Prose & Poetry - Leslie Coulson
Leslie Coulson (1889-1916), the journalist and poet, served in Gallipoli and on the Western Front during the First World War, until his death during fighting one the Somme in October 1916.
Born in Kilburn Coulson's early career saw him become a well-known pre-war journalist, eventually attaining a position as assistant editor of the Morning Post.
With the arrival of war in Europe in August 1914 Coulson was prompt in volunteering to serve as a ranker with the Royal Fusiliers within the space of a month. He set sail on Christmas Eve 1914 for Malta. He was never to return.
Falling ill with mumps before he saw active battlefield service Coulson penned his first war poem while in hospital - appropriately named A Soldier in Hospital. Serving in Gallipoli during 1915, during which time he was wounded, Coulson received a posting to France (newly promoted to Sergeant) following the Allied evacuation of the peninsular.
His best-known poem - Who Made the Law - was written while serving and suffering in the trenches of the Western Front, and comprised a savage indictment of the politicians and military authorities who determined that war should exist and be continued.
He was killed - struck in the chest - during a British attack upon the German stronghold position of Dewdrop Trench during the Somme Offensive on 8 October 1916 aged 27.
Coulson's father Frederick edited a bestselling collection of his son's poems and published them as From an Outpost and Other Poems in 1917. The collection sold 10,000 copies in 1917 alone.
I watch the white dawn
To the thunder of hidden guns.
I hear the hot shells scream
Through skies as sweet as a dream
Where the silver dawnbreak runs.
And stabbing of light
Scorches the virginal white.
But I feel in my being the old, high, sanctified thrill,
And I thank the gods that dawn is beautiful still.
From death that hurtles by
I crouch in the trench day-long
But up to a cloudless sky
From the ground where our dead men lie
A brown lark soars in song.
Through the tortured air,
Rent by the shrapnel's flare,
Over the troubless dead he carols his fill,
And i thank the gods that the birds are beautiful still.
Where the parapet is low
And level with the eye
Poppies and cornflowers glow
And the corn sways to and fro
In a pattern against the sky.
The gold stalks hide
Bodies of men who died
Charging at dawn through the dew to be killed or to kill.
I thank the gods that the flowers are beautiful still.
When night falls dark we
In silence to our dead.
We dig a few feet deep
And leave them there to sleep -
But blood at night is red,
Yea, even at night,
And a dead man's face is white.
And I dry my hands, that are also trained to kill,
And I look at the stars - for the stars are beautiful still.
Around one million Indian troops served in WW1, of which some 100,000 were either killed or wounded.
- Did you know?