LETTER: A poem, ‘Soldiers’ last raid’

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IN the fire trench silence was mandatory,

Cigarette smoke curled in the air.

Just 20 volunteers for the night raid,

Drinking a tot to ward off the cold air.

“Fix bayonets,” was the sergeant’s last order,

Whispered quietly to the nearest and passed on.

With five rounds in the magazine of your rifle,

Make sure your safety catches were on.

The young officer stood still on the ladder,

With his periscope looking out under the wire.

Seeking a route over a desolate landscape,

While listening to the sound of friendly fire.

When the shelling moved forward was our signal,

Then we’d crawl slowly forward in line.

The Germans would guess we were coming,

When our barrage moved; they knew the sign.

This was the last of our night raids,

Tomorrow we’d be pulled out of the line.

There would be a shower and some clean clothing for everyone,

Then four days of hot food and red wine.

When the barrage moved forward we moved,

Crawling through wire, mud, slush and slime.

Each holding on to the man in front,

The young officer leading the line.

Were we too fast or was the artillery too slow?

We were caught by that artillery umbrella.

We never had our four days of leave,

But, wherever we went, we all went together.

Albert Armstrong,

Percy Street,

Hartlepool.