Dark poem written in wartime at town’s Harrowby Camp

Lt John Scott, pictured in 1915.
Lt John Scott, pictured in 1915.
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WITH Remembrance Sunday approaching we have a special Memory Lane this week, thanks to the family of Lt John Scott of the Machine Gun Corps at Harrowby Camp.

Lt John Scott wrote this poem whilst with the Machine Gun Corps at the camp in 1917. It was published in the Journal in July of that year.

His Machine Gun Company was part of the original North Russia Expeditionary Force that travelled to Murmansk in June 1918. He was in Russia for over 15 months with just one period of leave.

He met Kate Whitford for the first time during that leave. The train from Edinburgh to London stopped unexpectedly in Grantham and he decided, on the spur of the moment, to get out and visit friends in the town.

Kate opened the front door to him - she had just moved to Grantham to train as a dispenser and had been invited to his friends’ party.

They were married for 63 years and the photo shows a reunion in 1984 with the Reverend Harold Bickley, the man who had married them in August 1928.

‘Tis eventide, and wearied with the camp,

The raucous babel of the barrack square:

The dreary rows of huts: the rythmic tramp

Of marching men in step: the bugles’ blare:

The mules hack deep in mud: the driver’s curse:

The sullen oath: the ribald jest: the patter

Of distant drum: the exploding bomb: and worse

The never ceasing Maxim’s deadly chatter:

Wearied with these, I walk in thought, until

Desiring rest, I spy a little hill

Here lying prone

I rest alone

Before me there extends rich pasture land,

Well dotted o’er with grazing cows and sheep

Their young attending: whilst on every hand

The silent hamlets, ambushed in a heap

Of barns and hayricks, elm trees, dykes and stiles,

Betray themselves with wisps of rising smoke:

And on the road beyond is heard for miles

The blythe “Goodnight” of humble cotter folk.

All these - the breeze, the birds, the babbling stream -

Produce in me a lthargy supreme,

And pondering deep

I nod - I sleep.

And dreaming now, rise up before mine eyes,

The same rich fields, the cattle grazing still,

The hamlet nestling ‘mongst its ricks and sties,

The harmony among birds and babbling rill -

But now the clouds are dark and chill the breeze,

Ablaze the hayricks, gone the word of cheer,

No longer curls the smoke aloft the trees

Indoors the huddled cotters shrink with fear,

What miracle, what presto of the wand

Produced this strife, where clearly peace belonged?

In days of yore

Had they too - War?

To me appear on yonder slope arrayed

Wave upon wave dragoneers of the King:

Each troop its’ standard flauntingly displayed,

Pikemen and musketeers on either wing

The flanks protecting, whilst, concealed from view

Of Roundhead scout, the cannon point in air,

Loaded with ball, well tamped and sighted true,

Each fuse adjusted, needing but the flare;

As on parade the Royalist troopers stand

The flower of English halls: a loyal band,

Their voices ring,

“Our God, Our King”.

Confronting these scarce cannon shot apart,

Beneath the ivied spire of Barrowby,

Stand Cromwell’s ironsides few, but stout of heart,

Flushed with the fruits of recent victory.

Well rested they last night in Grantham town,

‘Neath Wulfram’s steep, in Angel hostelry;

What clink of spurs, what striding up and down

In martial pomp, what boisterous revelry,

E’en now in Wulfram’s aisles still strewn hay

The maids of Grantham reverently pray

Heaven to defend

Their Ironside friend.

But hark the signal sounds, and, ‘ere it dies

Straight as a bolt the Ironside horsemen shoot,

Each to his man, and taken by surprise,

The Royalists give, contesting every foot:

Loudly the evening air reverberates

With roar of gun and clash of steel on steel,

The ringing note of pikes on armour plates

The leader’s shout: the dying man’s appeal.

Routed at length the Royalist troopers flee

In fear before the Ironside cavalry,

Who hunt them down

To Newark’s town.

With this I wake, obsessed with thoughts of war,

The needles flow of blood - the vacant chair -

The stricken home - the wounded at our door -

The homeless refugee - the severed pair.

Oh! break the day when Peace shall reign supreme

When Mars shall from his sanguine throne be hurled,

When armaments are but a ghastly dream,

And strife forever banished from this world:

When we can look each other in the face,

No matter what colour, tongue or race:

This is the day, For which I pray.