The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 19 No 1 - December 2020


Brian Culross

Sprinkled through this issue of Military History Journal are a handful of poems inspired by my readings around the subject of the First World War, and (inevitably) by my readings of WWI poets – Sassoon, Owen, Kipling, and others. Another influence has been – as elsewhere in my verses – the works of A.E. Housman.

Most, but not all, were composed roughly in the period 2015-16.

The collection begins with an ‘odd man out’ – a poem inspired by (and dating from) my visits to Anglo-Boer War sites during my years in Durban ...

During my years in Durban I often went, in company with friends from the local Hiking Club, on weekend explorations of Anglo-Boer War battle fields – both major encounters and minor skirmishes. These trips, and on them the discovery of isolated and almost forgotten graves being swallowed by the bush, as well as a fair amount of reading about the subject, led to this poem. It remembers, wistfully, all the ‘Anglo’ dead of that war who sweated with heat and fear, and then died, far from home; whose sacrifice is now a completely impersonal matter for historians to summarise and tabulate, and whose short immortality died when mothers, lovers, sisters and friends in their turn took their memories and mental images to their graves. Dust, verily, to dust.


The firing lever on larger artillery pieces – which exhibited a fearful recoil – was pulled from a relatively safe distance by means of a cord, usually referred to as a lanyard. But I only had room for a single syllable ...


In a pale imitation of Kipling’s pithy and justly famous “Epitaphs” (‘I could not look on Death ...’ and others), and Housman’s similar lines (‘Here dead we lie ...) I tried my hand at writing in the same vein. Here and on p 38 are two examples.


a second epitaph

My breaking heart could not hold back its primal tears
As low I leant and listened to his whispered fears:
For though he pleaded, as I held his weakening hand,
In truth I could not say there was a Promised Land.


Tyne Cot is one of the largest Commonwealth WWI cemeteries in France. It is located close to Passchendaele.

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