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5 Poems Inspired By Ww1 Artworks - Poem by sheena blackhall

Five Poems Inspired by WW1 themed art works in the National Gallery of Scotland


1. The Embracers (Samson and Delilah) 1913 - 1914 (posthumously cast 1920s)
This is a bronze cast of a sculpture which was originally made from a narrow piece of marble by Gaudier-Brzeska. It was presented to the gallery by Mrs Linette Windeler who was given it as a gift by her father for her 21st birthday. When taking shelter during air raids in war-time London, Mrs Windeler would keep the sculpture at the bottom of her sleeping bag to protect it.

Goodbyes on the Troop Train Platform
Dinna forget tae write me ilkie day
Look. War’s shit. We just have to get through it
I’ll think aboot ye aa the time ma dearie
Thank’s for last night, it really set me up.
Ye’ll be hame afore ye ken it. Would I lee?
Our souls are connected, we’ll always be together
Ye leavin’s like haein a daith in the faimly
However will I manage fin ye’ve gaen?
I’m gaun tae smile noo. Greetin is for jessies.
I didn’t know what sorrow was till now
If I bandaged yer moo ye’d still spikk ten tae the dizzen
Hold me tight, love, it might be a while
Remember, eat the pie your mother made you
Just when I thought our future was together
Until we meet again, my love, God keep you
Dinna ye dare get killt. Wha’ll weed the veg?
If I’m shot, don’t let the kids forget me
Know what your problem is? You think too much
I’ve no more tears to spill. Please wear the scarf I knitted
We have our memories, they will see us through
I hate goodbyes. Go home and feed the pigeons.
There’s nothing to be done. It’s in God’s hands
Khaki doesn’t suit your colouring.


2. Tommy and the Flapper1915
In this ink and watercolour sketch by Cadell the drawing depicts a dashing soldier chatting to a girl. The artist has specified that the girl is a ‘flapper’, a term used in the 1920s to describe a particular type of liberated young woman. Cadell joined the Royal Scots in 1915 and this is one of a series of drawings of army life he produced before leaving for service in France. The drawings were published in 1916 in the book ‘Jack and Tommy’, and sold to benefit the Red Cross.

'An officer is a gentleman... and a gentleman is an officer', until the outbreak of the WW1. On becoming an officer those of ‘lower’ classes had to be taught how to be gentlemen, referred to as 'Temporary Gentlemen' for the duration of the war only. High death rates, first of Regular Army officers and later of New Army officers in the major offensives of 1916-1917 on the Somme and at Passchendaele (3rd Battle of Ypres) , meant that demand for officers quickly outstripped supply. The British Army was forced to recruit officers from beyond the ‘gentlemanly’ class. The poet, Wilfred Owen, referred in his letters to 'Temporary Gentlemen' as 'glorified NCOs' and 'privates and sergeants in masquerade'. Robert Graves, argued that: 'Though the quality of officers had deteriorated from the regimental point of view, their greater efficiency in action amply compensated for their deficiency in manners'

Temporary Gentleman: Inspired by Tommy and Flapper, Cadell
From a glorified private
To a temporary gentleman
The uniform maketh the man,

The flapper is drawn to the
Rakish tilt of his hat, his whiff of danger
His sword sends a frisson of awe
Down her shimmying dress

The temporary gentleman meets
The temporary flapper, pre-mummy slapper
Both are risk-takers, smokers, petters

He is cannon fodder, to be fed to the shells, the mines
She is made up to the nines
She parks her corsets at home when she goes dancing
He hopes for no resistance to his advancing

She calls her undies ‘step ins’ he’ll step her out of
Courtesy of tricks learned on the Western Front
From Mademoiselles in brothels, to be blunt


3. Building Aircraft: Swooping down on a Taube (from the series ‘The Great War: Britain’s Efforts and Ideals’) Dated 1917 (published 1918)
This print is from a portfolio series commissioned by the Bureau of Information, called ‘The Great War: Britain’s Efforts and Ideals’. Twelve artists made prints relating to the ‘Ideals’ involved in going to war, and Nevinson was one of the nine artists commissioned to depict the ‘Efforts’ associated with war. This is the sixth of Nevinson’s six prints, which show the process of building an aeroplane, from making parts, to assembly, and finally to flight. Nevinson took a particular interest in aerial warfare, devoting three prints to showing aircraft in flight. In this image, a British plane takes a breathtaking dive towards a German Taube aircraft, set against a dramatically-lit sky. The German plane is recognisable by its curved, bird-like profile – ‘taube’ is German for ‘dove.’

Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen (2 May 1892 – 21 April 1918) was also widely known as the Red Baron, a German fighter pilot with the Imperial German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte) during World War I. He is considered the top ace of that war, being officially credited with 80 air combat victories.


Sturm und Drang
War pilots came alive when dog fights raged
Aces claiming ‘kills’ for each plane knocked
From the sky like a falling star, a tumbling domino

Mounted machine guns ripped through goggles and hat
When the Red Baron’s fighter stooped from the sun
Like Thor on a mission, seemingly divine

Eventually, death poured from his skull
The ace, the myth, the cultural ikon of war
High Flier, toppled like Icarus
He said the word ‘Kapput’. And then he died.


4. Making Soldiers: Bayonet Practice (from the series ‘The Great War: Britain’s Efforts and Ideals’) Published 1918
This print is from a portfolio commissioned by the Bureau of Information in 1917 called ‘The Great War: Britain’s Efforts and Ideals.’ It is from the ‘Making Soldiers’ series, which shows different aspects of soldiers’ duties. Bayonets (a blade fastened to the end of a firearm) were part of the official weaponry for British soldiers during the First World War. During the First World War, soldiers would practise bayoneting sacks of straw – in the background of this print rows of hanging sacks can be seen. The man in the image is dressed as if for fencing, and he appears to be jousting with an unseen opponent.


Bayonet Practice
The bayonet was used for toasting bread
For opening the lids of cans
Scraping the mud from uniforms
Digging for lavatory pans

It opened the bellies of enemies
With a thrust, a twist, a wrench
And the good red blood ran down like rain
In puddles into the trench


5. Maize Cutting, No Man's Land, Serre, Somme, France1997
This image is part of an ongoing project exploring the landscapes of the First World War, in particular the Somme. Since the early 1980s Cattrell has been photographing the ways in which man scars nature whether through thoughtless agricultural and industrial processes or the destruction of war. He gives a sharp contemporary twist to Britain's romantic landscape tradition. His images can be read both literally and metaphorically. He is interested in the camera's potential for 'ambiguity and abstraction', allowing him to transform the landscape into a form of still life.


Advancing Blades
See where the maize has advanced in a field in the Somme
Standing to attention, stem leaves curling in
No slouching. No whispering. Each plant resembling another
Under command of the General Nature’s decree

When the wind blows, the stems incline together
In rows, in order, bending in close order
Perfectly aligned to the weather and grower’s will

Not a tree, not a house left standing
In the forward march of the maize
Oh it’s unstoppable, greedy for space and power
Not a weed, not a bird in sight.

Shall we mention the roots,
The fields of blood beneath them?


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