Sunday, November 11, 2012

Spring Offensive

Why speak they not of comrades that went under?

Wilfred Owen

Spring Offensive

Halted against the shade of a last hill,
They fed, and, lying easy, were at ease
And, finding comfortable chests and knees
Carelessly slept. But many there stood still
To face the stark, blank sky beyond the ridge,
Knowing their feet had come to the end of the world.

Marvelling they stood, and watched the long grass swirled
By the May breeze, murmurous with wasp and midge,
For though the summer oozed into their veins
Like the injected drug for their bones' pains,
Sharp on their souls hung the imminent line of grass,
Fearfully flashed the sky's mysterious glass.

Hour after hour they ponder the warm field —
And the far valley behind, where the buttercups
Had blessed with gold their slow boots coming up,
Where even the little brambles would not yield,
But clutched and clung to them like sorrowing hands;
They breathe like trees unstirred.

Till like a cold gust thrilled the little word
At which each body and its soul begird
And tighten them for battle. No alarms
Of bugles, no high flags, no clamorous haste —
Only a lift and flare of eyes that faced
The sun, like a friend with whom their love is done.
O larger shone that smile against the sun, —
Mightier than his whose bounty these have spurned.

So, soon they topped the hill, and raced together
Over an open stretch of herb and heather
Exposed. And instantly the whole sky burned
With fury against them; and soft sudden cups
Opened in thousands for their blood; and the green slopes
Chasmed and steepened sheer to infinite space.

Of them who running on that last high place
Leapt to swift unseen bullets, or went up
On the hot blast and fury of hell's upsurge,
Or plunged and fell away past this world's verge,
Some say God caught them even before they fell.

But what say such as from existence' brink
Ventured but drave too swift to sink.
The few who rushed in the body to enter hell,
And there out-fiending all its fiends and flames
With superhuman inhumanities,
Long-famous glories, immemorial shames —
And crawling slowly back, have by degrees
Regained cool peaceful air in wonder —
Why speak they not of comrades that went under?

Edie Damsell, at the graveside of her father Cecil W Lewis at Ribemont Cemetery in Northern France. Edie spent her whole lifetime trying to track her father down, and promised her mother on her deathbed she would find him Eventually with the help of Devon paper "The Sunday Independent" she traced him and in 1984 the British Legion took her to his graveside where they played the Last Post and presented her with his medals.
He father died when she was a babe in arms, during the last months of the war in 1918. Despite having 8 children to look after, my great-grandmother was denied a war-widows pension by the local worthies who decided such things, and the family had to struggle through the depression years in great poverty. We remember the fallen, but's let's not forget the brave women who had to struggle on for the rest of their lives, holding families together despite all the odds.

It's hard to make out the inscription from this photo, but the details are:

C W Lewis 
Gloucestershire Regiment
13th Battalion

Judging by the date, Cecil died the night the Germans launched their 'Spring Offensive' on 21st of March 1918 - their last-ditch chance to settle the war before the Americans arrived.

He saw Edie once. When he returned from leave when she was just 18 months old. Same he never found out what a terrific woman his baby daughter would turn out to be.