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Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

The Guards Came Through


              1Men of the Twenty-first
              2    Up by the Chalk Pit Wood,
              3Weak with our wounds and our thirst,
              4    Wanting our sleep and our food,
              5After a day and a night.
              6    God, shall we ever forget?
              7Beaten and broke in the fight,
              8    But sticking it, sticking it yet,
              9Trying to hold the line,
            10    Fainting and spent and done;
            11Always the thud and the whine,
            12    Always the yell of the Hun.
            13Northumberland, Lancaster, York,
            14    Durham and Somerset,
            15Fighting alone, worn to the bone,
            16    But sticking it, sticking it yet.

            17Never a message of hope,
            18    Never a word of cheer!
            19Fronting Hill 70's shell-swept slope,
            20    With the dull, dead plain in our rear;
            21Always the shriek of the shell,
            22    Always the roar of the burst,
            23Always the tortures of Hell,
            24    As waiting and wincing we cursed
            25Our luck, the guns, and the Boche.
            26    When our Corporal shouted "Stand to!"
            27And I heard some one cry, "Clear the front for the Guards!" --
            28    And the Guards came through.

            29Our throats they were parched and hot,
            30    But Lord, if you'd heard the cheer,
            31Irish and Welsh and Scot,
            32    Coldstream and Grenadier --
            33Two Brigades, if you please,
            34    Dressing as straight as a hem.
            35We, we were down on our knees,
            36    Praying for us and for them,
            37Praying with tear-wet cheek,
            38    Praying with outstretched hand.
            39Lord! I could speak for a week,
            40    But how could you understand?
            41How could your cheeks be wet?
            42    Such feelin's don't come to you;
            43But how can me or my mates forget
            44    When the Guards came through?

            45"Five yards left extend!"
            46    It passed from rank to rank,
            47And line after line, with never a bend,
            48    And a touch of the London swank.
            49A trifle of swank and dash,
            50    Cool as a home parade,
            51Twinkle, glitter and flash,
            52    Flinching never a shade,
            53With the shrapnel right in their face,
            54    Doing their Hyde Park stunt,
            55Swinging along at an easy pace,
            56    Arms at the trail, eyes front.
            57Man! it was great to see!
            58    Man! it was fine to do!
            59It's a cot, and hospital ward for me,
            60But I'll tell them in Blighty wherever I be,
            61    How the Guards came through.

Notes

2] On September 27, 1915, the 2nd Guards brigade of the British army took Chalk Pit Wood near Loos, in north-west France, during a campaign sometimes termed the Big Push that saw the first action by the 21st guards division in the XI Corps. The 21st suffered 3,800 casualties on September 26 alone. The battle of Loos occurred from September 25 to October 19 and occasioned over 60,000 British casualties. See Chris Baker's "The Long, Long Trail."

12] Hun: German soldiery.

19] Hill 70 was hard-fought and exchanged hands several times. Baker describes the first assault on September 25: "Emerging from the village, men of many units advanced unopposed - but without clear landmarks and with few officers, they headed for the summit of Hill 70 rather than to the left which was the original plan. On the extreme right, the 1/9 Black Watch, finding that the expected flank defences of the 1/19 Londons absent, halted. The mass of infantry now on Hill 70, seeing Germans retreating in some disarray, began to advance down the far-side slope. This advance was caught by German crossfire from the 2nd line, and it was brought to a standstill by 10.30am, with men doing their best to take cover on completely open ground on the downward slope North of Cite St Laurent. Calls for artillery support were answered with a bombardment falling away to the left, on Cite St Auguste, the original objective of the Division. 200 men on the hill, now reinforced by the 7/RSF, dug in a trench behind the crest line."

25] Boche: what the French called the Germans.

60] Blighty: military slang for "England."


Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: The Poems of Arthur Conan Doyle (1922; John Murray, 1928): 173-75. 21473.35.1 Widener Library Harvard University
Publication date note: The Guards Came Through, and Other Poems (London: John Murray, 1919). See Harold Locke, A Bibliographical Catalogue of the Writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Tunbridge Wells: D. Webster, 1928): 69.
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2005
Recent editing: 1:2005/3/10*1:2005/3/10

Rhyme: ababcdcdefefghgh


Other poems by Arthur Conan Doyle