Today I took my children to see the WW1 exhibition at Peterborough museum. The familiar presentation of artifacts you might expect, and some extra effort made with people dressed up and facsimile of a tank. What moved me were the various narratives and photos of the City, and the individual stories of the people. So striking was the apparent rush to glory, with no thought for the horrors that would unfold just a blinding obligation to the King which was entwined with our understanding of patriotism. We will always wonder what became of the hopeful and expectant faces lining up outside the recruiting offices, and when the reality of their obligation was fully realised.
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.