Friday, 25 July 2014

A Pacifist’s Parody on Kipling’s “If”

If you can talk and not get bread and water,
Or if reported take your pegging like a man;
If you can scrub like any woman’s daughter,
And eat your dinner from a rusty can;

If you can “pick that step up” every morning,
And “swing those arms” as round the ring you crawl;
If you can rise before the daylight’s dawning,
And wash your share of landing in the hall;

If you can take the daily Wormwood rumour,
With little more than just a pinch of salt;
And treat as nought the officer’s ill-humour,
But simply think his liver is at fault;

If you can bear to hear the news you be given,
Change and increase till it’s nowise true;
And though to tell it truly you have striven,
Keep calm when its new version comes to you;

If you can hope and not get tired of hoping,
For the freedom which must come soon or late;
And never let your comrades see you hoping,
But patiently and gladly work and wait;

If you can watch your shadow getting thinner,
 And still with smiling face go bravely on;
If you can think of your last decent dinner,
And not complain and think you’re put upon;

Then, my brother, though all the world may scorn you,
And make your name a jest for thoughtless folk;
You’re the saviour of the country that has borne you,
You’ll surely break Conscription’s evil yoke.

 Written by William Harrison.
in Wormwood Scrubs, March, [year missing from typescript]

Transcription from scanned copy of paper found by historian Alison Ronan while researching opposition to the First World War in North-West England.

It may not be great poetry but it’s a great testimony to the spirit (and humour) that enabled so many COs to remain firm in their determination to oppose the First World War, as well as indicating (even though under-stating) some of the hardships they were forced to undergo.

“Some men were very brutally treated in military custody, and for others, particularly those accustomed to sedentary work, the rigours of prison were excessively harsh. Out of 16,000 WW1 conscientious objectors, some 6000 endured imprisonment varying between a few months and three or more years.” -

William Harrison is one of the few COs to feature in the new First World War Galleries at the Imperial War Museum: From “a very interesting press release from the Imperial War Museum in London - "In July The Imperial War Museum London will open new First World War Galleries that include object that highlight what it meant to be a conscientious objector during WWI. Objects include the Holy Bible of William Harrison who was sentenced to hard labour by a court martial..." - ”

Monday, 14 July 2014

A plea for rhyme and reason…

(Old misprints have long shadows)
The Deserter
“I refuse to murder or maim this man, my brother,
Or soil my soul in the smoke of war’s red smother.
I refuse to kindle the flame that shall burn this city,
So my heart be murder-stained and dead to pity.
I refuse to obey your command. I have no duty
Other than love of Life and love of Beauty.
Tho’ you riddle my body with lead still I’ll be grateful.
But I’m gone– and you’re left behind, pursuing and hateful.
I fly with the wings of the wind and a hope surprising–
And reach a haven at last, as the sun is rising.
And here till the night-shades fall I sleep in gladness,
Then up, on the dark, rough road, to my home of sadness.
Hard on my track snarl the hounds of hell’s own breeding;
But again I’m gone and roadway’s ‘neath me speeding.
Soon my garb of shame’s sunk to the depths of the river,
And dressed in the clothes of a man I offer thanks to the giver.
For I will not murder or maim this man, my brother,
Or sink my soul in the slime of war’s red smother.
I’ll get away if I can and in more peaceful regions
I’ll live and love and forget War and its murdering legions”.
"The Deserter, Albert Young, in Red Dawn, Sept 1915. First printed Daily Herald early 1915.
Albert Young was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World in London. A glassblower, he died in extreme poverty in 1924. His anthology of poems, Red Dawn , was very popular throughout Britain particularly in the South Wales valleys and on Red Clydeside.”
The above poem has been printed in several places and on-line with the last word rendered as “smother” – an obvious misprint or mistranscription. The sense and rhyme-scheme, and any sense of poetry, must surely require it to be “legions”, as restored here.
Comments welcome.

Note to self: Check original in Red Dawn and Daily Herald if possible.

In fact a search (using "Daily Herald") at comes up with the last line ending

“…live and love and forget War and its murdermad legions.”  

Even better!