The First Gas from Kim Beattie’s “And You!”

       The First Gas

Before St. Julien, the Canadian soldier carried on the war 
with his enemy without bitterness, simply beliveing that 
a job must be done.

We're back of a copse an' we've dug a hole
      For six of the men from "D",
 An' there ain't no band to play
 Whilst we're layin' them away
    --God a' just us will see!

The cowardly bastard!  He done this job;
     They're strangled an' choked wi' gas;
 An' they had no chance to croak
 Like a fightin' sojer bloke
    --God'll never let this pass!

The Sergeant, he rifled their pockets clean;
      Their faces are bloated blue:
 An' we cringe beside the grave
 But the padre, he's more brave
    --God'll see His Pilot through!

We didn't come hating an' thought that War
      An' battle was just fair fight;
 But we'll stick him just like swine
 An' we'll break his bloody line
    --God'll help us put this right!

The parson, he's chokin': "Thy Will Be Done".
      But this wasn't done fair-plau!
 Yes, he's sobbin': "Dust to Dust!"
 But they broke the Fighter's trust
    --God!  Give us strength to pay!

From And You!  Toronto: MacMillan, 1929.  Page 8.

In his wonderful book, Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning and the First World War, Jonathan Vance cites the poem above in the chapter titled The Just War as evidence of the lingering Canadian attitude to German atrocities.  Lending strength to Vance’s argument is the fact that Beattie wasn’t yet in the trenches when the 1st Canadian Division held the line at Ypres.  Beattie no doubt experienced gas attacks on the Western Front, but not this first one.  Perhaps because this poem is derived from second-hand experience, no doubt passed along through the ranks as one of the key moments in the regiment’s history, I find it one of Beattie’s less effective poems.

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