Watching nature take its course, from the top of a hill in northern England

Ghost Soldiers and Bird Song


I went to our  local park today, to the war memorial where there was a service to commemorate the  anniversary of the first day of the battle of the Somme.

I have to say the blowing of a whistle at the start of the service, chilled my blood. What a thought, that 19,420  lives were lost that day.

On 1st July 1916 at 07.30am, whistles blew all along the British front line driving thousands of troops out of the trenches into No Man’s Land as the Battle of the Somme began.

The park was built as a memorial to those who lost  their lives during World War I, and during the two minutes silence I was struck by the sweet scent of roses drifting up from the flower beds and the bird song from the surrounding, and now mighty trees. I could pick out the cheeky chatter of long tailed tits

Long-tailed tit, windy day

Birdsong must have been the last thing the soldiers heard before the guns

From Bivouacs by Gilbert Waterhouse

In Somecourt Wood, in Somecourt Wood,
We bivouacked and slept the night,
The nightingales sang the same
As they had sung before we came.
‘Mid leaf and branch and song and light
And falling dew and watching star.
And all the million things which are
About us and above us took
No more regard of us than
We take in some small midge’s span
Of life, albeit our gunfire shook
The very air in Somecourt Wood.

It was very moving, and I don’t think had I seen these  ‘ghost soldiers’ today, moving speechlessly through our cities, each one  simply carrying a card with the name and age of a soldier they represented. I could have helped but shed a tear. What a powerful piece of art.

'Ghost Tommies' at Waterloo Station in London

Author: uphilldowndale

Watching the rhythm of rural life, from the top of a hill in northern England. Having spent most of my life avoiding writing, I now need to do it! I am no domestic goddess, but if I were expecting visitors to my home, I would whisk round with the duster and plump up the cushions and generally make the place look presentable. I hope that by putting my words where others may see them it will encourage me to ‘tidy up and push the Hoover around’ my writing. On the other hand I may just be adding to the compost heap. Only time will tell! Pull up a chair, sit yourself down, I’ll put the kettle on.

7 thoughts on “Ghost Soldiers and Bird Song

  1. I know so little about WWI, although I know much more than I used to. I suppose part of that is that I was born in 1946, one of the earliest post-war babies, and all of the conversation and schooling was about WWII — natural, i think. But I’ve seen several posts today about these ghost soldiers, and read a good bit about the Somme. A horror is a horror. The way the horror is carried out changes from era to era, but the essence is the same.

  2. Those at our commemoration were moved by the whistle as well.

  3. The ghost soldiers are a powerful form of art, and I am moved reading about them and seeing the photos.

    I don’t know if you are familiar with Eric Bogle, but he wrote a beautiful song about the horrors of WWI called “No Man’s Land”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Man%27s_Land_(Eric_Bogle_song) The song is also quite moving. In 100 years, there has been little to no progress.

    • Thank you Lavinia. I think the ghost soldiers are all the more powerful for there not being any pre-publicity, and that they don’t say anything. What would have got me at the station would have been the thought of the thousands of men that passed through those very platforms, never to return.

  4. A good post, and a wonderful picture of a delightful long-tailed tit. xx

  5. Silence can be deafening–and a whistle can echo down a century to raise the hairs on the back of the neck of a grandchild never born. The Ghost Soldiers is a fine work of art.

  6. Pingback: Downy nest down | Uphilldowndale

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