Another painfully memorable poem from the First World War.

The writer, Ewart Alan Mackintosh MC, was killed in action at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917 at the age of 24. The young lieutenant, of Scottish parentage, felt heavy responsibility for the men under his command. His poetry is featured in Andrew Ferguson’s Ghosts of War: A History of World War I in Poetry and Prose (The History Press, £9.99).

         IN MEMORIAM

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So you were David’s father,

And he was your only son,

And the new-cut peats are rotting

And the work is left undone,

Because of an old man weeping,

Just an old man in pain,

For David, his son David,

That will not come again.

Oh, the letters he wrote you,

And I can see them still,

Not a word of the fighting,

But just the sheep on the hill

And how you should get the crops in

Ere the year got stormier,
And the Bosches have got his body,

And I was his officer.

You were only David’s father,

But I had fifty sons

When we went up in the evening

Under the arch of the guns,

And we came back at twilight

- O God! I heard them call

To me for help and pity

That could not help at all.

Oh, never will I forget you,

My men that trusted me,

More my sons than your fathers’
For they could only see

The little helpless babies 

And the young men in their pride.
They could not see you dying,

And hold you while you died.

Happy and young and gallant,

They saw their first-born go,

But not the strong limbs broken

And the beautiful men brought low,

The piteous writhing bodies,

The screamed, ‘Don’t leave me, Sir,’

For they were only your fathers

But I was your officer.