It’s called Bomb-Proofers, with the subtitle The Chaplain’s Man. It’s a touch on the longer side, but it’s good fun in a trench-doggerel, Kiplingesque sort of way.
Actually, that’s probably selling the poem short. Kim Beattie spent the war as a “comp’ny-buck” and this poem is as fine a tribute from the ranks to the heroism and universal regard of Canon Scott as I’ve yet come across.
It’s also interesting for its extensive use of soldier’s jargon: buckshee, napoo, pukkha, etc, which I love. I once had a Victoria Cross winner call me a pukkha lad, which is one of the high points of my life.
The Chaplain’s Man
A NOTION came to us one day,
‘Twas in a Warloy ‘staminay,
While we two mounred above our beer
For all the mates who’d vanished clear,
(That Somme, it was one blasted part,
It well nigh broke our ruddy heart)
Says Spinks to me: “The bloody lout !
“He’ll soon be snuffin’ of us us out !
“He’s downed the gutfullest and best–
“Why, even Jim went sudden ‘west’ !”
And there we sat for round on round
And thought of him, cold in the ground,
And knew we’d soon feed rats as well–
A comp’ny-buck’s plain S.O.L.
Says I to Spinks: “That’s bloody true,
“There’s only us what’s not napoo!
“This war is growin’ too excitin’ ,
“It’s jake with me to cut the fightin’ :
“Me bloomin’ guts is gone, I tell ye
“These days I’m quakin’ in me belly !”
Says Spinks just then: “Here, half a mo’ ;
“Your guts was never much, you know.”
Now Spinks, he was a friend of mine
And so I didn’t start no shine ;
I only cursed and give a grin
And said I’d bust his dial in.
So to the Ord’ly Room we went
And called on Colonel “Charlie” Bent,
To get ourselves some cushy times
And buckshee francs in peaceful climes.
We thought we’d chose the Salvage Corps
Or help some “Y-guy” tend a store.
The sergeant said: “Sir, these two guys
“Are windy to the bleeding eyes!”
At that the old man gives a laugh
And then he told us off, not half;
He said we was a damned disgrace
And called us cowards to our face.
But yet he smiled and seemed less stern
And said: “You’ve done a goodly turn.”
As we slunk out to blind him blue,
To grouse about and say “And you !”
O’ course it some surprised us twain
When ordered to H.Q. again,
And there a shined-up swanky slob
Said we two blokes had got a job.
Go’-Blimey! But I gives a yell
When told to go to La Boysell
To find a padre, name of Scott–
His other batman, he got shot.
(‘Twas self-inflicted, you surmise,
As batmen ain’t where hot lead flies.)
I stopped at Albert on the ways,
I guess I stayed about three days,
At least until a “Sixteenth” friend,
Had blowed what francs he had to spend–
(To leave that bloke it were a shame,
He run a Crown and Anchor game) .
I found my padre’s deep dugout
Where old front-lines was all about;
He gave me of his kit to clean
And never asked where I had been,
But hoped a right good time me had,
To prove he was a pukkha lad.
I felt as striker I’d do fine
But wondered why so near the line?
And likewise, why his trews, all mud,
Had funny spots what looked like blood.
I wasn’t long in finding out.
Next day the guns went on the shout,
And my safe-feelin’ got a crimp
And crumpled like a punctured blimp
When “Hush-hush” blokes, all mystery,
Just stopped to gab and pity me ;
They shook their heads and said: “Poor lad,
“You must have wisht to pop off bad.”
And sure enough I’d heard aright,
He said: “Let’s watch the Red Patch fight.”
And off went we ; he whistled gay,
As slow we wended Centre Way,
With him in front and me behind
To where Death Valley big stuff whined.
I couldn’t see how he’d save souls
By pokin’ round where battle rolls;
But what I didn’t learn about it
I think as I can do without it.
A bandage here, some choc’late there,
A cheery word, a little prayer,
And now and then a tot of rum
To soothe poor blokes to Kingdom Come,
And honest tears I almost shed
To see them bless his old gray head.
But I was sick and I was tired,
By night my dogs was fairly mired ;
I’d never clumped it half so far
Nor seen such after-mess of war,
Nor ever been in parts more hot
Than at the heels of Canon Scott.
But I’d been watchin’ all the day
And knew whereat my own lot lay ;
I said I’d go and say: “Bon jour!”
He never knew when he said: “Sure” ,
That I preferred to chance what luck
Might come to just a comp’ny-buck
That was fed-up with bring scout
An’ huntin’ lads to help pass-out!
Old Spinks, he almost croaks right off,
Says he, “I thought you was a toff
“What stays ten kilomeets behind
“And keeps yer One Star Wonder shined?”
–Just then he cussed and glared around–
A chorus came from ‘neath the ground:
“Nah, don’t forgit to feed ‘im, love,
“An’ change ‘im, too, the ‘ittle dove.”
Away Spinks rushed like on a raid–
Them blighters dubbed him Nursymaid.
And then I saw what caused the rage.
His funk-hole held a homer cage,
And Spinks, he was their Pigeoneer–
‘Twould spoil a blighter’s taste for beer.
Ow! He was wild; he damned them squabs
And said: “To hell with bomb-proof jobs!”
And me I thought of Canon Scott
And of that batman as got shot.
Says I to Spinks: “You’re bloody right,
“Us bleedin’ blokes was meant to fight !”
* * *
We found a werry pleasant way
To join our company to stay–
I spied a certain lance-jack tyke
Whose manner I did much dislike,
And his platoon, they gleeful grinned,
To see me kick him in the wind!
And Spinks, he did some F.P. too–
Them squabs, they made a tasty stew!
From And You! Toronto: MacMillian, 1929. Pages 30-34.
Warloy: A commune (sort of like a parish) at the Somme, 24km northeast of Amiens.
‘staminay: Estaminet. A building found in villages and minor towns for the purpose of eating, drinking and general entertainment of troops. A typical estaminet would have a low roof, an open iron stove and wooden benches and tables. The proprietress would serve wine, cognac, thin beer, coffee, soup, omelettes and the most popular of all French dishes of the time – egg and chips.
S.O.L.: You’re S.O.L. if you don’t already know what this means. The OED tells me the first literary usage of this term is from John Dos Passos’ 1921 novel Three Soldiers.
Napoo: To put an end to; finished; incapacitated; dead.
Jake: Agreeable, alright, satisfactory.
Dial: Presumably, ‘face’.
Buckshee: Free, unsolicited. A bonus, such as an extra ration.
Windy: Afraid; nervous, anxious.
Batman: An officer’s servant, typically a private.
Sixteenth friend: ie, a member of the 16th Battalion, the Canadian Scottish.
Crown and Anchor Game: A Dice game. More detail here.
Pukkha: First class, genuine. A-one.
Trews: Tartan trousers.
Striker: I think, though cannot confirm, this is merely a play on his being a “bat” man.
Red Patch: The shoulder patch for the 1st Canadian Division was a red patch.
Funk-hole: Small dugout or shelter, large enough for two or so men.
Lance-Jack: A lance-corporal.
F.P.: Field Punishment.