Trenches of Flanders

Chris Kempling has “poemized” excerpts from his grandfather’s daily diary during the First World War.

Chris Kempling’s grandfather, Cpl. George Kempling, kept a daily diary during the Battle of the Somme in the First World War. He was there the first day they used tanks in battle, observed a fighter bi-plane dogfight, just missed being hit with a sniper bullet and had a bomb land on top of his bunker. He survived, but was shell-shocked.

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All packed together

On the spray-soaked deck

Like puppies in a basket

We’re going “up the line”

To take a run at Fritzie

It’s July 16, 1916


After a hard day of training

The boys kick back with

Poker, Crown & Anchor, pitching pennies

Most get drunk every night

But not me

Promised Gussie I wouldn’t


Snipers got three last night

Then a rum-jug took seven more

Feeling sick to the stomach

Thinking about hand-to-hand fighting

But excited too

It’s the old John Bull in a fellow


Most of the sand smells bad

And is full of barbed wire

Canvas, old bullets and shrapnel

But on Saturday I widened a trench

Clean yellow sand

It shovelled beautifully


Jack White’s brother is gone

Jack told me how he died

He was leaning on his shovel

When a stray bullet

Ricocheted off the blade

And hit him under the chin


Pay day today!

We bought the YMCA out

Heinz beans, fancy biscuits

Lyle’s golden syrup on

Belgian home-made bread

But the tinned pineapple — oh my!


King George and Sir Douglas Haig

Dropped by our hut today

We intend to put up

The Royal Coat of Arms

And a sign saying

“Patronized by Royalty”


Fired my first shot at Fritzie

Then he sent over a whiz-bang

That knocked us all flat

And half buried us in dirt

That is the closest to death

I have come yet


Watched a dogfight this morning

The German and the Brit

Circling, machine guns blazing

The German came down in flames

But the pilot walked out and surrendered

How ever did he come out alive?


A wonderful new machine

Was used for the first time today

Sort of an armored car like a flattened square

No wheels, just a continuous track

Fritzie was so scared

We made 2000 yards!


Fritzie got a direct hit on our bunker

Bashed in the roof on top of my head

And splintered all my teeth

Collapsed and cried like a baby

God grant me a trip home

Because my nerve is gone.


Based on the Battle of the Somme 1916

War Diary of Corporal George Hedley — Kempling, St. Catharines, Ont.

5th Platoon, B Company, 26th Battalion

5th Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division.

© Kamloops This Week



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