The Working Party


Siegfried Sassoon

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 the 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 needs 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.

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