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Robert William Service

(16 January 1874 - 11 September 1958 / Preston)

The Whistle Of Sandy McGraw


You may talk o' your lutes and your dulcimers fine,
Your harps and your tabors and cymbals and a',
But here in the trenches jist gie me for mine
The wee penny whistle o' Sandy McGraw.
Oh, it's: "Sandy, ma lad, will you lilt us a tune?"
And Sandy is willin' and trillin' like mad;
Sae silvery sweet that we a' throng aroun',
And some o' it's gay, but the maist o' it's sad.
Jist the wee simple airs that sink intae your hert,
And grup ye wi' love and wi' longin' for hame;
And ye glour like an owl till you're feelin' the stert
O' a tear, and you blink wi' a feelin' o' shame.
For his song's o' the heather, and here in the dirt
You listen and dream o' a land that's sae braw,
And he mak's you forget a' the harm and the hurt,
For he pipes like a laverock, does Sandy McGraw.

* * * * *

At Eepers I mind me when rank upon rank
We rose from the trenches and swept like the gale,
Till the rapid-fire guns got us fell on the flank
And the murderin' bullets came swishin' like hail:
Till a' that were left o' us faltered and broke;
Till it seemed for a moment a panicky rout,
When shrill through the fume and the flash and the smoke
The wee valiant voice o' a whistle piped out.
`The Campbells are Comin'': Then into the fray
We bounded wi' bayonets reekin' and raw,
And oh we fair revelled in glory that day,
Jist thanks to the whistle o' Sandy McGraw.

* * * * *

At Loose, it wis after a sconnersome fecht,
On the field o' the slain I wis crawlin' aboot;
And the rockets were burnin' red holes in the nicht;
And the guns they were veciously thunderin' oot;
When sudden I heard a bit sound like a sigh,
And there in a crump-hole a kiltie I saw:
"Whit ails ye, ma lad? Are ye woundit?" says I.
"I've lost ma wee whustle," says Sandy McGraw.
"'Twas oot by yon bing where we pressed the attack,
It drapped frae ma pooch, and between noo and dawn
There isna much time so I'm jist crawlin' back. . . ."
"Ye're daft, man!" I telt him, but Sandy wis gone.
Weel, I waited a wee, then I crawled oot masel,
And the big stuff wis gorin' and roarin' around,
And I seemed tae be under the oxter o' hell,
And Creation wis crackin' tae bits by the sound.
And I says in ma mind: "Gang ye back, ye auld fule!"
When I thrilled tae a note that wis saucy and sma';
And there in a crater, collected and cool,
Wi' his wee penny whistle wis Sandy McGraw.
Ay, there he wis playin' as gleg as could be,
And listenin' hard wis a spectacled Boche;
Then Sandy turned roon' and he noddit tae me,
And he says: "Dinna blab on me, Sergeant McTosh.
The auld chap is deein'. He likes me tae play.
It's makin' him happy. Jist see his een shine!"
And thrillin' and sweet in the hert o' the fray
Wee Sandy wis playin' The Watch on the Rhine.

* * * * *

The last scene o' a' -- 'twas the day that we took
That bit o' black ruin they ca' Labbiesell.
It seemed the hale hillside jist shivered and shook,
And the red skies were roarin' and spewin' oot shell.
And the Sergeants were cursin' tae keep us in hand,
And hard on the leash we were strainin' like dugs,
When upward we shot at the word o' command,
And the bullets were dingin' their songs in oor lugs.
And onward we swept wi' a yell and a cheer,
And a' wis destruction, confusion and din,
And we knew that the trench o' the Boches wis near,
And it seemed jist the safest bit hole tae be in.
So we a' tumbled doon, and the Boches were there,
And they held up their hands, and they yelled: "Kamarad!"
And I merched aff wi' ten, wi' their palms in the air,
And my! I wis prood-like, and my! I wis glad.
And I thocht: if ma lassie could see me jist then. . . .
When sudden I sobered at somethin' I saw,
And I stopped and I stared, and I halted ma men,
For there on a stretcher wis Sandy McGraw.
Weel, he looks in ma face, jist as game as ye please:
"Ye ken hoo I hate tae be workin'," says he;
"But noo I can play in the street for bawbees,
Wi' baith o' ma legs taken aff at the knee."
And though I could see he wis rackit wi' pain,
He reached for his whistle and stertit tae play;
And quaverin' sweet wis the pensive refrain:
The floors o' the forest are a' wede away.
Then sudden he stoppit: "Man, wis it no grand
Hoo we took a' them trenches?" . . . He shakit his heid:
"I'll -- no -- play -- nae -- mair ----" feebly doon frae his hand
Slipped the wee penny whistle and -- Sandy wis deid.

* * * * *

And so you may talk o' your Steinways and Strads,
Your wonderful organs and brasses sae braw;
But oot in the trenches jist gie me, ma lads,
Yon wee penny whistle o' Sandy McGraw.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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