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August 23, 2019

The First World War Poetry of E. Leroy Churchill

In honour of the 100th anniversary of the November 11 armistice that ended the First World War, we are reprinting one of Corporal Churchill’s poems.

Pages from Corporal E. Leroy Churchill’s journal. Photograph by Don Molyneux.

Journals written by Corporal E. Leroy Churchill, 8th Battalion, CEF, during the First World War were rediscovered 100 years later when his descendants began to record their family history. Churchill, who was from Alberta, kept a daily record of his wartime experiences and also penned poems that offer his unique insight into life in the trenches. In honour of the 100th anniversary of the November 11 armistice that ended the First World War, we are reprinting one of Corporal Churchill’s poems.

 

On Listening Post

February 13, 1917

Deep in a damp cold dugout
That far below the muddy trench
Gave shelter from the shells without
We sat in mud and cold and filthy stench

‘Next relief for listening post’
I shiver as I rise and stand
Then glide out noiseless as a ghost
Over the top to ‘No Man’s Land’

Light as day by flares so bright
Danger threatens all the way
Sniper is watching all the night
As machine guns round us play

Halfway to Fritz’s line we crawl
At last we reach the post
Down in the crater I slip and sprawl
I dare not wait or I am lost

Fear chills my blood as with staring eyes
I gaze around that blasted waste
Time never went so slow before
The minutes drag and mock my haste

A sniper shoots, I hug the earth
Then silence grim — I look again
Ghostly shadows seem to move
’Til I could swear that they were men

The silence and the darkness seem to crash
And then with awful roar
And jets of flame our guns spit forth
Their messages of hate — Ah! this is war

At length my dreary watch is o’er
The new relief is in my place
With thankful heart I leave him there
And cautiously my way retrace.

 

Corporal E. Leroy Churchill in uniform. Photograph by Don Molyneux.

This article appears in the November 2018 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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