In the Desert Today (selected verses)

Italian mortar shell, Ruweisat Ridge, El Alamein, Egypt.

Italian mortar shell, Ruweisat Ridge, Alamein, Egypt.

 

What did I see in the desert to-day,
In the cold, pale light of dawn?
I saw the Honeys creaking out,
Their brave, bright pennants torn;
And heads were high against the sky,
And faces were grim and drawn.

What did I see in the Desert today,
Where the frantic lizard runs?
The song of death was shouted forth
As the gunners manned the guns.
The men who'd pledged for Motherland
Their freedom and their lives,
Swore as they sweated in the smoke
To man the twenty-fives.

What did I see in the Desert today,
Beside the rocks and the sand?
I saw the squadrons in the sky
Of Bomber and Fighter Command.
I heard the thunder of their work,
I saw their lightening stroke,
And far across the skyline came
The rolling clouds of smoke, 
Whilst incoherent in their rage
The chattering Bredas spoke.

What did I see in the Desert today?
Relics of what had died.
The pale enamelled shells of snails
Wherein the spiders hide,
And the dark fast-rusting shells of hate
Lie shattered side by side.

What did I see in the desert to-day,
As the sun dropped, angry, red,
Out of the golden western sky?
The smoke still rose ahead,
And the last of the fighters from patrol
Over our lines had sped,
And the sands had folded into their void
The last of their unknown dead.

What did I see in the Desert today?
Anything new in the "Blue"?
I found a crevice in the rocks
Where a single violet grew,
As fresh as in woods and lanes of home – 
The green fields once we knew.
And I saw the Faith in the eyes of men,
And I knew their hearts were true.

Bombardier L. Challoner

 

Taken from the anthology ‘Poems from the Desert – Verses by members of the Eighth Army’.  Published by George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd.

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