Friday, 18 October 2013

"Handing Down" by Harold Begbie (Father of Janet) - where it all began. . .

I have been searching for years for this poem and, now, here it is thanks to Ann Swabey.

This was the very first WW1 poem I ever read.  I would have been about seven years old.  My Aunt Audrey, who was in the Wrens during the Second World War, had collected together poems, press cuttings and stories from the First World War in a little notebook.  After WW2, Audrey emigrated to South Africa where she died.   Mother kept her little notebook and let me look at which I did very often.  This poem always made me cry.   That is where my love of poetry and interest in WW1 comes from.


A WW1 Poem by Harold Begbie, Father of Janet Begbie, who is on my List of Female Poets of the First World War. Poem found and posted by Ann Swabey in the Facebook Group

Soldier what are you writing
By the side of your cooling gun?
Sir, since I’m stopped from fighting
A word to my little son.

Tell me the thing you've written
For I love the writer's art:
Sir, that to be a Briton
Is worth a broken heart.

Show me so fine a letter
That you write in the trenches mud:
Sir, you could read it better
Were it not for the stain of blood.

Soldier tell me your story
Your eyes grow bright and wide:
Sir, it's a taste of glory
To think of the young one's pride.

Would you like to be a soldier, little Tommy-all-my-own,
Would you like to tip the Kaiser off his high and mighty throne?
Would you like to be with father in a well-dug British trench,
Knocking spots off German Generals and saluting General French?

Would I like to be with Tommy, little Tommy-all-my-own,
Would I give a month of Sundays just to see how he has grown?
Yes ! I’d like to be a dustman in the poorest London streets
For the chance of meeting Tommy with a gumboil made of sweets.

If you want to be where I am, why, I want to be with you.
But I'm here to show a tyrant that a Briton's word is true
We must stand by little Belgium, we must fight till fighting ends.
We must show the foes of Britain that we don't desert our friends.

Don't you go and think, my Tommy, little Tommy-all-my-own.
That we're squabbling here for nothing that we're growling for a bone:
We are here for Britain's honour, for our freedom, for our peace.
And we're also here, my Tommy, that these wicked wars may cease.

Don't you say that I am funky, don't you say that I am sick,
Boy, I'm half afraid to tell you, but I love it when it's thick —
When the shells are screaming, bursting, and the whistling bullets wail,
God forgive me, but I love it, and I fight with tooth and nail.

But it's after, looking round us, missing friends and finding dead.
It is then the British soldier gets a fancy in his head.
And he swears by God in heaven that the man who starts a war.
Should go swimming into judgment down an avalanche of gore.

That's what makes us such great fighters, and I'd have you be the same,
Love your country like a good un, hold your head up, play the game,
Be a straight and pleasant neighbour, be a cool, un-ruffled man.
But when bullies want a thrashing, why, you thrash them all you can.

While you say your prayers, my Tommy, little Tommy-all-my-own,
Asking God to save your Daddy, I send this one to His throne:
Save my little lad from slaughter, guard his heart and mind from wrong,
Keep him sweet and kind and gentle, yes, but make him awful strong.

Good-night, my little Tommy, here's your Daddy's good-bye kiss.
Don't forget what I have told you, and remember also this —
If I don't come back to see you, I shall die without a groan,
For it's great to fall for Freedom, little Tommy-all- my-own.