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Poetry of Direct Personal Experience
Our Collection of Aviation and Military Poetry

The Green Fields of France - No Man's Land
Eric Bogle

One of the most poignant and mesmerizing songs ever written, recorded by famous musicians across the world, this Scottish lament, once heard, will never be forgotten. See also his song about the ANZACS, And The Band Played Waltzing MatildaAfter a visit to the war cemeteries in France in the early seventies Bogle turned a traditional Scottish lament into a dramatic fictitious conversation with Private William McBride. Maybe Bogle was inspired by a headstone he had seen, but probably the man and the name are equally fictitious.

Piet Chielens, coordinator of the In Flanders Fields War Museum in Ypres, Belgium, and organizer of yearly peace concerts in Flanders, once checked all 1,700,000 names that are registered with the Commonwealth War Commission. He found no less than ten Privates William McBride.

Three of these William McBrides fell in 1916, two were members of the Northern Irish Regiment, the Royal Inniskilling Fusilliers, and died more or less in the same spot during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. One was 21, the other 19 years old. "The law of the greatest numbers does beat even the most poetical license", Chielens remarks.

The 19 years old Pte William McBride is buried in Authuille British Cemetery, near Albert and Beaumont-Hamel, where the Inniskilling Fusilliers were deployed as part of the 29th Division


Well, how do you do, Private Willie McBride?
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside? 
And I'll rest for a while in the warm summer sun, 
Been walking all day, Lord, and I'm nearly done. 
And I see by your gravestone you were only 19 
When you joined the great fallen in 1916, 
I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean 
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene? 

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they sound the fife lowly? 
Did the rifles fire o'er ye as they lowered you down? 
Did the bugles sing The Last Post in chorus? 
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest? 

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind 
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined? 
And though, you died back in 1916, 
In that loyal heart are you forever 19? 
Or are you a stranger without even a name, 
Forever enshrined behind the glass frame, 
In an old photograph, torn, battered and stained, 
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame? 

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they sound the fife lowly? 
Did the rifles fire o'er ye as they lowered you down? 
Did the bugles sing The Last Post in chorus? 
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest? 

The sun's shining now on these green fields of France; 
The  warm wind blows gently, the red poppies dance. 
The trenches have vanished, long under the plough
No gas, no barbed wire, there’s no guns firing now. 
But here in this graveyard it’s still No Man's Land 
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man. 
And a whole generation that were butchered and damned. 

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they sound the fife lowly? 
Did the rifles fire o'er ye as they lowered you down? 
Did the bugles sing The Last Post in chorus? 
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest? 

And I can’t help wonder, Willie McBride
Do those who lie here know why did they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause
Did they really believe that this war would end wars? 
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain.
For Willie McBride, it all happened again, 
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they sound the fife lowly? 
Did the rifles fire o'er ye as they lowered you down? 
Did the bugles sing The Last Post in chorus? 
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest? 

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they sound the fife lowly? 
Did the rifles fire o'er ye as they lowered you down? 
Did the bugles sing The Last Post in chorus? 
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest? 



The great man himself performs his song

WWl Cemetery France

No Man's Land

WWl Cemetery France

Somme countryside

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 • Last Modified: 04 May 2015, 09:24