WW1: Old Soldiers Never Die

WW1: Old Soldiers Never Die

Friday, 15 August 2014

Paul Kind shares his account of his grandfathers experience in WW1, which inspired him to write the poem 'Old Soldiers Never Die'. 

 

I have a verbatim account from my grandfather of his experience on 1 July 1916, when he led his platoon over the top at 7.30 am. Within the hour he was shot through the shoulder/lung after having, by his own admission, killed Germans in their trenches. It took him more than 6 hours to get back to his own lines - minus much of his uniform that was cut away in the hail of fire he had to negotiate.

He wrote this up in his hospital bed some days later - posting the letter to an old teacher at his former school. That teacher kept the letter and took it with him to Australia on retirement. When he died, his son found the letter and returned it to my grandfather in the mid/late 1960s.

He never spoke about it beyond once mentioning the mines that were detonated at 7.28. I knew he'd been wounded - I had the newspaper cuttings but they were dated September 1916, long after the initial action. So I always assumed that he had been sent out as a replacement office AFTER the battle. Now after all these years of his "silence" I have discovered the real story and feel a sense of pride in the man he was and had been but also a sadness of sorts that he and I never spoke about those events.
 

Old Soldiers Never Die

I never really knew him.

My grandfather.

Not well, not really at all.

Never then seen the battlefield he’d briefly conquered.

Or stood silent in the trenches,

Before climbing up to challenge Fritz,

As the 7.30 whistle blew

Them all to Hell.
 

Extract taken from the poem I wrote inspired by my grandfather. To view the entire poem, view the War Poetry for Today submissions

 

On my 14th birthday he gave me his officer's sword which 50 years later I have had restored - in his memory as much as my own. He told me that he'd only ever used it to toast marshmallows! So that, his medals and his letter are the only physical remains I have except for the DNA that unites us.

 

I have made some progress with the project I set myself of identifying some of the descendants of men of the 15th Durham Light Infantry who went into action with my grandfather that day. The names of the dead are known more or less - paradoxically it is those who SURVIVED  who are more difficult to trace. But I have found some of them. I want to invite them to a reunion on 1st July 2016 in a field near Fricourt, east of Albert where their/my relatives stood 100 years before. We owe them that small honour and remembrance I think.



Paul Kind is a professor at the Institute of Health Services. To read his poem 'Old Soldiers Never Die' in its entirity, visit our War Poetry for Today creative project, where you can view poetry submissions from across the UK.

Regeneration premiered on 2 September 2014 (previews from 29 August) at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it continues until 20 September 2014. It then tours to York, Edinburgh, Bradford, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Richmond, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Blackpool where it concludes on 29 November.