Monday, 27 June 2016

Somewhere in France: Poem for Somme 100

By Kathleen Handrick

Godric Kean was born at Crook and Billy Row, Durham in 1866. He was of Irish Heritage and began his working life as an Apprentice Tailor, following in his father's occupation.

He then studied for the priesthood in England and Fribourg, Switzerland and was ordained a priest for the Salford Diocese in 1896. He was appointed to St Mary's Oldham, my family parish, in 1911.

Father Godric Kean
Image courtesy of Oldham Archives

In April 1915 he left Oldham together with other diocesan priests to become chaplains to the armed forces. Father Kean joined the 12th Durham Light Infantry. The Battalion arrived in France in August 1915 and entered the Battle of the Somme on 3rd July 1916 and was involved in the capture of Contalmaison on 12th July 1916.

Several letters from Father Kean were published in the local Oldham newspaper at the time.  His letters indicate that he was most enthusiastic about his role as a minister to the troops and he wrote eloquently and graphically of the events he witnessed.

My piece is a 'Found Poem', inspired by Godric's letters to the people of Oldham.


Deo Gratias -Thanks be to God 
all here are filled with hope. 
Cheerful - almost joyful. 
How shall we be when
our victory is crowned!

I love so much this military life.
Our excellent fellows
on the march, in the trenches.
Their gallant conduct 
without fear or shame.

Inspired, sublime ideals.
Ready for the sacrifice ahead.
Our soldiers cannot be beaten
in spirit. We are ready to face
this modern warfare.

Oh, the darkest of times are here.
Encircled by imminent danger,
thundering onslaught from every side,
explosive shells screaming and tearing.
Mine after  mine,
village upon village
drenched in blood!

I do my duty.
Churches without masses
Children without schools
Parishes without padrés.
Burials in the dead of night
Plain wooden crosses.
Cemeteries everywhere.

The French, our proud allies, 
Brave fighters, excellent artillery.
Thousands lie slain!
Gas shells overcome those who 
could not be beaten fairly.
See, the heroic Munsters dying.
Conquered, poisoned.

The thick of the battle, the great offensive   
Our courageous men in action, 
how tolerant in their agony.
Glorious beings destroyed, 
shattered by shrapnel.
Excruciating pain yet 
unaware of sufferings.

We push on; slowly but surely. 
Every inch of soil soaked in blood.
The price of progress is high.
The Saxons, the Wurtemburgers, 
The Prussian Guards all against us. 
Their bravest, youngest, strongest. 
Their blood flows too freely.

How great their torment.
Starved, no food to sustain.
That proud eagle ensnared,
caged by bayonet bars.
Our kind hearted men offer comfort,
tea, coffee, cigarettes.
Such compassion in this deadly place.

What a time is this! 
What sights I see! 
And yet, I thank God. I am honoured.
 Blest by these brave men.
I cherish them and this army life! 

Kathleen Handrick is retired and lives in Oldham with her husband and family.  She joined MIW in 2013 as a novice writer and enjoys participating in the writers’ events. Her Irish roots are in County Mayo.

To find out more about MIW's Somme 100 Commemoration, please click here. 

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