Hugh le Biron of Clayton Hall,
Loyal soldier of the Crown,
Answered at once when came the call,
“To arms! To arms!” Brave men stand tall
And don’t let their country down.
The Crown’s ministers had decreed
A distant emergency,
Some foreign land had to be freed
From a terror that mustn’t succeed;
A wicked insurgency.
Hugh buttoned up his battle dress,
As kith and kin gathered near
To wish him well and sure success;
Yet, he left his wife in distress
Possessed by terrible fear.
How skilled he proved in arts of war,
His courage beyond compare:
If some killed ten he’d slay a score
And then go after many more;
Where others might flinch he’d dare.
One night came a surprise attack
On the post he commanded,
His men urged that they should fall back
Before the fanatical pack:
Defence would leave them stranded.
Hugh was far too proud to retreat,
“We will hold our ground or die.”
A dreadful fight took place that night
Resulting in utter defeat
Once the dawn sun took the sky.
Though it wasn’t le Biron who’d lost,
His foes slaughtered to a man,
Their bodies lying cold as frost;
His own men bore an awful cost,
But he carried through his plan
Exhausted then he fell asleep
And as he slept came a dream:
His wife, so pale, began to weep
As she sank in dark waters deep,
Slipping from sight with a scream.
Then he was taking a salute
From a column marching by,
Their bodies pulped like rotting fruit,
Wounded, bleeding, all marching mute,
Ranks of those who’d had to die.
Which were enemies? Which were friends?
Hugh could not tell them apart.
Next came the throng, which never ends,
Those to whom such misfortune sends
The very worst when wars start.
Mothers and fathers of the slain
Whose tears can’t bring back lost lives.
Brothers and sisters bear the pain
Of those killed again and again,
And with them children and wives.
Hugh le Biron woke with a start,
Martial pride fallen away,
Iron grip of grief squeezed his heart,
He knew he had no further part
In this tragedy to play.
Dispatched on the next transport home,
With the wounded, and the dead
Who were then little more than loam
In fields they’d never again roam;
And many a one he’d led.
Hugh’d done it all for crown and state
And never once wondered why
Soldiers were sent to meet their fate
On foreign fields so sown with hate
Strangers met only to die.
Along the roads, along the lanes,
Over rivers in full spate,
To Clayton Hall through driving rains,
To Clayton Hall, ignoring pains,
He arrived, he arrived, but just too late.
Withered oak leaves hung limp from trees,
Dank hedgerows seemed dark with dread,
Spiders wove sombre filigrees
And Hugh was brought down to his knees,
Finding his wife three days dead.
Home too late, away far too long,
This last death a final knell,
For though the chimes of war are strong
Hugh learned to sing a different song
In retreat in Kersal Cell.
Hugh le Biron, hailed as hero,
By those who feel their pride swell
With tales of war they do not know,
Nor wounds that fester long and slow
For one alone in his cell.