Siegfried Sassoon

14. A Working Party

THREE hours ago he blundered up the trench,


Sliding and poising, groping with his boots;


Sometimes he tripped and lurched against the walls


With hands that pawed the sodden bags of chalk.


He couldn’t see the man who walked in front;


Only he heard the drum and rattle of feet


Stepping along barred trench boards, often splashing


Wretchedly where the sludge was ankle-deep.



Voices would grunt ‘Keep to your right—make way!’


When squeezing past some men from the front-line:


White faces peered, puffing a point of red;


Candles and braziers glinted through the chinks


And curtain-flaps of dug-outs; then the gloom


Swallowed his sense of sight; he stooped and swore


Because a sagging wire had caught his neck.



A flare went up; the shining whiteness spread


And flickered upward, showing nimble rats


And mounds of glimmering sand-bags, bleached with rain;


Then the slow silver moment died in dark.


The wind came posting by with chilly gusts


And buffeting at corners, piping thin.


And dreary through the crannies; rifle-shots


Would split and crack and sing along the night,


And shells came calmly through the drizzling air


To burst with hollow bang below the hill.



Three hours ago he stumbled up the trench;


Now he will never walk that road again:


He must be carried back, a jolting lump


Beyond all need of tenderness and care.



He was a young man with a meagre wife


And two small children in a Midland town;


He showed their photographs to all his mates,


And they considered him a decent chap


Who did his work and hadn’t much to say,


And always laughed at other people’s jokes


Because he hadn’t any of his own.



That night when he was busy at his job


Of piling bags along the parapet,


He thought how slow time went, stamping his feet


And blowing on his fingers, pinched with cold.


He thought of getting back by half-past twelve,


And tot of rum to send him warm to sleep


In draughty dug-out frowsty with the fumes


Of coke, and full of snoring weary men.



He pushed another bag along the top,


Craning his body outward; then a flare


Gave one white glimpse of No Man’s Land and wire;


And as he dropped his head the instant split


His startled life with lead, and all went out.