A lost war poem written one hundred years ago is to read aloud this coming Remembrance Sunday. It tells the story of John Rice who lived in New Street, High Green and worked at the old Tankersley Colliery. He was a member of the choir at St Saviour’s Church and a playing member of its football team. He enlisted in May 1916 and was killed in action in France on 30th March 1917.
He had a brother, Charles, who had a gift for poetry and he wrote a poem about his brother’s death. Ted Bellamy, the historian at St Saviour’s Church, rediscovered this poem a hundred years later whilst poring over some old documents found in the church. “I was struck by the immediacy of the poem, as it was clearly written out of the mixed feelings of grief and pride that the whole family had been engulfed by, even as the First World War continued. As far as we know it hasn’t been heard in public for a century and it seemed very appropriate that one hundred years later it should be heard again.”
The Vicar of St Saviour’s, Canon Simon Bessant said, “This isn’t war poetry in the style of Wilfrid Owen or Siegfried Sassoon. It’s popular poetry reflecting the emotions of ordinary people at that time as they experienced the dreaded bad news from the front. It is full of duty, faith, pride and courage. What is partly striking is the barbed reference at the end to those whose militarism and nationalism had caused the slaughter of the First World War.”
The poem will be read aloud at St Saviour’s High Green at a Remembrance Service on Sunday, 12 November starting at 10.15am.
C E Rice
In memory of his brother Private John Rice from High Green
who was killed in action, March 1917.
“I am going to join the army,”
said a lad to his mother one day.
The mother’s face went a little pale
as she turned her head away.
“I know my lad ‘tis your duty,”
she managed to say with a sigh,
for she had dreaded this step might be taken,
and now the time was nigh.
“Now but don’t be down hearted mother”
the lad went on again,
“When I have got the first week over
I’ll be right as rain.”
“I’ll be as brave as I can be
and tho’ you’ll be far away,
I’ll bring you a little nearer
at night, when I kneel to pray.”
“You know mother dear it‘s my duty,
and that everyone should do
and think, I’ll be battling for England,
and my brothers and sisters and you.”
So the brave lad went off to his training,
and his mother was left in despair,
for she knew what awful hardships,
must be endured out there.
But her son was not one to grumble
and the news she received was all good.
He said he was learning to fight and to shoot,
to avenge his countryman’s blood.
The blood that had been shed so freely,
on the battlefield a few miles away.
He could not stay at home shirking,
when others were going that way.
And then at last, his training o’er,
the time had come to depart.
He was going to sail to the other shore
to bravely do his part.
Try to imagine his mother’s grief
as he kissed her and say goodbye.
She perhaps thought of the other lads
who were going to fight and die.
All went well for a few short weeks,
that came news that was hard to bear.
The lad who had volunteered so freely,
had lost his young life out there.
It must be that God in his mercy
had looked down from Heaven above,
and knew him for one of his children
and took him to rest in his love.
To his mother, what a sacrifice,
to him, what a glorious gain,
but the console of Almighty God
will soothe away the pain.
And if she can picture him happy
as he is on the golden shore,
She’ll be determined, in her mind,
not to worry anymore.
Can she wish him back to a world like this,
where sin and sorrow are known?
Back from those realms of endless bliss,
whither his soul has flown.
It is only the cruel injustice,
that makes her heart ache so.
But God, in good time will judge men like those
that cause wars, and suffering and woe.