The Scottish war poets

P21_Boyd_1219085hWilliam Boyd at The Times Literary Supplement:

One night in 1917, August 11, to be precise, during the Third Battle of Ypres, or Passchendaele, as it’s better known, my grandfather, William Boyd (1890–1952), was out in no-man’s land near Lunéville Farm repairing damaged stretches of barbed wire. He was a corporal in the Royal Engineers. A shell went off nearby and he was hit in the back by a piece of shrapnel and badly wounded. The family still has the razor-edged metal fragment, brown steel, about the size of a beer mat. After six weeks, sufficiently recovered from his injury in a base hospital at Etaples, my grandfather was allowed to convalesce back at home in Scotland, in Cupar, Fife. He was married and had a young daughter and, once fully fit again, he reported for his medical. Not surprisingly, after his injury and having miraculously managed to survive almost two years on the Western Front, he was reluctant to return. He had a particular trick: if he held his nose tightly and built up the pressure in his head, he could make his ears bleed slightly. He duly did so and the examining doctor swiftly declared him unfit for combat. He never went back to the trenches. He never wrote a poem about his experiences, either.

I cite the anecdote as a form of thought experiment, trying to imagine what kind of poem might have emerged had my grandfather been so inclined or inspired (or had the ability). Something dark and satirical in the Sassoon vein, perhaps: “The Lead-swinger”; or maybe a Kiplingesque ballad: “He peered into my bleedin’ ear”. My question about any such putative poem – good, bad or indifferent – written by a Scottish soldier in the First World War is this: would it seem particularly Scottish in any way? The answer has to be qualified: “yes, possibly”, if it were written in Lallans or Gaelic; but “surely not” if it were written in standard English.

more here.

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