Presented by Monty Phillips

Given that the recent days have been rightfully occupied by the remembering of the humans who never made it home from World War 1, I thought I might highlight a less represented species; many of whom also never made it home from that War.

It’s said that hundreds of thousands of horses were employed over those four years: not just for carrying men, but also goods and artillery up to the front-line. The author of the poem below saw that War with his own eyes; and, indeed, he may well have actually happened upon the encounter so touchingly described below . . .

The Battery Horse

by Lance-Corporal E.R. Henry

He whinnied low as I passed by,
It was a pleading sort of cry;
His rider, slain while going back,
Lay huddled on the muddy track.
And he, without a guiding hand,
Had strayed out on the boggy land;
And, held there by the treacherous mire,
Lay exposed to shrapnel fire.

He was a wiry chestnut steed,
A type of good Australian breed;
Perhaps on good Monaro’s height
He’d followed in the wild steer’s flight,
Or out beyond the great divide
Roamed free where salt-bush plains are wide.
Or, through the golden wattle groves
Had rounded up the sheep in droves . . .
Then, shipped away to feed the guns,
And help the boys to strafe the Huns.

His load was eighteen-pounder shells,
The sort that in a barrage tells.
I drew the shells from out their sheaf
And cut his girth from underneath,
Then lifted off his saddle pack
To ease the weight, and free his back.

His muzzle softly nosed my hand
Because I seemed to understand.
My steel hat from an old-time trench
I filled three times his thirst to quench;
I brought my ration-biscuits back,
And fed him from my haversack.

No horse that had been stable-fed
More proudly tossed his chestnut head
Because a stranger saw his need,
And passing, stayed to give him feed.
But time pressed on, I must not stay;
Four weary miles before me lay.
He made a gallant bid to rise . . .
Then sank with almost human sighs.
I hoped a team might see his plight,
And draw him out before the night.

Now you may ask: why in this strife,
When times were grim and death was rife,
I should have ventured from my course
To try and help a battery horse?
I’ll tell you why I felt his need . . .
I’ve owned and loved a chestnut steed.

 

Not only was the above poem never published; it’d remained forever in a box in a family-member’s attic . . until 5 years ago. At which time, an anthology was published: ‘Tommy Rot . . WW1 Poetry They Didn’t Let You Read’.. (Tommy being a nickname by which British unranked soldiers referred to themselves; as the Hun in the poem refers to the Germans).

‘Tommy Rot . . ‘ was collected from hundreds of private letters, private collections and archives: and contains many hard-hitting and vivid accounts from the very front of the front-line (whereas most of the ‘known’ war-poets at that time – or those that subsequently became known, even posthumously – were officers of some sort, thus generally not as exposed to the ‘front’ . . not so readily sacrificed). Indeed, of the hundreds of poems in the anthology, the author of only one was ‘known’ as a poet. The rest were just lowly-ranked or unranked soldiers who were blessed with the ability to write; trying to convey, in letters to their families, how things REALLY were . . many of whom never got the chance to subsequently tell their families ‘in person’ how things really were.

It’s for this reason that the powers-that-be made sure that they ‘didn’t let you read’ . . . until now.

 

Monty Phillips is a 54 year-old driver who grew up in England, but he’s been living in Provence (France) for the last 17-18 years; and also spends 3 months every year in Nepal.

 

 

 

 

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32 Responses

    • Monty

      Yeah, it had a similar effect on me when I first read it a few years back. I can clearly remember feeling a physical jolt of despair when the horse tried to stand up.. and sank back down in the mud.

      Reply
  1. Sally Cook

    People who stare at computers need to read poems like this. We are losing our connection with reality. Animals are creatures with sensibilities, too, and this poem is a good and honorable one.Thank you for it.

    Reply
    • Monty

      Call me a pessimist, Sally; but I feel the ‘connection’ has already been irretrievably lost by the majority of the western-world.

      Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    Motorized transport was still fairly new in the First World War. All the armies depended heavily on dray animals. Like the men, these poor beasts took casualties.

    Reply
    • Monty

      . . . but unlike the men, Joe, these ‘poor beasts’ had no sense of where they were, or why they were there; no sense of explanation; no sense that they might eventually ‘go home’; and no medics to treat their injuries. Helpless.

      Reply
    • Monty

      Regarding your below comment, Joe: I don’t think anyone needed telling that horses were also used in previous wars. Most, I’m sure, would generally deduce that the further back in history a war was; the more reliance there would’ve been on horses (for obvious reasons). Maybe ‘several millennia’ would be a better estimate than “many centuries”. On top of which, I’d imagine that many adults above a certain age are aware of the rampant Mongols (exclusively on horseback); and many more would see the word Roman as synonomous with the word Chariots.

      You’ll also notice in my response to Mr Hollywood that I referred to their (the horses) participation in not just WW1, but “any other war in which they’ve had the misfortune to ‘serve'”.

      Thus, you need not fear that I, or anyone else, might’ve thought the use of horses was “particular to the First World War”.

      Reply
  3. David Paul Behrens

    This is a wonderful poem. My grandfather, who was born in Germany and moved to America at age six, returned to Europe to fight against the Germans in WW 1. I still have a letter, which he wrote to my grandmother, describing his activities, such as marching for days across the hills in France. When he returned home, after getting wounded and losing one of his lungs because of mustard gas, his story was written-up on the front page of the local newspaper, and he was honored for being the first soldier to return to the small town of Oregon, Illinois. I also still have the steel helmet he wore.

    Thank you for this interesting poem.

    Reply
    • Monty

      Do you feel that you could share any further details from the letter he wrote to your grandma?

      Reply
      • David Paul Behrens

        I probably could, but my brother is currently in possession of it. It is considered a family heirloom, along with the newspaper article about my grandfather. The details expressed in my comments were from memory.

      • Monty

        . . in which case, leave it be. It’s a private matter within your family; and should remain so. I had no right to ask.

  4. David Watt

    Thank you Monty for presenting this deeply moving poem. The strong connection between fighting men in WW 1. and their horses is often overlooked these days. Whether coming from the farm or city, soldiers had grown up with horses, and respected them accordingly.

    Reply
    • Monty

      The ‘connection’ to which you refer, Dave, is not only ‘often’ overlooked, it’s ‘totally’ overlooked. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone stop and say: “Imagine how it must’ve been for the horses”.

      As horses were central to human life in Britain at that time: you make a good point when you say that even soldiers who’d grown up in a city would’ve shared some sort of affinity and respect for them.

      Reply
  5. David Hollywood

    A very touching poem embracing the forlorn fate of unwitting animals sent to an environment and destiny of which they had no sense of familiarity, and which is why this is such a lovely presentation of sensitivities in circumstances not always expected. Clearly the poet was a good man. Thank you for posting this.

    Reply
    • Monty

      Exemplary choice of word, Dave; “unwitting” is an immaculate adjective to describe their participation in that war . . or any other in which they’ve had the misfortune to ‘serve’.

      And an equally-exemplary choice of words, it must be said, when you described the sentiment of the poem thus: “. . . this is such a lovely presentation of sensitivities in circumstances not always expected.” Those words perfectly encapsulate my very motive in exposing this poem; to arouse “unexpected sensitivities”. As powerful as it is as a war-poem in its own right . . its REAL essence – surely unintended, even unimagined, by the author – can only be seen now, 100 years later: in it’s ability – it’s power – to leave a reader thinking: “Well, I’ve never before considered the plight of the horses in the war; cor, what must it’ve been like for them poor senseless creatures?” See? “Unexpected sensitivities”: so, the poem’s now took on ANOTHER role. Hence, what has always been a war-poem about a horse and a man . . has, quite accidentally, evolved into a poem for horses, for all time!

      I felt your choice of words, Dave . . and I’m glad that you felt them, too.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Let’s remember, however, that in all the wars of the past, going back for many centuries, horses were also killed in great numbers. Medieval battles involved heavy cavalry; horses pulled the cannons and supply wagons in Napoleonic wars; both sides in our Civil War used up thousands of horses in their campaigns. The Bayeux tapestry shows horses being killed just as violently as the Norman and Saxon warriors were slain. Countless French horses were killed by English arrows at Crecy and Agincourt. None of this was particular to the First World War.

  6. Satyananda Sarangi

    Hello Mr. Monty!

    The poem was touching in ways that can’t be explained. It was one of those rare poems that fills the reader with uncanny feelings.

    So, I thought of writing a few lines to you as below ( do forgive me as the lines lack meter ) :

    From the unknown lands of the setting life,
    Where the nights reign, some firestorm rains
    And belittles our mundane, worldly strife;
    Someone brings you this flame that seldom wanes.

    And grieved shall be all of them one by one,
    Woebegone their frail hearts with nothing left;
    The rivers shall stop, the furies shall run,
    Time sans dreams, and of memories bereft.

    Yet the withered hearts would blossom again,
    For what love is love that forever stays;
    O friend! That flame still alive shall regain
    Its verve and weave a wreath of broken days.

    © Satyananda Sarangi 2018

    Reply
    • Monty

      I’m pleased that it touched you, Sat; and even more pleased that it compelled you to scibble some lines.

      I read your other two pieces which you sent last week (Pilgrimage and Sombre), and I have to tell you . . that you won’t be able to surprise me any more, ‘cos I now know what you’re capable of.
      Consequentially: from now on, that’s the standard I’ll always expect from you.

      I’m gonna be in India at the end of this month: Might I be able to find some of your work in any journals/magazines. etc?

      Reply
  7. War di Belecuse

    We owe Mr. Phillips, and Mr. Mantyk, a debt of gratitude for the poem by Lance Corporal E. R. Henry, who I suspect was an Australian war poet, based on the second section, like those many in England, from Leeds to London, who gave their lives fighting for the Australian Armed Services during World War I. E. R. Henry’s poem “The Battery Horse” is a remarkable poem for all those reasons many have given here. In addition, it is a poem that deserves more recognition for its artistry as well. The taut, iambic tetrametres are arranged in five sections of 8, 10, 12, 10, and 8 lines (in the version I read) that lead us through a series of poignant vignettes.

    “He made a gallant bid to rise…
    Then sank with almost human sighs.”

    I can think of no comparable work in English literature from World War I that so thoughtfully touches upon the topic of horses. What immediately came to my mind was Erich Maria Remarque’s “Im Westen nichts Neues” (All Quiet on the Western Front), where one particularly horrible episode of a horse that dies trudging through the mud hauling a cannon has never left my mind.

    But now E. R. Henry’s heart-rending “The Battery Horse” has given me a new work to place beside those of Seeger, McCrae, Owen, Sassoon, et. al. of World War I; and Mr. Med has alerted us to “Tommy Rot: WWI Poetry They Didn’t Let You Read”.

    Reply
    • Monty

      I must ask you, Bruce: would you kindly transmit the below points to your literary associate, Mr Belecuse?

      1/ The ‘debt of gratitude’ is owed not to me; all I had to do was press a few buttons. If a ‘debt’ is owed, then it’s owed to the following fortunate sequence of events: a/ That the poem itself survived the war.. b/ That the poem then found its way back to the author’s family.. c/ That the family have kept it for the last 90-odd years.. d/ That the compilers of Tommy Rot unearthed the poem.. e/ That Mr Mantyk saw fit not only to publish it: but to accompany it with the most congruous of images.

      2/ It was ‘not’ written by a war-poet (if that was the case, it would’ve found its way into an anthology long before now); it was written by a soldier! That soldier might’ve been writing poetry before the war, but hadn’t been published; hence he wasn’t a poet. Mr Belecuse should refer to my accompanying text to the poem, in which it clearly states that “of the hundreds of poems in Tommy Rot, the author of only ONE poem was ‘known’ at the time as a poet” . . and, as the book informs, that ‘one’ wasn’t Mr Henry! That’s the beauty of Tommy Rot; all the poems in it were previously unpublished; and most, one imagines, had never before even seen daylight.

      These ‘authors’ were just lowly-ranked soldiers who shared, to various degrees, an ability to write verse (I say ‘various degrees’, ‘cos some of the poems are patently raw and unpolished). I daresay that some of ’em might’ve been attempting poetry before they left home for the war; but in Britain at that time, the majority of citizens had never even left their own town or village – let alone ventured down to London to try and get some poems assessed!

      3/ Mr Belecuse is probably right in ‘suspecting’ that the author was Australian; the 2nd stanza of the poem would suggest that . . but one can’t be sure. It’s not even known whether Mr Henry even survived the war!

      Reply
  8. War di Belecuse

    Message Received:

    1. I hope Mr. Phillips can forgive War di Belecuse for giving gratitude where gratitude was not due.

    2. By definition: anyone who writes a poem is a poet. I suspect Mr. Phillips means a noted or well-known poet. But that was exactly the case of poets, like Alan Seeger and John McCrae, whose poems, “I Have a Rendezvous With Death” and “In Flanders Field”, are relatively famous poems, though their authors may not be noted poets. My point is that E. R. Henry’s poem should be remembered because of the quality of his writing; and whenever I write about World War I poetry in the future, as I have in the past, I will include his poem.

    3. Yes.

    Reply
    • Monty

      I’d be interested to know your own view on the following matter, Bruce; but, in the meantime, you might wish to inform Mr Belecuse that I’ve left a theory below which may or may not dissuade him from his own assertion that “anyone who writes a poem is a poet”.

      If you’ll kindly imagine two individual humans in the western-world: both of whom play the guitar to a differing standard.
      Human 1.. plays in a band which is consistently playing paid gigs, 5-6 nights a week, in various bars and clubs in their region. He may also have a part-time day job, but primarily his income is from playing the guitar: hence, he’s a GUITARIST, ‘cos that’s how he makes his living.

      Human 2.. has a full-time ‘normal’ day-job and a busy social-life; and he happens to keep a guitar in his flat. He’s never played in a band: indeed, he’s never even played with another human; but, once a week or once a month, he likes to have a little strum to himself for an hour or two.. and why not?
      But.. does that make him a ‘guitarist’? Of course not: he is ONE WHO PLAYS THE GUITAR. That’s the difference between a guitarist and one who plays the guitar (in the same sense: if that same human were to cut some lengths of wood and erect some bookshelves in his flat . . does that make him a carpenter? Of course not, ‘cos he doesn’t deal with wood for a living.

      Given that I’ve always used the above criteria to make such distinctions in any trade, it’s only natural that I make the same distinction between ‘poets’ and ‘writers of poetry’. One who earns a living (even barely so) from writing poetry is a POET: but another, who writes poetry in his spare time, is exactly that: ONE WHO WRITES POETRY.
      You may or may not’ve noticed that whenever I comment upon a poem in these pages, I always refer to the writer of the poem as the ‘author’ (indeed, you’ll find in my above text which accompanied the poem that I referred to Mr Henry not as a poet, but as ‘the author of the below poem’ . . ‘cos he wasn’t a working poet.. hence not a poet).

      I believe that such distinctions simply have to be made, ‘cos if everyone who strummed a guitar for an hour once a month was a guitarist.. it devalues the word ‘guitarist’; if everyone who erected some bookshelves was a carpenter.. it devalues ‘carpenter’. Thus, the same with ‘poet’.

      As a more personal example: I myself play the drums (to a limited standard): but whenever someone says (as they often do): “Oh, you’re a drummer”, I’m always quick to inform them in an off-hand way: “Well, not really: I play the drums.”

      If it transpires that Mr Belecuse is temporarily unavailable to respond (if he so wishes) to the above . . perhaps you yourself, Bruce, would wish to give your own view on my ‘distinctions’.

      Reply
      • Monty

        Regarding my 4th paragraph above: I readily concede that there may be a particular grey-area pertaining to a human who has a permanent, full-time ‘normal’ job, but who’s also periodically paid money for having poems published.
        But to me, it’s not so grey . .

  9. War di Belecuse

    Mr. Phillips would not call E. R. Henry a poet. I would. I like his smart language and his crisp diction, as when he speaks of the Australian horse…

    He was a wiry chestnut steed,
    A type of good Australian breed;
    Perhaps on good Monaro’s height
    He’d followed in the wild steer’s flight,
    Or out beyond the great divide
    Roamed free where salt-bush plains are wide.
    Or through the golden wattle groves
    Had rounded up the sheep in droves…
    Then, shipped away to feed the guns,
    And help the boys to strafe the Huns.

    or when, in the middle section, he neatly brings up the accoutrements of war…

    His load was eighteen-pounder shells,
    The sort that in a barrage tells.
    I drew the shells from out their sheaf
    And cut his girth from underneath,
    Then lifted off his saddle pack
    To ease the weight, and free his back.
    His muzzle softly nosed my hand
    Because I seemed to understand.
    My steel hat from an old-time trench
    I filled three times his thirst to quench;
    I brought my ration-biscuits back
    And fed him from my haversack.

    Granted, Henry generally sticks to his meter at all costs, like some here in the 21st century, and is not averse to using fillers, which I find even some here @ SCP recommending; still, I find his snappy organization and pacing admirable. I am reminded of what T. S. Eliot wrote about Alan Seeger’s poems: “The work is well done, and so much out of date as to be almost a positive quality.”

    Reply
    • Monty

      So, Bruce, given Mr Belecuse’s assertion that “anyone who writes a poem is a poet”: would I be right in assuming the following . . If a young schoolboy sends a text message to his girlfriend saying: ‘Roses are red/Violets are blue/All I can say/Is ‘I love you’ . . then Mr Belecuse would consider the schoolboy to be a poet.
      Is that right?

      Reply
  10. War di Belecuse

    Yes. But is it great poetry, as most of the poetry @ SCP? No.

    On the other hand, E. R. Henry has written a poem worthy to be anthologized now, which it has been, and in the future, as a good example of WW1 poetry. In some ways it is superior to Brooke’s “The Soldier”.

    Reply
    • Monty

      As you may’ve noticed, Bruce: the first two words of Warbel’s last missive are ‘yes’ and ‘but’. But there’s a full-stop after ‘yes’; hence, in response to my previous question, Warbel’s answer can be taken as a resounding ‘yes’: with no ‘but’.

      ‘Yes’, he says: ‘That same schoolboy can be referred to as one might refer to John Betjeman’; ‘Yes’, he says: ‘Those who have the occasional strum are guitarists’; ‘Yes’, he says: ‘Those who erect shelves are carpenters’; ‘Yes’, he says: ‘Those who’ve sporadically tapped a drum with a stick are drummers.’

      Such an outlandish claim has aroused in me sufficient curiosity to ask: Is this Warbel’s view alone, Bruce.. or is it your view also? If the latter, could Warbel’s stance (on the above) have been influenced by your own; or are you both freely independent of thought?

      Now for the ‘but’ which preceded the ‘yes’ . . ‘BUT is it great poetry?’ Warbel asks, evidently in the belief that if it’s ‘great’ poetry, we can refer to the author as a poet; but if it’s poor poetry, we could only refer to the author as . . well, the author. If this was the mode by which we determined who shall be termed a poet and who shall not . . surely both yourself and Warbel can imagine the following futile exchanges between readers: ‘I enjoyed that poem, it’s really good; the man who wrote that’s a poet. What did you think?’ ‘Well, I didn’t enjoy it; I thought it was hard to follow. I don’t consider him to be a poet.’

      We both know that it can’t be like that, Bruce, can it . . so I hope you might persuade Warbel into agreeing that there MUST always be a distinction drawn on who’s a poet and who’s not; and that his own view – that there should be NO such distinction drawn between writers of poetry; that the schoolboy is termed the same as Betjeman – is untenable.

      The above are only my own personal distinctions that I choose to use in such matters; others will use their own distinctions . . as is their wont. But there HAS to be a distinction drawn somewhere. WHERE it’s drawn is debatable . . but it has to be drawn!

      Reply
  11. B. S. Eliud Acrewe

    Here is a poem written a few years before Larkin died, after a month when I stayed in London, May 1978. Rereading the poem today, I thought of Mr. Phillips, who seems to have come into literature through Wilde and Larkin.

    This is a nonmetrical bilding, an invention of mine in the late 1970s.

    Phillip Larkin (1922-1985)
    by B. S. Eliud Acrewe

    I saw him at the park one day, not any day,
    feeding the ducks at the pond’s edge with a few crumbs—
    bread, I believe, but I really shouldn’t, well, say
    what I didn’t see—old lonely ladies, and bums,
    some seasonally soused beneath the cumulus,
    nothing plus nothing’s nothing, an afternoon’s sums,
    more or less, like Hume when he lived, lost humourless,
    in the same symptom, England, less than one percent
    pike, kind of like a Vergilian Romulus
    verging on the ledge of his high-rise apartment,
    incredibly wealthy, but unwilling to pay
    the unwanted, but very necessary, rent.

    Reply
    • Monty

      If you’ll be good enough to again be the conduit, Bruce: and tell Eliac that I must make a minor correction to his well-intended notion that I’ve “come into literature through Wilde and Larkin”. The fact is: I’ve never come into literature! All I read is poetry . . exclusively. I know that one, or both, of you will say that poetry IS literature; and of course it is. But for one as myself, who’s never read any other form of literature (no fiction/novels; none of the so-called ‘classics’; no history books . . no prose!), I feel qualified to consider myself, rightly or wrongly, to be a reader of poetry only.. and not literature. My only deviation is: a/ The occasional reading of an auto-biography by a musician or sportsman whom I’ve always admired.. b/ The prose of a poet with whom I’m already acquainted (Wilde’s plays, for example; or the collected private-letters of certain poets).. c/ Anthologies of aphorisms/quotations, etc. And what’s more: I’ve somehow known for years that I never will read any other form(s) of literature. I’m just not interested!

      An even more minor quibble: If I can now paraphrase Eliac.. “I’ve come into poetry through Wilde and Larkin” . . I don’t feel that I ever ‘came into poetry’, but the opposite: ‘poetry came into me’ . . or was already inside me. I believe that for humans who’ve got a deep affinity with poetry.. it was always there. Maybe from the womb . . maybe from before the womb!

      One can be taught ABOUT poetry; but one can’t be taught to have an affinity with poetry. That can only come from within (as Wilde said: ‘Nothing that’s worth knowing can be taught’). I personally never even had a real education (in my younger school-years, I didn’t seem to take any notice of anything that was being ‘taught’, I was only ever waiting for the Bell to ring. I was considered to be ‘disruptive’; and in later school-years, some of us just went to school when we felt like it.. and didn’t when we didn’t. I only found out in later-life why this was so, when I bumped into Twain’s portent: ‘Don’t let school get in the way of your education’.); and now I’m a taxi-driver! So, where did my affinity with poetry come from? See? That’s why I believe that it didn’t ‘come’ from anywhere . . it was already there.

      My only misfortune (if it can be called such) was that I didn’t realise it was ‘there’ until I was in my late 20’s. But, as they say . . better late than never!

      How do yourself and Eliac consider your respective affinities with poetry? Do you both feel that you ‘gained’ them somewhere along the line (education, perhaps?); or do you believe that it’s far deeper than that?

      To me, the true essence of all the above is . . we’ll never know; we ‘can’ never know. Long live our unknowing . . .

      Reply
  12. B. S. Eliud Acrewe

    1. Poetry is a subset of literature, as you indicated.

    2. “Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever.”

    3. I wrote a story or two before I was a teenager, but I didn’t write poetry until I was a teen. As a teenager I enjoyed pop-aural poetry, American rock ‘n roll, the British invasion, etc. and prose, like Cooper’s “The Spy”, Kipling’s “Kim”, James’ “The American”, and Fleming’s “Casino Royale” So, since my teenage years I have read literature. However, what I most liked as a teen were geographies (maps, etc.), almanacs, histories and encyclopedia volumes, which I still very much like to read. I suppose, it is one of the reasons I divide the World up into seven sections: Northeast Asia, South East Asia & Oceania, South Asia, Central Asia (including Russia) & the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. These days I think I should think about something or someone in each of those sections every week; and then try to write something about as many as meet my fancy or my duty.

    4. These days very rarely do I write about anything as personal as E. R. Henry did in “The Battery Horse”. I prefer classical impersonality, as in the work of Homer, Vergil, Shakespeare, et. al. You can see that in comparing Cal Wes Ubideer’s poem on the California fires and that of Ms. McQuade.

    Reply

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