A. P. (Alan Patrick) Herbert.

The Bomber gipsy: and other poems online

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THE TT
BOMBER
GIPSY* 1

BY T ^T
APHERBERT







,-l> I 3 I

'



VT-



THE BOMBER GIPSY

AND OTHER POEMS



BY THE SAME AUTHOR

THE SECRET BATTLE



THE
BOMBER GIPSY

AND OTHER POEMS



BY

A, P. HERBERT




NEW YORK

ALFRED A. KNOPF

1920



Stack
Annex



601$



THIRTY-FOUR of these pieces have already
appeared in Punch, and I am indebted to the
proprietors of that paper for their courtesy in
permitting me to reprint them. " After the
Battle " appeared in The New Statesman, and
" The Atrocity " in Queen Alexandra's Hospital
Magazine.

A. P. H.

June, 1919



2003905



TO MY WIFE

AND TO ALL THE WIVES

WHO HAVE WAITED AND WONDERED

BUT ESPECIALLY
TO THE WIVES OF THE R.N.D.



vi.



You may not ride through magic regions

With fifty score companions near,
Or know the hope that lives in legions,

The fellowship that laughs at fear,
Or songs at sunset in the lovely haven

When with great cheers the teeming ships

set out
Only the loneliness that makes men craven,

The silent furniture the chill, dumb doubt.

But the swords flash, the cannon thunder

Full oft in your imaginings :
For you each night your man goes under,

And cursed is the strife of Kings.
When lone winds wail, and cruel windows

rattle,
And empty chairs sit mocking round the

fire,

Too oft, I know, you sit and dream of battle,
Of blood and wounds and dead men on the
wire.



viii. THE BOMBER GIPSY

And when far back in warm green levels

He lies with all the restful host,
With dance and jest and midnight revels,

And Home is but a tavern toast,
For you the wind still howls about the sashes,

For you the regiments are relieved in vain :
You see no singers in the ruthless ashes,

Only the wet, the weariness, the pain.

Yet may you in this jester's pages

Be sure the battle sometimes ends,
Nor only death the soldier's wages.

But there are farms and laughing friends,
And wine and wonders and delicious leisures,

And dreaming villages where children dwell
And if, mayhap, you cannot catch the pleasures,

Believe, at least, it is not always Hell.



CONTENTS

PAGE

THE BOMBER GIPSY i

BALLADE OF INCIPIENT LUNACY . . . 4

THE REST-RUMOUR . . . . . 7

A LOST LEADER . . . . . .10

THE INCORRIGIBLES ..... 12

AT THE DUMP ...... 15

THE BATTLE OF GODSON'S BEARD . . .18
AFTER THE BATTLE . . . . .21

OPEN WARFARE ...... 23

BSAUCOURT REVISITED .... 26

THE INVESTITURE ...... 29

THE ATROCITY ...... 32

THE BALLAD OF JONES'S BLIGHTY . . 34

THE TRENCH CODE ..... 36

THE HUMILIATION OF THE PALFREY . . 38

"THE CHAIN OF RESPONSIBILITY" . . 41

To THE REGIMENT ..... 43

ZERO ........ 47

THE MISCHIEF-MAKERS ..... 50

ix.



x. THE BOMBER GIPSY

PACK

THE ROMANCERS *> . . . 53

" AT DAWN " ...... 55

PATROLS . . . . . -57

THE DESERTERS . . . . . .61

FREE MEALS . . . . . .64

THE WAR-DREAM 66

THE PASSING OF THE COD'S HEAD . . 68

THE HELLES HOTEL . . . 71

DEAD-MULE TREE : A SONG OF WISDOM . 73
THE COOKERS : A SONG OF THE TRANSPORT . 75
THE GERMAN GRAVES . . . . 4 . 77
THE WINDMILL : A SONG OF VICTORY . . 79
THE GREEN ESTAMINET . . . .81

COUVRONS 83

MORAL ........ 85

THE TIDE. To THE ROYAL NAVAL DIVISION . 87
THE VOYAGE OF H.M.S. " PRESIDENT." A

DREAM 89

STORIES FOR CIVILIANS : THE FLY ... 93
A SONG OF PLENTY ..... 96
FATE : A SONG OF WISDOM ... 98



THE BOMBER GIPSY

AND OTHER POEMS



THE BOMBER GIPSY

COME, let me tell the oft-told tale again

Of that strange Tyneside grenadier we had,
Whom none could quell or decently constrain,

For he was turbulent and sometimes bad ;
Yet, stout of heart, he dearly loved to fight,
And spoke his fellows on a gusty night
In some high barn, where, huddled in the
straw,

They watched the cheap wicks gutter on

the shelf,
How he was irked with discipline and law,

And would fare forth to battle by himself.

This said, he left them and returned no more ;

But whispers passed from Vimy to Verdun,
Where'er the fields ran thickliest with gore,

Of some stray bomber that belonged to

none,

But none more fierce or flung a fairer bomb,
Who ran unscathed the gamut of the Somme,



2 THE BOMBER GIPSY

And followed Freyberg up the Beaucourt mile,
With uncouth cries and streaming muddy

hair ;
But after, when they sought his name and

style

And would have honoured him he was
not there.

For most he loved to lie upon Lorette
And, couched on cornflowers, gaze across

the lines

At Vimy's heights we had not Vimy yet
Pale Souchez's bones and Lens among the

mines,

The tall pit-towers and dusky heaps of slag,
Until, like eagles on the mountain-crag
By strangers stirred, with hoarse, indignant

shrieks
Gunners emerged from some deep-delved

lair

To chase the intruder from their sacred peaks
And cast him down to Ablain St. Nazaire.

And rumour said he roamed the rearward

ways

In quiet seasons when no battle brewed ;
The transport, homing through the evening

haze,

Had seen and carried him, and given him
food;



THE BOMBER GIPSY 3

And he would leave them at Bethune canteen,
Or some hot drinking-house at Nceux-les-

Mines,
Where he would sit with wine and eggs and

bread

Till the swart minions of the A.P.M.
Stole in and called for him, but found him

fled
Out at the back. He was too much for them.

Too much. And surely thou shalt e'er be so ;
No hungry discipline shall starve thy soul ;
Shalt freely foot it where the poppies blow,
Shalt fight unfettered when the cannon

roll,
And haply, Wanderer, when the hosts go

home,

Thou only still in Aveluy shalt roam,
Shalt haunt the crumbled Windmill at Gavrelle

And fling thy bombs across the silent lea,
Drink with shy peasants at St. Catherine's

Well,
And in the dusk go home with them to tea.



BALLADE OF INCIPIENT LUNACY

Scone. A Battalion " Orderly " Room in
France during a period of " Rest." Runners
arrive breathlessly from all directions bearing
illegible chits, and tear off in the same direc-
tions with illegible answers or no answers
at all. Motor-bicycles snort up to the door,
and arrogant despatch-riders enter with
enormous envelopes containing leagues of
correspondence, orders, minutes, circulars,
maps, signals, lists, schedules, summaries,
and all sorts. The tables are stacked with
papers ; the floor is littered with papers ;
papers fly through the ah-. Two typewriters
click with maddening insistence in a corner.
A signaller " buzzes " tenaciously at the
telephone, talking in a strange language,
apparently to himself, as he never seems to
be connected with anyone else. A stream
of miscellaneous persons quartermasters,
chaplains, generals, batmen, D.A.D.O.S.'s,
sergeant-majors, staff officers, buglers, Maires,

4



BALLADE OF INCIPIENT LUNACY 5

officers just arriving, officers just going away,
gas experts, bombing experts, interpreters,
doctors drifts in, wastes time, and drifts
out again.

Clerks scribble ceaselessly, rolls and nominal
rolls, nominal lists and lists. By the time
they have finished one list it is long out of
date. Then they start the next. Every-
thing happens at the same time ; nobody
has time to finish a sentence. Only a military
mind, with a very limited descriptive vocabu-
lary and a chronic habit of self-deception,
would call the place orderly.

The Adjutant speaks, hoarsely ; while he
speaks he writes, about something quite
different. In the middle of each sentence
his pipe goes out ; at the end of each sentence
he lights a match. He may or may not light
his pipe ; anyhow he speaks :

" WHERE is that list of Wesleyans I made ?

And what are all those people on the

stair?
Is that my pencil ? Well, they can't be paid.

Tell the Marines we have no forms to
spare.

I cannot get these Ration States to square.
The Brigadier is coming round, they say.

The Colonel wants a man to cut his hair.
I think I must be going mad to-day.



6 THE BOMBER GIPSY

" These silly questions ! I shall tell Brigade

This Office is now closing for repair.
They want to know what Mr. Johnstone
weighed,

And if the Armourer is dark or fair ?

I do not know ; I cannot say I care.
Tell that Interpreter to go away.

Where is my signal-pad ? I left it there.
I think I must be going mad to-day.

"Perhaps I should appear upon parade.
Where is my pencil ? Ring up Captain

Aire ;

Say I regret our tools have been mislaid.
These companies would make Sir Douglas

swear.
'A' is the worst. Oh, damn, is this the

Maire ?
I'm sorry, Monsieur je suis desole

But no one's pinched your miserable chair.
I think I must be going mad to-day."

ENVOI

" Prince, I perceive what Cain's temptations

were,

And how attractive it must be to slay.
O Lord, the General ! This is hard to bear.
I think I must be going mad to-day."



THE REST-RUMOUR

I KNOW not in what rodent- haunted caverns,
By what rough tongues the tale was first

expressed,

By choking fires or in the whispering taverns,
With wine and omelette lovingly caressed;
Or what tired soul, o'erladen with a

lump
Of bombs and bags which some one had

to hump,
Flung down his load indignant at the

Dump,

And, cursing, cried, " It's time we had
a rest ! "

And so, maybe, began it. Some sly runner,

Half-hearing, half-imagining, no doubt,
Caught up the word and gave it to a gunner,
And, he embroidering, 'twas noised about
From lip to lip in many a trench's press,
Where working-parties struggled to pro-
gress

Or else go back, but both without success,
" Officer says Division's going out"
7



8 THE BOMBER GIPSY

It found the Front. It came up with the

rations ;

The Corporals carried it from hole to hole ;
And scouts behaved in strange polemic

fashions
On what they thought would be their last

patrol ;
While Fritz, of course, from whom few

things are hid,

Had the romance as soon as any did,
And said, thank William, he would soon

be rid
Of yon condemned disturbers of his soul.

Nor were there few confirming little trifles,
For James, rejoining from the Base, had

scann'd
Strange waiting infantry, with brand-new

rifles,

In backward areas, but close at hand ;
And some had marked the D.A.Q.M.G.
Approaching Railhead in the dusk, and he
(Who, as a fact, was simply on the

spree)

Had gone, of course, to view the Promised
Land.

And what a land ! Who had not heard its

promise ?

A land of quietude and no grenades,
Soft beds for officers, fair barns for Tommies,



THE REST-RUMOUR 9

And rich estaminets and gracious maids,
And half an hour from Abbeville by the

train,

A land of rivulets and golden grain
(Where it would be impossible to train

And even difficult to have parades) !

Then it appeared the groom of General

Harrison

Had news denied to ordinary men,
How the Brigade was going home to garrison
A restful corner of the Lincoln fen ;

But weeks have passed, and we are as we

were ;

And possibly, when Peace is in the air
And these dear myths have died of sheer

despair,

They may come true but not, I think,
till then.



A LOST LEADER

Or, Thoughts on Trek

THE men are marching like the best ;

The waggons wind across the lea ;
At ten to two we have a rest,

We have a rest at ten to three ;

I ride ahead upon my gee
And try to look serene and gay ;

The whole battalion follows me,
And I believe I've lost the way.

Full many a high-class thoroughfare

My erring map does not disclose,
\Vhile roads that are not really there

The same elaborately shows ;

And whether this is one of those
It needs a clever man to say ;

I am not clever, I suppose,
And I believe I've lost the way.

The soldiers sing about their beer ;

The wretched road goes on and on ;
There ought to be a turning here,

But if there was the thing has gone ;

10



A LOST LEADER it

Like some depressed automaton
I ask at each estaminet ;

They say, "Tout droit" and I say "Bon,"
But I believe Pve lost the way.

I dare not tell the trustful men ;

They think me wonderful and wise ;
But where will be the legend when

They get a shock of such a size ?

And what about our brave Allies ?
They wanted us to fight to-day ;

We were to be a big surprise
A nd I believe I've lost the way.



THE INCORRIGIBLES

How an exasperated Adjutant would LIKE to
address the New Guard

" GUARD ! for I still concede to you the

title,

Though well I know that it is not your due,
Being devoid of everything most vital

To the high charge which is imposed on

you;
Listen awhile and, Number Two, be dumb ;

Forbear to scratch the irritable tress ;
No longer masticate the furtive gum ;
And, Private Pitt, stop nibbling at your

thumb,
But for a change attend to my address.

" Day after day I urge the old, old thesis
To reverence well the man of martial note,

Nor treat as mere sartorial caprices
The mystic marks he carries on his coat ;

And how to know what everybody is,
The swords, the crowns, the purple-stained
cards,



THE INCORRIGIBLES 13

The Brigadiers concealed in Burberries,
And render all those pomps and dignities

Which are, of course, the raison d'etre of
guards.

" With what avail ? for never a guard is

mounted
That does not do some wild abhorrent

thing,

Only in hushed low tones to be recounted,
Lest haply hints of it should reach the

King-
Dark ugly tales of sentinels who drank,

Or lost their prisoners while consuming tea,
Or took great pains to make their minds a

blank

Whene'er approached by gentlemen of rank,
And, when reproved, presented arms to
me !

" There is no potentate in France or Flanders

You will not heap with insult if you can.
For, lo ! a car. It is the Corps Commander's ;

The sentries take no notice of the man,
Or fix him with a not unkindly stare,

And slap their butts in an engaging way,
Or else, too late, in penitent despair
Cry, ' Guard, turn out ! ' and there is no
guard there,

But they are in The Blue Estaminet.



i 4 THE BOMBER GIPSY

" Weary I am of worrying and warning ;

For all my toil I get it in the neck ;
I am fed up with it ; and from this morning

I shall not seek to keep your crimes in

check ;
Sin as you will I shall but acquiesce ;

Sleep on, O sentinels I shall not curse ;
And so, maybe, from sheer contrariness
Some day a guard may be a slight success ;

At any rate you cannot well do worse."



AT THE DUMP

Lines to the N.C.O. in charge

Now is the hour of dusk and mist and midges,
Now the tired planes drone homeward

through the haze,
And distant wood-fires wink behind the

ridges,
And the first flare some timorous Hun

betrays ;
Now no shell circulates, but all men brood

Over their evening food ;
The bats flit warily, and owl and rat

With muffled cries their shadowy loves

pursue,
And pleasant, Corporal, it is to chat

In this hushed moment with a man like you.

How strange a spectacle of human passions

Is yours all day beside the Arras road,
What mournful men concerned about their

rations

When here at eve the limbers leave their
load;

'5



16 THE BOMBER GIPSY

What twilight blasphemy, what horses' feet

Entangled with the meat,
What sudden hush when that machine-gun

sweeps,

And flat as possible for men so round
The Quartermasters may be seen hi heaps,
While you sit still and chuckle, I'll be
bound !

Here all men halt awhile and tell their rumours ;
Here the young runners come to cull your

tales,
How Generals talked with you, in splendid

humours,
And how the Worcestershires have gone to

Wales ;

Up yonder trench each lineward regiment
swings,

Saying some shocking things ;
And here at dark sad diggers stand in hordes

Waiting the late elusive Engineer,
While glowing pipes illume yon notice-boards
That say, "No LIGHTS. You MUST NOT

LOITER HERE."

And you sit ruminant and take no action,
But daylong watch the aeroplanes at play.

Or contemplate with secret satisfaction

Your fellow-men proceeding towards the
fray.



AT THE DUMP 17

Your sole solicitude when men report

There is a shovel short,
Or, numbering jealously your rusty store,
Some mouldering rocket, some wet bomb you

miss

That was reserved for some ensuing war,
But on no grounds to be employed in this.

For Colonels cringe to you, most firm of

warders,

For sandbags suppliant, and do no good,
And high Staff Officers and priests in orders

In vain beleaguer you for bits of wood,
While I, who have no signature nor chit,

But badly want a bit,
I only talk to you of these high themes,

Nor stoop to join the sycophantic choir,
Seeing (I trust) my wicked batman, Jeames,
Has meanwhile pinched enough to light my
fire.



THE BATTLE OF GODSON'S BEARD

I'LL tell you a yarn of a sailor-man, with a

face more fierce than fair,
Who got round that on the Navy's plan by

hiding it all with hair ;
He was one of a hard old sailor-breed, and

had lived his life at sea,
But he took to the beach at the nation's need,

and fought with the R.N.D.

Now Brigadier-General Blank's Brigade was

tidy and neat and trim,
And the sight of a beard on his parade was a

bit too much for him :
" What is that," said he, with a frightful oath,

" of all that is wild and weird ? "
And the Staff replied, " A curious growth, but

it looks very like a beard."

And the General said, " I have seen six wars,

and many a ghastly sight,
Fellows with locks that gave one shocks, and

buttons none too bright,
18



BATTLE OF GODSON'S BEARD 19

But never a man in my Brigade with a face

all fringed with fur ;
And you'll toddle away and shave to-day."

But Godson said, " You err.



" For I don't go much on wars, as such, and

living with rats and worms,
And you ought to be glad of a sailor lad on

any old kind of terms ;
While this old beard of which you're skeered,

it stands for a lot to me,
For the great North gales, and the sharks and

whales, and the smell of the good grey

sea."

New Generals crowded to the spot and urged

him to behave,
But Godson said, " You talk a lot, but can

you make me shave ?
For the Navy allows a beard at the bows, and

a beard is the sign for me,
That the world may know wherever I go, I

belong to the King's Navee."

They gave him posts in distant parts where

few might see his face,
Town-Major jobs that break men's hearts,

and billets at the Base ;



20 THE BOMBER GIPSY

But whenever he knew a fight was due, he

hurried there by train,
And when he'd done for every Hun they

sent him back again.

Then up and spake an old sailor, " It seems

you can't 'ave 'eared,
Begging your pardon, General Blank, the

reason of this same beard :
It's a kind of a sart of a camyflarge, and that

I take to mean
A thing as 'ides some other thing wot

oughtn't to be seen.

" And I've brought you this 'ere photergraph

of what 'e used to be
Before 'e stuck that fluffy muck about 'is

phyzogmy."
The General looked and, fainting, cried, " The

situation's grave !
The beard was bad, but, KAMERAD ! he

simply must not shave ! "

And now, when the thin lines bulge and sag,

and man goes down to man,
A great black beard like a pirate's flag flies

ever in the van ;
And I've fought in many a warmish spot,

where death was the least men feared,
But I never knew anything quite so hot as

the Battle of Godson's Beard.



AFTER THE BATTLE

So they are satisfied with our Brigade,
And it remains to parcel out the bays !

And we shall have the usual Thanks Parade,
The beaming General, and the soapy praise.

You will come up in your capacious car
To find your heroes sulking in the rain,

To tell us how magnificent we are,

And how you hope we'll do the same again.

And we, who knew your old abusive tongue,
Who heard you hector us a week before,

We who have bled to boost you up a rung
A K.C.B. perhaps, perhaps a Corps

We who must mourn those spaces in the Mess,
And somehow fill those hollows in the heart,

We do not want your Sermon on Success,
Your greasy benisons on Being Smart.

We only want to take our wounds away
To some warm village where the tumult ends,

And drowsing in the sunshine many a day,
Forget our aches, forget that we had friends.

.> 21



22 THE BOMBER GIPSY

Weary we are of blood and noise and pain ;

This was a week we shall not soon forget ;
And if, indeed, we have to fight again,

We little wish to think about it yet.

We have done well ; we like to hear it said.
Say it, and then, for God's sake, say no

more.

Fight, if you must, fresh battles far ahead,
But keep them dark behind your chateau
door !



OPEN WARFARE

MEN said, " At last ! at last the open battle !

Now shall we fight unfettered o'er the plain,
No more in catacombs be cooped like cattle,

Nor travel always in a devious drain ! "
They were in ecstasies. But I was damping ;

I like a trench, I have no lives to spare ;
And in those catacombs, however cramping,

You did at least know vaguely where you
were.

Ah, happy days in deep well-ordered alleys,

Where, after dining, probably with wine,
One felt indifferent to hostile sallies,

And with a pipe meandered round the line ;
You trudged along a trench until it ended

It led at least to some familiar spot
It might not be the place that you'd intended,

But then you might as well be there as not.

But what a wilderness we now inhabit

Since this confounded " open " strife pre-
vails !

It may be good ; I do not wish to crab it,
But you should hear the language it entails
23



24 THE BOMBER GIPSY

Should see this waste of wide uncharted
craters

Where it is vain to seek the Companies,
Seeing the shell-holes are as like as taters

And no one knows where anybody is.

Oft in the darkness, palpitant and blowing,

Have I set out and lost the hang of things,
And ever thought, " Where can that guide be
going ? "

But trusted long and rambled on in rings,
For ever mounting some tremendous summit,

And halting there to curse the contrite guide,
For ever then descending like a plummet

Into a chasm on the other side.

Oft have I sat and wept, or sought to study

With hopeless gaze the uninstructive stars.
Hopeless because the very skies were muddy

I only saw a red malignant Mars :
Or pulled my little compass out and pondered,

And set it sadly on my shrapnel hat,
Which, I suppose, was why the needle
wandered,

Only, of course, I never thought of that.

And then, perhaps, some 5.9's start dropping,
As if there weren't sufficient holes about ;

I flounder on, hysterical and sopping,
And come by chance to where I started out,



OPEN WARFARE 25

And say once more, while I have no objection
To other men proceeding to Berlin,

Give me a trench, a nice revetted section,
And let me stay there till the Boche gives
in!



BEAUCOURT REVISITED

I WANDERED up to Beaucourt ; I took the river

track,
And saw the lines we lived in before the Boche

went back ;
But Peace was now in Pottage, the front was

far ahead,
The front had journeyed Eastward, and only

left the dead.

And I thought, How long we lay there, and

watched across the wire,
While the guns roared round the valley, and set

the skies afire !
But now there are homes in II AM EL and tents

in the Vale of Hell,
And a camp at Suicide Corner, where half a

regiment fell.

The new troops follow after, and tread the land

we won,
To them 'tis so much hill-side re-wrested from

the Hun ;

26



BEAUCOURT REVISITED 27

We only walk with reverence this sullen mile of

mud ;
The shell-holes hold our history, and half of

them our blood.



Here, at the head of Peche Street, 'twas death

to show your face ;
To me it seemed like magic to linger in the

place ;
For me how many spirits hung round the

Kentish Caves,
But the new men see no spirits they only see

the graves.



I found the half-dug ditches we fashioned for

the fight,
We lost a score of men there young James was

killed that night ;
I saw the star shells staring, I heard the bullets

hail,
But the new troops pass unheeding they

never heard the tale.



I crossed the blood-red ribbon, that once was
No-Man's Land,

I saw a misty daybreak and a creeping minute-
hand ;



28 THE BOMBER GIPSY

And here the lads went over, and there was

Harmsworth shot,
And here was William lying but the new men

know them not.

And I said, " There is still the river, and still

the stiff, stark trees,
To treasure here our story, but there are only

these " ;
But under the white wood crosses the dead men

answered low,
" The new men know not BEAUCOURT, but we

are here we know."



THE INVESTITURE

BE silent, guns ! for Basil is invested,

And wheresoe'er the slaves of strife are

found

Let your grim offices be now arrested,
Nor the hot rifle shoot another round,

Nor the pale flarelights toss,


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Online LibraryA. P. (Alan Patrick) HerbertThe Bomber gipsy: and other poems → online text (page 1 of 4)