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George Herbert Clarke, ed. (1873–1953). A Treasury of War Poetry. 1917.

Wilfred Campbell

Langemarck at Ypres

THIS is the ballad of Langemarck,

A story of glory and might;

Of the vast Hun horde, and Canada’s part

In the great grim fight.

It was April fair on the Flanders Fields,

But the dreadest April then

That ever the years, in their fateful flight,

Had brought to this world of men.

North and east, a monster wall,

The mighty Hun ranks lay,

With fort on fort, and iron-ringed trench,

Menacing, grim and gray.

And south and west, like a serpent of fire,

Serried the British lines,

And in between, the dying and dead,

And the stench of blood, and the trampled mud,

On the fair, sweet Belgian vines.

And far to the eastward, harnessed and taut,

Like a scimitar, shining and keen,

Gleaming out of that ominous gloom,

Old France’s hosts were seen.

When out of the grim Hun lines one night,

There rolled a sinister smoke;—

A strange, weird cloud, like a pale, green shroud,

And death lurked in its cloak.

On a fiend-like wind it curled along

Over the brave French ranks,

Like a monster tree its vapours spread,

In hideous, burning banks

Of poisonous fumes that scorched the night

With their sulphurous demon danks.

And men went mad with horror, and fled

From that terrible, strangling death,

That seemed to sear both body and soul

With its baleful, flaming breath.

Till even the little dark men of the south,

Who feared neither God nor man,

Those fierce, wild fighters of Afric’s steppes,

Broke their battalions and ran:—

Ran as they never had run before,

Gasping, and fainting for breath;

For they knew ’t was no human foe that slew;

And that hideous smoke meant death.

Then red in the reek of that evil cloud,

The Hun swept over the plain;

And the murderer’s dirk did its monster work,

’Mid the scythe-like shrapnel rain;

Till it seemed that at last the brute Hun hordes

Had broken that wall of steel;

And that soon, through this breach in the freeman’s dyke,

His trampling hosts would wheel;—

And sweep to the south in ravaging might,

And Europe’s peoples again

Be trodden under the tyrant’s heel,

Like herds, in the Prussian pen.

But in that line on the British right,

There massed a corps amain,

Of men who hailed from a far west land

Of mountain and forest and plain;

Men new to war and its dreadest deeds,

But noble and staunch and true;

Men of the open, East and West,

Brew of old Britain’s brew.

These were the men out there that night,

When Hell loomed close ahead;

Who saw that pitiful, hideous rout,

And breathed those gases dread;

While some went under and some went mad;

But never a man there fled.

For the word was “Canada,” theirs to fight,

And keep on fighting still;—

Britain said, fight, and fight they would,

Though the Devil himself in sulphurous mood

Came over that hideous hill.

Yea, stubborn, they stood, that hero band,

Where no soul hoped to live;

For five, ’gainst eighty thousand men,

Were hopeless odds to give.

Yea, fought they on! ’T was Friday eve,

When that demon gas drove down;

’T was Saturday eve that saw them still

Grimly holding their own;

Sunday, Monday, saw them yet,

A steadily lessening band,

With “no surrender” in their hearts,

But the dream of a far-off land,

Where mother and sister and love would weep

For the hushed heart lying still;—

But never a thought but to do their part,

And work the Empire’s will.

Ringed round, hemmed in, and back to back,

They fought there under the dark,

And won for Empire, God and Right,

At grim, red Langemarck.

Wonderful battles have shaken this world,

Since the Dawn-God overthrew Dis;

Wonderful struggles of right against wrong,

Sung in the rhymes of the world’s great song,

But never a greater than this.

Bannockburn, Inkerman, Balaclava,

Marathon’s godlike stand;

But never a more heroic deed,

And never a greater warrior breed,

In any war-man’s land.

This is the ballad of Langemarck,

A story of glory and might;

Of the vast Hun horde, and Canada’s part

In the great, grim fight.