36TH (ULSTER) DIVISION, 7.21 a.m., 1st July 1916
A’m liein here this brave while,
yin o Genèral Nugent’s men,
oot in Nae-man’s Lan gye an earlie
that bit neardèr tae thaim Huns,
tae be readie, an mair nor readie,
fur whan tha whussle wheeps.
A’m liein here this lang while,
face-doon in tha glar,
tha barrage up aheid.
a saft, saft wurd
fur a wile heavy thïng.
Barrage, Barrage – lik whut ye’d say
tae peacify an ailin baist,
straikin its sheeglin hide,
“Barrage, barrage, oul sinn,
yer pain’ll soon be bae ye.”
Barrage! Barrage! Barrage!
a wrathsome nieve, blargein,,
… till tha delf leps frae tha boord
an doon it dings agane
Agane, agane he’d dae it,
a man tae murdèr
onie bit o peace.
A’d lie, face doon, oot o his road,
ma hauns tae ma lugs,
keepin him oot o ma heid.
Aa tha wrathsome faithers o tha worl
is here theday,
blattèrin thair weans
in yin great stramash.
we ir sae smaa unnèr this sky o shells,
tha grun aneath iz swallaed up bae soon
an we its spu’ins! Thon scraich
wull split ma heid!
Nae soon? Tha
Yin mïnit fur tae tak a braithe …
Yin mïnit fur tae see, sae clear,
sae clear, thon lang-deid man,
but, sae clear jest noo,
a luk o pain
flictèrin owre his face…
Yin mïnit mair
an A’ll be on ma feet
fur God an Ulstèr an tha Croon…
Ma Faither God, ye didnae spare yer sinn.
Inunnèr hemmer blows Ye lee’d him
Yit an wi aa he sayed, “Intae Yer hans…”
Ma sperrit… can A trust Ye wi it?
An wi ma faither’s…?
… fur tha sake o his yin nekked luk o sorra,
eneuch tae mak ma hairt gae oot tae him
an thon’s tha whussle
an tha wurd
that haes me up
intae Yer hauns…
On the first morning of the First Battle of the Somme (1st July 1916), General Nugent sent Armagh Volunteers into no-man’s-land before zero hour. They had to lie and wait till the whistle blew for the general advance at 7.30am, the idea being that they would be that bit closer to their objective (the Hun). The first of them were sent out at 7.10am and then three further groups of Nugent’s Ulstermen at five-minute intervals. They had to lie under the ‘curtain’ of British shell bombardments passing above them. This must have been a horrifying experience.
This poem appeared in ‘Yarns’, 2021, an anthology of Ulster-Scots writing published by the Ulster-Scots Community Network. My grandfather was from Newtownstewart in County Tyrone, so the poem is not based on his experience. He was in the 36th (Ulster) Division which also took part in this battle. I wrote this poem in Ulster-Scots because he and so many of the men would have spoken like this. A tiny glossary: Glar sticky mud; Sheeglin trembling; Nieve fist.