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‘Over the Top’


Written by David Burl

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Bristol-based poet David Burl's poem 'Over the Top' is inspired by the First World War poets.

The whistle blows,
Final for some,
And the men mount
Ladders out of
Trampled trenches;
As to the gallows,
Silently pleading
For reprieve

An officer leads
Brandishing a revolver,
Out of range of the enemy
And good only
For the encouragement
Of stragglers,
Momentarily sceptical
About the grand plan

The Germans had swapped
Industrial efficiency
For chivalry,
And aligned their Maxims
In the optimum X-formation;
So that the spinning
Eviscerating rounds
Never missed

Men fall,
Muscle and soft tissue pulped;
Air gulped,
For the torn man’s tipple
Of luke warm water
From a khaki canteen

At last
An officer minds
The Balaclava mindset;
And signals the retreat
To the waterlogged trench:
Survivors shiver
At the thought
Of the next sortie

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