Slamming Flies (Gallipoli – 5th June 1915)
Arriving at the Dardanelles
guns flashing, the sound of rifle fire.
they heaved our ship right up to the shore.
We sat there waiting for the dawn
And saw a big marquee
that made us think of village fetes.
We all rushed to it
like boys going to a circus
but found it all laced up.
Unlaced and opened, It was full of corpses.
with their eyes wide open.
We all stopped talking.
I’d never seen a dead man before -
then three hundred - all at once!
The next day we reached ‘dead ground’,
where the enemy couldn’t see you,
and we wandered it in the evening -
asking about friends
who had arrived
a month before.
“How’s Ernie Taylor?”
“Have you seen Albert Jones?”
“Ernie and Albert? They’re gone”
We learnt that if three hundred had ‘gone’
but seven hundred were left -
then this wasn’t too bad.
It taught us
our names were.
We reached a trench so full of dead men
that we could hardly move.
There was a cloying stink.
For a while there was nothing
but the living
being sick upon the dead.
We set to work to bury them,
pushed them into
the sides of the trench -
but bits kept getting uncovered
and sticking out,
like people in a badly made bed.
Hands were the worst,
they would escape from the sand,
pointing, begging, even waving!
There was one we all shook
as we passed,
saying “Good Morning”
The bottom of the trench
was springy like a mattress
because of all the bodies underneath.
Then the flies came
and lined the walls completely
with a density that was like a moving cloth.
We killed millions by slamming
our spades along trench walls
but the next night it would be just as bad.
We were all lousy
and we couldn’t stop shitting
because we had caught dysentery.
not because we were frightened
but because we were so dirty.
This was hell
and we, the uninvited guests,
Inspired by ‘Akenfield’ by Ronald Blythe (Penguin books) about Leonard Thompson (a Suffolk farmhand) who buried the dead at Gallipoli.