War Memorial in Boubers-sur-Canche, France (photo: James Kemp)

I wrote the first draft of A Hundred Years Before after visiting a cemetery in France in Boubers sur Canche near Arras. It wasn’t one of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries, it was an ordinary French commune cemetery, but it had over a hundred graves of French soldiers killed in action during August 1914.

On reflection I realised that British soldiers, and before that the constituent nations fielded soldiers in the same place as the legions of WW1 we’re currently remembering publicly.

Let’s not forget their forebears.

A Hundred Years Before

Here I stand now, near the border
of France and Belgium.
The cockpit of Europe.

A hundred years before, others stood here.
British soldiers who fought, and died,
with the French against the Germans
on this soil. Le sale Boche. The dirty Hun.

A hundred year before, others stood there.
British soldiers who fought, and died,
with the Prussians against the French.
Over the border they slogged the same
with musket and pack. The Old Guard
beaten back by Wellington’s beloved scum.

A hundred years before, others stood there.
British soldiers fought, and died,
against the French and Bavarians.
Marlborough marched men all across Europe.
Eighteenth century blitzkrieg to save Austrians.

A hundred years before, others stood there.
Scots, Irish, Welsh & English soldiers, mercenaries
plying their ancient trade with the French,
Swedes and Swiss. Before Britain they fought,
and died, in these fields.

Now soldiers march in other fields.
Here is calm and still. Red, white and blue
flags wave in the breeze over serried ranks
of graves. Grass above cropped short, lives
below cropped shorter still.

A hundred years after, will others stand here?
Let’s hope there are no new battles fought,
nor new graves of soldiers felled by shot.


If you liked A Hundred Years Before you might like some of my other writing. Themself is a collection of poetry, fiction and life writing. Crisis Point is a novella of a near future US military coup against an unhinged President (published in 2013).