The Night Patrol
Arthur Graeme West, (1891-1917)
  • Killed on the 3rd of April 1917
  • Written in March 1916

  • Over the top! The wire's thin here, unbarbed
  • Plain rusty coils, not staked, and low enough:
  • Full of old tins, though - "When you're through, all three,
  • Aim quarter left for fifty yards or so,
  • Then straight for that new piece of German wire;
  • See if it's thick, and listen for a while
  • For sounds of working; don't run any risks;
  • About an hour; now, over!"
  • And we placed
  • Our hands on the topmost sand-bags, leapt, and stood
  • A second with curved backs, then crept to the wire,
  • Wormed ourselves tinkling through, glanced back, and dropped.
  • The sodden ground was splashed with shallow pools,
  • And tufts of crackling cornstalks, two years old,
  • No man had reaped, and patches of spring grass.
  • Half-seen, as rose and sank the flares, were strewn
  • The wrecks of our attack: the bandoliers,
  • Packs, rifles, bayonets, belts, and haversacks,
  • Shell fragments, and the huge whole forms of shells
  • Shot fruitlessly - and everywhere the dead.
  • Only the dead were always present - present
  • As a vile sickly smell of rottenness;
  • The rustling stubble and the early grass,
  • The slimy pools - the dead men stank through all,
  • Pungent and sharp; as bodies loomed before,
  • And as we passed, they stank: then dulled away
  • To that vague ftor, all encompassing,
  • Infecting earth and air. They lay, all clothed,
  • Each in some new and piteous attitude
  • That we well marked to guide us back: as he,
  • Outside our wire, that lay on his back and crossed
  • His legs Crusader-wise: I smiled at that,
  • And thought on Elia and his Temple Church.
  • From him, at quarter left, lay a small corpse,
  • Down in a hollow, huddled as in a bed,
  • That one of us put his hand on unawares.
  • Next was a bunch of half a dozen men
  • All blown to bits, an archipelago
  • Of corrupt fragments, vexing to us three,
  • Who had no light to see by, save the flares.
  • On such a trail, so light, for ninety yards
  • We crawled on belly and elbows, till we saw,
  • Instead of lumpish dead before our eyes,
  • The stakes and crosslines of the German wire.
  • We lay in shelter of the last dead man,
  • Ourselves as dead, and heard their shovels ring
  • Turning the earth, then talk and cough at times.
  • A sentry fired and a machine-gun spat;
  • They shot a glare above us, when it fell
  • And spluttered out in the pools of No Man's Land,
  • We turned and crawled past the remembered dead:
  • Past him and him, and them and him, until,
  • For he lay some way apart, we caught the scent
  • Of the Crusader and slide past his legs,
  • And through the wire and home, and got our rum.
  • Click to return to our Poets' corner