
Whose shrine at Winchcombe
Was thus extolled by William of Malmesbury:
‘There was no place in England to where more pilgrims travelled
than to Winchcombe on Kenhelm’s feast day’.

The church at Sapperton is outwardly modest and yew tree shadowed,
But inside is a huge rococo stone effigy to Sir Robert Atkyns
(Once of this Frome valley parish at Pinbury Park);
His father owned and lived at Sapperton Manor,
‘A very grand building, rather overpowering’,
According to Alan Pilbeam in Gloucestershire 300 Years Ago.

A 1712 picture of the house and grounds is engrossing:
It shows umpteen bays, finials, gables, chimneys and trees,
And a vast estate of sylvan straight-line avenues,
Progressively receding into far distant vanishing point.

A bowling green stands in the foreground of this landscaped geometry,
With three diminutive figures triangulated in leisured sport -
Their pose captured forever like a draughtsman’s contract.
And as these figures went about their contracted play,
Sir Robert completed The Ancient and Present State of Glostershire
Before dying of dysentery – his book published posthumously.

The house was demolished some twenty years later,
But you can walk to its ghosts down the track by the side of the church:
‘A grassy mound of rubble below the church marks its former site …
The unusually flat surface beside the mound was the bowling green’ –
We descended to this spot to recreate and limn the bowlers’ triangle,
In a draughtsman’s liminal contact, contracted through time,
Surveyed with scales of justice.

The Sapperton estate was acquired by the Bathursts
(Patrician beneficiaries of the profits of slavery),
Who promptly demolished the grand house
(The Age of Elegance and Reason),
And though Alexander Pope might wander through this valley,
Augustan couplet praise, two a penny,
The Door of No Return and the Middle Passage
Meant a different triangle
(In the Atlantic Ocean,
With sharks and Bristol slaving ships):
But a contract must be honoured,
Even in the face of hypocrisy.

King Charles had already paid for sleeping at Sapperton with his head,
King George the Third visited Sapperton in 1788,
And went mad that year,
Talking to the trees,
Rather than his courtiers -
For here is an enchanted landscape,
Disenchanted by by slavery:
For the infant River Frome would wend its way
To the Severn, the Bristol Channel, the Atlantic Ocean,
And so to Benjamin Bathurst, Deputy-Governor of the Leeward Islands,
‘And a high-ranking official and shareholder in the Royal African Company’
(Madge Dresser: Slavery and the British Country House),
And golden, cankered, guineas would make so many return voyages,
Across the Atlantic Ocean,
And so,
To that
‘Grassy mound of rubble below the church’,
Where three figures re-limned ‘a triangle of persons at bowls’,
And reconfigured a historical contract,
On Saturday 23rd July,
In the Year of Our Lord,

Friday, 29 July 2016

My Memories of July 30th, 1966

Summer holidays were long then:
Eight weeks,
And by the end of July,
We’d run out of money and run out of fags,
And that was the big talking point:
We had no fags for the match,
No fags,
No Embassy, no Number Six, no Gold Leaf.

 I told my mates of my dad’s jungle Chindit trick
(I’d read it in Safer than A Known Way,
About a soldier escaping back to British lines in Burma),
Smoking fags made out of tea leaves and bog roll,
And things were that desperate,
What with nerves and all,
That my mates thought it a good idea;
We gave it a go,

The fags were a fiasco,
But you look on the bright side when you singe your eye brows,
And even though we burnt our noses in the flames,
Mickey Hamm said that at least it got rid
Of the smell of my old Mice and Men dog, Chum.

We stared forlorn at the burnt Typhoo – Hornimans mix,
And the charred fragments of Delsey and Sellotape,
We had one last hope:
Extra time.
Dad took a last fag from his packet of Senior Service -

We hoped he might give us a drag,
Especially if we stared at him all the way through the tab;
He smoked slowly and obliviously and he smoked the lot,
And then stubbed the dog-end  out in the ash tray.
We thought it was all over,
It was now.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

John Keats and Bobby Moore and the Likely Lads and Jean Baudrillard at the Crown and Sceptre

Buddleia in broad gauge bloom down on Stroud station,
Crazy golf flags out at the Brunel Goods Shed,
As I lazily read the Stroud News on the train to London,
Until I came across Rodda Thomas of Crown and Sceptre fame:
‘’ The whole game, in real time, kicking off at 3pm on Saturday,
exactly 50 years to the minute since the real game kicked off …
We will also pretend not to know the final score and it will be only 10 shillings
(50 p in new money) a ticket too.”
This struck me as a sort of post-modernist collision with the Likely Lads:
The No Hiding Place episode when they try to avoid finding out
The score of an England game before watching the highlights on TV …
But now with the clever conceit of a pub post-modernist TV twist …
This time we actually know the score but pretend we don’t ...
Not so much a suspension of disbelief as a suspension of knowledge ...
I suppose that's why Chris Farlowe was number one on the day:
'Out of Time', July 30th 1966.

The train trundled on to Swindon and more Stroud news from 1966,
Real, this time, no pretending:
The Cainscross and Ebley Co-op bread vans were being withdrawn,
Losing money, shopping habits changing, supermarkets …
Mr. and Mrs. Staines, directors of Taylor Bros Ltd since the war,
Were retiring and so the 70 year firm in Gloucester Street was to close:
The newspaper said it
‘Had served generations of cycling schoolboys
and vehicle owners in its 70-year history.’

There was no mention of where cycling schoolgirls might go.

By Didcot, I was on to the Guardian, to discover another World Cup tale:
The blue plaque unveiling at Bobby Moore’s childhood Barking home -
His daughter, Roberta, said:
“This is where it all began – kicking a ball out here in the street
with his friends before embarking on an incredible journey
which we all know led him up the steps to collect the World Cup
from the Queen at Wembley 50 years ago this week.’
By now, I really was beginning to think that everything really is all interlinked,
In a cosmic hyper-reality Alice through the Looking Glass sort of way,
Especially when we got to Reading,
Where I was now on the Guardian G2, and serendipitously reading
About John Keats’ ‘negative capability’, or, as Stuart Jefferies put it:
Humanity ‘is capable of being in uncertain systematic doubt,
without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’

Which is just what we’ll be doing up at the Crown and Sceptre, I suppose,
In a sort of post-modernist, knowingly ironic self-referential way,
Where John Keats meets Bobby Moore meets the Likely Lads
Meets Jean Baudrillard sort of thing,
(Blimey! There goes Battle of Britain class, Lord Dowding,
34052 in steam at Southall – perhaps it is 1966.),
And it was all very well for Baudrillard to say:
“Power is only to willing to allow football
a diabolical responsibility for stupefying the masses”,
And I daresay I might agree with that some times,
But I’ll see you up the pub on Saturday,

For once, I really can’t see us losing.
Can you?
Might go to extra time though.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Paul Southcott's Seasonal Observations

I sing to my dear friends the Trees that grow all around Haresfield Beacon ... they've given me a lot of love and teachings, and they seem to enjoy singing.

Full moon... my eyes full of her glorious bright broad face, the chilly breeze blowing around my head, the fire warming my legs and my ears ringing with the song of the stars.... beauty and blessings and peace to everyone …

Spring is on my mind, and what a subtle and slippery business the seasons can be... There's a special light around on some days now, which seems to show itself just in those extra few minutes as the days lengthen... blink and it's gone! A bit like the first young leaves, or the primroses... they're suddenly all there, then suddenly gone, and something else is happening... In the woods now you can the woodpecker drumming … that's a sound that's just not been there for months, and the tiny tinny sound of a flock of long tailed tits up in the high branches of the trees.... You have to be out there and catch all these things, because the seasons don't stop, they keep rolling and the world changes, and changes again, then again, and so on... and the wild garlic's back!

Today I went walking over the Beacon and found violets and bluebells and anemones, all growing in a place I call The Singing Place, because you have to sing to it when you go there, and now I've been sitting out with the Moon, watching her rise up through the branches of the big Ash Tree at the end of the garden... when I focused on her full on through the network of branches, the whole tree changed, and looked like a big spreading piece of embroidery against the sky …

we made a long overdue visit to Avebury today, in the Springtime sunshine.. I love the country around there...the kindly hills and hollows and the clear bright streams of water, the Ash trees and the Beech trees and the feeling that it's all lived in and loved by strong ancient Spirits who have been there since the beginning of things... we walked around the Circle and down the Avenue and up Warden Hill and down and along past Silbury Hill, across the road and the Stream and up to the Long Barrow, and the Sun shone and the Larks sang and the Breezes played and the Buzzards soared and we came home tired and I made a cheese souffle! First time ever! And it wasn't bad either.

Spent a lovely day today up around the chimney of local Stately Pile Frampton Court, with my Faithful Companion Tonto Cockings, knocking off some ancient render with a view to replacing it with some new render of the same kind... the Sun shone and warmed us, and we had the most glorious view over parkland full of Geese and sheep, to a beautiful lake... five beautiful white doves flew around, their translucent wings and white breasts quite breathtaking against the blue of the sky.. we had to remove some stones from the top of the chimney, which is an enormous double one that is also used as a bell tower, and under one of the stones was a whole colony of ladybirds, huddled in the sooty darkness, waiting for the right moment to come out and sort out all the aphids.. I know it's work, but you can't help feeling blessed sometimes...

Nobody ever talks about Jackdaws, so I'm going to. I don't know anything about them, but I see them a lot. There's a whole flock of them living in the rocks up on the way to the Beacon, and they're always flying around among the trees, chacking and chawking and generally making a lot of noise ... they seem very genial, busy sociable and curious creatures … when I was young I knew somebody who had one for a pet, and it could say a few words of speech, and in the old house where I've been working recently, there were some living in the chimney. Every day you could hear conversing with each other, and giving the odd squawk... does anybody know any folklore about Jackdaws? I'm very fond of them!

… lovely coming home, down the lane away from the street lights, into the dark where the owls and the foxes and the badgers live and the trees hold up the sky and the little diamond-pin stars stop it from blowing away...

My friend Godfrey Lacks has just sent me a flute that I asked him to make for me... I'm going to use it to play in various places where I walk that seem to be asking for a bit of music...

A beautiful afternoon up on the Beacon... It was grey, misty and raining, but there was lots of birdsong, and everything greening up.... The Hawthorns are really lovely at the moment, their branches stitched with tight, bright green buds like beads, or some with tiny feathery leaves just beginning to spread themselves into the light and the warmth… There are lots of bluebells under the beeches, and violets all along the edges of the paths, and in the open grassy spaces, suddenly, cowslips are everywhere ... It's a precious time, and it's easy to miss these subtle changes, the little steps towards Summer...

Our house is old, built of stone. The back wall is built into a bank of earth. Sometimes, when it's wet or cold, rats hide inside the back wall. They've never come into the house; they seem to have a safe place somewhere inside the wall. The piano stands against the back wall, and sometimes, when she can hear the rats, our dog Bella gets very excited and sniffs and squeaks all around the piano. She did that this evening, and got more and more excited, till we thought that a rat must have come out into the room. I pulled the piano away from the wall, and a face peeped out and disappeared... then a tiny fox cub ran out and jumped up on a chair! I managed to catch him.. what an amazing thing, to have a fox cub in the house.. and took him out into the garden and let him go. Off he went, back to his fox family, I hope, and we all had a dram to calm our nerves and celebrate this visit of a lovely wild creature into our house ... Hurray!

Went up on the Beacon to day, and there's one particular place where I like to sit, between an Oak Tree, an Ash tree, and a Thorn tree... a Gentle place, maybe. And looking down from it, across the fields, there's a big old Oak, who has stood out pretty black and jagged and Gnarly all through the winter, but suddenly he looks quite different... the young leaves, which have shown a kind of yellowy orange for the last couple of weeks have really unfolded and turned a beautiful clear green... his shape has filled out and become really graceful, and now when you see him you would think he was dancing … it's very special! Then this evening we sat by the fire in the garden and watched the Swifts, high, high up in the sky, and listened to the birds finishing their day and saw the Bats beginning to fly and saw Jupiter appear and felt the quiet grow, and now it's finally dark and the Owls are calling ... Welcome Summer...

Guess where I've been today? Yes! The Beacon! Two things struck me really strongly when we were up there.. First, it was/is beautifully hot, sunny with clouds wandering about and a lovely cool breeze, and sitting up on the side of the Hill and looking across and down towards the Severn made me feel a strange link with the past.. it's something that happens often, and I remember it from when I was small, a feeling that this time could be any time from times long past... my mind always goes back to prehistoric times, in fact, although I know that the landscape would have looked different, the bones would perhaps be recognisable, but the Earth, the dear old Sweet Earth, was the same, the Spirit was there then, and is now ... and then I was struck by how much time I need to really look at something ... looking at the Trees and realising that their "voice", or presence, or whatever you want to call it, is made up of so many things, that become more and more subtle ... going out from the centre, through the bark, and the lichens and things that grow on it, up through the boughs, the branches, the twigs into the leaves, the flowers, the scent, the fluttering of the birds and the buzzing of the insects that spend time around this tree, because it is the tree it is... and all that makes up the complete presence and ongoing effect of this tree in the place where it lives…

Sitting watching the rain today.. Rain is falling, birds are singing, and all the different songs are making a web of sounds that, once I start really listening to it, becomes something that I can almost see, made of colours and shapes and depth that move and wind about.. The Trees along the edge of the field, once I really begin to look, shine out into many more shades of green and grey and black and brown and yellow and red than my usual thoughts about Trees would allow ... they show many more patterns and forms and scapes than I see with my everyday passing eyes.. It's a grey day, the grey sky marked from time to time with the lines and strokes of the flight of birds, and below that the treescape is lightened by the streaks and drops of falling rain.. What a double - edged thing our senses can be.. where we 're used to seeing Trees, Rocks, Hills, it can be that that's all we see, but there's a trick to just letting things be, and they then allow our senses to really become our teachers, that don't just tie us to what we know, the things we're used to, and expect, but show us more and more of what's really around us, and all the possibilities.
An amazing vivid double rainbow, on Full Moon night! Wondrous!
The dear and lovely Moon has just sailed clear of the tops of the trees.. I've been standing in her light, and now I'm going to bed … goodnight and Blessings...

The young fox cub who was in our house last week was back again today, sitting in the garden! It was great to see him there...

Well, what a long way Norfolk is from everywhere. But what a beautiful place! At least it certainly was today, soft sunlight and a pale blue sky, green gently rolling fields with poppies marking out the edges, under creamy white and pink May blossoms ... all very quiet and peaceful...  and there's a beautiful poem, supposedly by Walter Raleigh, that starts: as you came from the Holy Land / of Walsingham / Saw you not mine own true love / By the way as you came...I found it years and years ago, when I was a boy, and I learned it and have never forgotten it.. I always wanted to visit Walsingham, because of that poem, and now I will. I recommend it to everyone ... I think it's especially beautiful because of the kind of broken antique language, and lumpy uneven rhythm... anyway find it and have a read ... it's a beauty... another one that always makes me cry…

Loads of things on my mind ... my family, kids, the people I know... and today we were in the garden looking at bumble bees. There was a strange one, with a gingery back with a shiny black spot on it, and a whitish back end ... It looked very weak or exhausted.. I picked it up and put a drop of honey water in my hand and it perked up slightly and began to slowly drink it up. Meanwhile we discovered that it was a Tree Bumblebee. ... An immigrant, doing what most immigrants do ... i.e. settling down and fitting in and posing no threat to the native Bumblebees ...after about 30 minutes she pulled herself together and bumbled off, and I felt quite sad to see her go ... and this evening I went to a script-reading for a film that some friends in Stroud want to make about the Chartists and what they had to contend with ... many bells were ringing, reading about their times and our times. … interesting and slightly chilling ...

One of the great pleasures of life: Lying in the bath, watching and listening to the rain pouring down outside the open window... watch this space for a haiku...?

Yesterday morning it rained ... we went out to the Beacon in the late afternoon, and walked out to the end of the ridge and looked south and east across the valley, watching the long grass running and rippling in the wind, and the midsummer crystal sunlight washing over the woods and the green hills, and listened to the birdsong echoing among the trees and the hawthorn bushes, which are now full of small, hard berries. Two weeks ago they were covered in creamy white blossoms.. The tipping point has arrived, again... there are still orchids, rock roses, buttercups everywhere, and the grasses are flowering and the knapweed is full of marbled white butterflies, that always arrive just at the peak of summer, but now the time of ripening has begun ... It's easy to ignore all these things and get left behind, but Nature has got things to do, and just gets on with it...

Do I imagine it, or are there really different qualities of Quietness? Last night, looking at the beautiful shining Moon, the quietness seemed to come in (soundless) rhythmical waves, while at other times it can be more like real silence, which I a different kind of thing to quietness I suppose... silence being absence of sound?, while quietness is as much a mood or a feeling as it is absence of sound....? Am I just waffling? Anyway, I think what I'm on about is true for me....

Cherries. We have them for just a few weeks every year, but what a difference they make. I know there are different kinds, but I've got some of these big, black, sweet ones, and I'm afraid I might finish up eating them all... it's almost as though they're eating me, in fact. It looks like wild cherries may have always existed in this country, but introducing the cultivated ones may be the one good thing that the Romans did for us... Dear friends, they're around now. Eat as many as you can, because there's no better way to show gratitude and to honour the nature Spirits that have come up with such a wonderful gift. Plus they're good for you.. in some quite surprising ways, in fact.. I may have to come back with a bit more on this... meanwhile: Hurray for Cherries!

Friday, 22 July 2016

For John Summerbee

I knew of Mick and I knew of Nick,
But I didn’t know of your existence,
Until early one morning on the number 46 bus,
When I was reading a Swindon Town programme.

It was back in 1992,
And you told me that Nicky was your nephew,
And I looked at you, someone I had never met or seen before,
And I asked you the next obvious, but risky question:
And it turned out that, yes, you were a boyhood hero’s brother,
You were the brother of Buzzer:
You were Mick Summerbee’s brother!

And it was the best conversation I have ever had on a bus
With someone I had never met before,
It was electric empathy and just the ticket,
As I told you of how I had seen best mates Mick and Ernie Hunt,
Grave-digging, back in the close season maximum wage early 1960’s,
When I was train spotting on Swindon Junction’s Milk Bank,
And how I missed some important engine numbers,
Just so I could watch them walk down the street to the café,
And how Mick and Ernie and Donald Rogers were my idols,
And how Mick had given up his time to coach Swindon Boys,
And had actually passed the ball to me in training,
And I didn’t want to clean my boots for a week, oh no,
And all this came out in a stream of consciousness,
And at no point did I ask about you, who you were,
As a person, as an individual, as John Summerbee,
As Mr. John Summerbee.
But it didn’t bother you,
And we always said hello in the streets or on the ‘bus,
Or when out walking the dogs in the valleys and fields,
Or having our hair cut in Summerbee’s salon.

But I knew nothing of your boyhood, until one Christmas,
When I read Colin Shindler’s book,
And it’s then I read of your dad, George,
And his struggles to make it as a footballer,
The dream move from Aldershot to Proud pre-war Preston,
Going sadly wrong, with wage cuts and wage slavery
And demoralising constant reserve team football:
Obscurity instead of fame, the struggle to make ends meet,
The drop down the divisions, as the body slowed down,
The youthful dream of stardom turned to non-league dust,
While your mum, Dulcie, coped with all the moves
And temporary homes of a travelling journeyman footballer.

And I read of your real life as John, your dad’s favourite son,
In whose shadow, Mick nervously walked,
For you were the better footballer and cricketer,
Until you were shattered by George’s early worn out death,
All dreams ruined at the tender age of just forty.
It’s then you turned your back on sport, and used your other talents,
For you were a star carpenter and joiner, too;
And even though I never met your dad,
And have only seen the photographs and read of him in a book,
The handsome dapper young man in his hand cut suits,
With shoes as shiny as a new pin, that you could see the faces in,
I see you in Stroud, immaculately turned out,
And now I know that I am not just looking at Mr. John Summerbee -
But I am also looking at George’s favourite son,
Walking in no one’s shadow, but his own and his dad’s.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Come Back Dad (Again)

Come Back Dad
And hide “British History For Boys”
Underneath my pillow while I’m asleep,
As a surprise coming home present;

Come Back Dad
And bring home
Mars Bars and eucalyptus sweets
On Thursday pay nights
For our weekly treat;

Come Back Dad
And tap the beer barrel
At 5a.m. on Christmas Day morning,
Exclaiming: “First one of the day!”

Come Back Dad
And put that “How to play Football” book
Under the tree
So I could learn to play just like you.

Come Back Dad
And make your own telly for the cup final again,
But this time it won’t blow up
Before our astonished faces;

Come back Dad,
And watch Remembrance Day
On a brand new bought telly,
And remember your fallen comrades,
With a tear in your eye;

Come Back Dad

And dig the spuds in on a bird-song Good Friday,
Out in the garden with your memories,
And then lead the sing-song round the Wheatsheaf.

Come Back Dad

And sing “Little Nell” with mum again

And let’s hear “The Sheikh of Araby” again,
Who else would have Christmas boots on kicking up the dust?

Come Back Dad
And sit me on your knee after the pub again,
And tell me about fighting the Japanese in the jungle,
Hearing their long night siren call:
“Come on Tommy. Look over here Tommy.”

Come Back Dad
And tell me one more time about Dixie Dean and Lawton,
And Matthews, Mortensen and Finney
And how much better they are than today’s lot.

Come Back Dad
And stub out your last fag of the day again
And put it behind your ear together with your pencil,
Senior Service ship-shape fashion for the morning;

Come Back Dad
And study the pools coupon by the firelight again,
While I read “Roy of the Rovers”
And dream of playing for England;

Come Back Dad
And pass the ball to me for just one more time.

Just like you do,
Every day,
And I'll pass it back to you,
On every Christmas Day,
At 5 a.m.,
First one of the day.

My brother, Keith, and me, bleary-eyed, were once greeted by our dad tapping the barrel at 5 o’clock on Christmas Day morning with a jaunty: ‘First one of the day!’

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Walking through the Great War in Bristol

It was eleven o’clock, on a sunshine Sunday in July,
When we gathered together to way-fare through time,
In Bristol, at Temple Meads station forecourt:
The carriage doors of remembrance troop trains
Slamming shut, as whistles blew
To take troops over the top,
To a new experience of gas and smoke,
Far away from clocking in and clocking out
At gasworks, ironworks, glassworks, rope-works,
Railway yards, engineering works, docks and cuts
Around St Phillips and the Dings.

We wandered through Edgelands terrain:
An urban-industrial cobbled street interface:
Buddleia in bloom, blackberry in blossom,
Bindweed clustered on rusting railway railings,
Damp, dripping tunnels of red brick and bedrock,
Street names recalling a long lost rural past:
‘Barleyfields’, and the pub: the ‘Barley Mow’.

Victorian terraced streets, now long gone,
From where Arthur and Alfred Jefferies once strode out,
To volunteer for the British Army,
And where their mother, Georgina,
Was at her washing line,
One day in September 1916,
When the telegram boy called:
The curtains were pulled tight across the windows,
The laundering was forgotten,
A cry of pain and anguish echoed up the stairs:
Arthur had been killed in action at the Somme -
Curtains were pulled tight too at the home
Of Arthur’s wife and children.

Then one member of our troupe - Roger Fogg -
Pulled out his grand-dad’s Soldier’s Small Book
(With photographs, addresses, next of kin and a will),
Right where his grand father – and the Jefferies –
Used to live before the Great War:
This was a theatre of memory –
We could see the boys right there before our eyes,
Clutching an old ragged football,
Laughing together on their way to the board school:
‘He would have known Arthur and Alfred.
They would have been mates.
He would have played with them in the streets just round here.’
(Cars now edging between the boys, and ourselves,
To reach a recycling centre
At the end of what was once a street with houses.)

A pigeon flew into the branches of an edgelands ash tree,
But with no message travelling through time
To us, and nor to mother, from Alfred at the front;
Wounded at Ypres, shell-shocked at the Somme,
At the end of his tether,
Shot at dawn on November 1st 1916,
Part of that accelerated wave of executions
That coincided with the faltering Somme offensive.

Georgina tramped over the cobble stones,
Handkerchief in hand,
Through the fog and reek of gas and smoke and steam,
Past a queer, sardonic rat,
A sentinel of the docks;
She cut herself a bit of bread and marg,
Pulled the curtains tight shut yet again,
And sat in the parlour gloom,
The clock ticking its empty time;

General Haig glanced at his watch,
And scratched yet another quick note:
‘How can we ever win if a plea like this is allowed?’

Sunday, 10 July 2016

1916-1926: from the Somme to the General Strike

The British Army at the start of the Great War
Was essentially ‘Wellingtonian’:
A predominantly country-set set of officers,
A predominantly rural army of men,
Battalions and companies of men and officers,
With a reverence for tradition and locality,
Be it the BEF or the Territorials:
‘I daresay it is snobbish to say so, but the fact remains that men will follow a gentleman much more readily than they will an officer whose social position is not so well assured.’
Kitchener’s recruits changed that, of course,
And then with conscription, by the end of the war,
5 million industrial workers had joined the army –
‘More than 10% of the … workforce joined up in the first two months of war’;
Two and a half million men had volunteered by 1916
And a further 2 million men indicated
That they would willingly countenance conscription;
This patriotism still meant some cultural problems, however: 
Trade unionism, for example;
But, in the main, military discipline did its job:
From saluting right through to executions …
Although when trouble did break out, as at Etaples,
Then the old class antagonisms came to the surface –
As with General Haig:
‘Men of this stamp are not content with remaining quiet,
they come from a class which like to air real or fancied grievances…’;
But class prejudice was of little consequence
When placed alongside racial prejudice –
When colonial support workers went on strike in France,
Summary public shootings were the response.

So, after this contextualization,
I, do make Oath, that I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to His Majesty King George the Fifth, His Heirs, and Successors, and that I will, as in duty bound, honestly and faithfully defend His Majesty, His Heirs, and Successors, in Person, Crown and Dignity, against all enemies, and will observe and obey all orders of His Majesty, His Heirs and Successors, and of the Generals and Officers set over me.
So help me God.

So now on to the Somme:
‘Pals’ Battalions, on the whistle, lads. Steady pace in straight lines.
Into the remembrance of statistics’:
‘How many officers and men went over the top on July 1st 1916?’
‘150,000, sir.’
‘What weight did the men carry?”
’66 lbs: rifle, grenades, ammo, rations, cape, helmet, gas masks (two), goggles, sandbags (empty, four), field dressing, pick/shovel, water bottle, mess tin, sir.’
‘And our casualties?’
’19,000 dead and 38,000 wounded. Highest figures ever in a single day, sir.’
‘Good man. Correct again. And was that it?’
‘No, sir: another five months of bloody attrition, sir, and another 420,000 casualties. ’
‘How long was the front?”
‘Eighteen miles, sir; but listen to this account of the 1st of July from Captain Gerald Brenan, M.C., sir. It gives a flavour of the battle.’
‘The battle opened a little after sunrise on 1 July 1916, with a bombardment that shook the air with its roar and sent up the earth on the German trenches in gigantic fountains. It seemed as though no human being could live through that. Then our men climbed by short ladders onto the parapet and began to move forward shoulder to shoulder, one behind the other, across the rough ground. They moved slowly because each of them carried a weight of 66 pounds. Then the German barrage fell on our trenches and their machine-guns began to rattle furiously. Clouds of blue and grey smoke from the bursting shells, mixing with a light ground mist, hid the general view, but in the gaps I could see little ant-like figures, some of them keeping on in a broken line, others falling, crawling, lying still. Each of them carried on his backs a tin triangle to assist in their identification by our artillery, and the early morning sun shone on these triangles and made them glitter. But as the hours passed I could not see that any of them had reached the German front line and later I knew why: our bombardment had not penetrated the deep dugouts the Germans had excavated in the chalk and their machine-gunners had come out and were mowing our men down …
The sun rose higher and higher in the sky, the heat of that scorching summer day grew and grew, but though I was never able to get any coherent picture, the failure of our assault on Serre gradually became obvious. Those three or four hundred yards of rough ground that lay in front of our front lines were thickly sprinkled with silver triangles, only a few of which still moved, while the German parapet was bare and still the pounding of our front trenches went on …
After fifty-six hours spent in shell-holes, sleeping among and even pillowed by dead comrades, without water, without food, having to defend themselves the whole time, a few of the more determined had managed to creep or fight their way back through the German lines to tell their tale.’
‘ Now here’s the last two stanzas from a poem by Second-Lieutenant Robert Ernest Vernede, 3rd Battalion, the Rifle Brigade, sir: it’s a poem about three selfless and quietly heroic sergeants who were killed, sir.’
‘Those sergeants I lost at Delville
On a night that was cruel and black,
They gave their lives for England’s sake,
They never will come back.

What of the hundreds in whose hearts
Thoughts no less splendid burn? …
I wonder what England will do for them
If ever they return?’

‘A few more statistics please, my good man. Death by our own hands - by the war’s end, how many of our men were executed by firing squad?'
‘346, I think, sir.’
‘Do you have any reports in my valise that we could share?’
‘Course, sir. Certainly sir. Here we are; three cases of privates.’
The man has a very bad character both in civil life and in the army. He is probably useless as a soldier. For the above reasons I feel it my duty to recommend that the sentence be carried out. I am quite aware that the general worthlessness of the man is inclined to influence above decision, but I have given due weight to this point and see no reason to allow it to alter my opinion. I do not think it affects my judgment.”
 “This man was not a man who gave much trouble neither was he in any way a man whom one would pick out as a good man. He is considered by his Platoon Commander to be of poor intellect, and I consider that he is a typical slum product of a low level intelligence…”
“The …Battalion … contains a proportion of rough characters and lately there has been a certain amount of insubordination especially when orders are issued for heavy work in the trenches. I am reluctantly compelled to state that I think an example is necessary in the interests of discipline of the Brigade.”
‘Is that enough, sir?’
‘Anything on NCO’s?'
‘Course, sir. Here we are again, happy as can be, all good friends and jolly good company.’
“As an NCO he is a failure, being too familiar with his subordinates, and surly and morose to his superiors … Chief cause of complaint is that NCOs will not assert themselves as they come from the same class of men as those in the ranks and think too much of their position after the war when they will all be in the workshops again.”
‘Were most men executed for funk? Cowardice?’
‘No, sir. Desertion. Here’s the views of two different generals, sir.’
“‘I consider the extreme penalty should be inflicted because: (a) the man has already deserted once on active service (b) he has no intention of fighting for his country (c) is quite worthless, as a soldier or in any other capacity and is better removed from the world.”
“He was no rotter deserving to die like that. He was merely fragile. He had volunteered to fight for his country … at the dictates of his own young heart. He failed. And for that failure he was condemned to die …”
‘What did the young man say?’
‘He said, sir, “What will my mother say?”’
‘You’re going on a walk today, aren’t you?”
‘Yes sir, Bristol, sir; we’re meeting at Temple Meads and then walking around St Philips and the Dings; we’re remembering the days of the Triple Industrial Alliance before the war. And remembering Alfred Jefferies who lived in St Philips and was executed for desertion on November 1st 1916: firing squad at dawn, sir. His brother Arthur was killed in 1916 too, at the Somme, sir. A bad year for the family, sir.’
‘Cheer me up, old chap, for God’s sake. Sing me a song or something.’
‘Course sir, certainly sir.’
“If you want to find the old battalion,
I know where they are, I know where they are, I know where they are
If you want to find the old battalion, I know where they are,
They're hanging on the old barbed wire,
I've seen 'em, I've seen 'em, hanging on the old barbed wire.
I've seen 'em, I've seen 'em, hanging on the old barbed wire.”

‘Before I finish, sir, one last thought. I’ve often reminisced about the old days sir, and one thing’s stuck in my mind but it’s rarely mentioned, sir. You know how people talk about the sacrifices and heroism at the Somme and so on, sir. But I’ve often thought what if those men had lived? Then we wouldn’t have lost the General Strike ten years later, sir. Just a thought sir - but worth thinking about.’

‘I’d like to finish, now, sir, if I may, with the last two stanzas of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem Aftermath, from March 1919. Thank you, sir, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you.’

“Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz –
The nights you watched and wired and dug sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench –
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?”

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack –
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized you and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads – those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?”

‘Just think, sir, those boys might have won the General Strike, sir. And I wouldn’t be calling you sir, sir. Would I?’