“I’m going, Billy, old fellow. Hist, lad! Don’t make any noise.
There’s Boches to beat all creation, the pitch of a bomb away.
I’ve fixed the note to your collar, you’ve got to get back to my Boys,
You’ve got to get back to warn ’em before it’s the break of day.”
The order came to go forward to a trench-line traced on the map;
I knew the brass-hats had blundered, I knew and I told ’em so;
I knew if I did as they ordered I would tumble into a trap,
And I tried to explain, but the answer came like a pistol: “Go.”
Then I thought of the Boys I commanded — I always called them “my Boys” —
The men of my own recruiting, the lads of my countryside;
Tested in many a battle, I knew their sorrows and joys,
And I loved them all like a father, with more than a father’s pride.
To march my Boys to a shambles as soon as the dawn of day;
To see them helplessly slaughtered, if all that I guessed was true;
My Boys that trusted me blindly, I thought and I tried to pray,
And then I arose and I muttered: “It’s either them or it’s you.”
I rose and I donned my rain-coat; I buckled my helmet tight.
I remember you watched me, Billy, as I took my cane in my hand;
I vaulted over the sandbags into the pitchy night,
Into the pitted valley that served us as No Man’s Land.
I strode out over the hollow of hate and havoc and death,
From the heights the guns were angry, with a vengeful snarling of steel;
And once in a moment of stillness I heard hard panting breath,
And I turned . . . it was you, old rascal, following hard on my heel.
I fancy I cursed you, Billy; but not so much as I ought!
And so we went forward together, till we came to the valley rim,
And then a star-shell sputtered . . . it was even worse than I thought,
For the trench they told me to move in was packed with Boche to the brim.
They saw me too, and they got me; they peppered me till I fell;
And there I scribbled my message with my life-blood ebbing away;
“Now, Billy, you fat old duffer, you’ve got to get back like hell;
And get them to cancel that order before it’s the dawn of day.
“Billy, old boy, I love you, I kiss your shiny black nose;
Now, home there. . . . Hurry, you devil, or I’ll cut you to ribands. . . . See . . .”
Poor brute! he’s off! and I’m dying. . . . I go as a soldier goes.
I’m happy. My Boys, God bless ’em! . . . It had to be them or me.