Duty Called...


And called me to obey.
“Greater love hath no man than this,
That a man lay down his life for his friends.”
A Victoria Cross and a bar keep me in the mind of the nation,
But I see things differently …

As I stare down upon my father’s words at my grave at Brandhoek,

I do not consider myself a hero:
I recall my joy at being called to help my countrymen,
To help them win the Great War;
How I envied Chris for being there,
How unlikely I was to be a hero,
As a Doctor away from the dangers of the trenches;
I did not understand the true terror of the front,
But rapidly became too familiar with it,
As my prediction proved to be wrong.

Suddenly, the memories are all too clear:

I hear the explosion of shellfire,
The clamour of machine guns that attack the Scottish Liverpool;
I hear the screams of my first patient,
As I hurried to seal his wounds;
I remember those men that depended upon me,
The young men – haggard, white and stooped like old men;
I see the gaping holes, with broken muscles hanging out -
Holes so big I could put my fist in;
We worked with basic tools:
Scissors to remove arms that could not be saved,
Safety pins and bandages to stem the ever-flowing blood,
Always with a sense of duty,
Always keen to help these gallant men;
But fatigue was gripping hold,
And I yearned for a holiday;
I recall the men suffering shellshock,
Shaking violently,
The frustration at the RAMC,
For not helping them.

I fixed my eyes upon the two VCs:
Had I not done what any good medic would do?
Images of Guillemont flooded back:
The sound of German shouts,
As a team and I trekked through sodden earth
To rescue three invalids,
Just twenty-five yards from the enemy line;
The splinters cut into my body,
As the bullets and mortars rained down upon us;
I did not care to notice,
As the men’s faces kept me anxious to help them -
At all times;
“Courage and self-sacrifice beyond praise,” they cited,
But I was a medic in a bloody war,
Called to duty, called to obey.

Passchendaele - the Battle of Mud:
Wounds were infected almost upon infliction,
As we worked up to our knees in thick, heavy filth,
Watching as men perished about us;
Then I was hit –
My head jerked,
I stumbled,
Battling for consciousness;
Again the men’s faces spurred me on,
The constant torrents of rain lashing at my face;
I was not going to allow no-man’s land,
To become the graveyard of the Scottish Liverpool;
I carried those men in my heart as much as in my arms,
Called to duty, called to obey.

I reached out to touch the lady I had left,

Standing there, tears in her eyes;
I recalled the moment that the post was hit,
The presence of death that I had to escape –
The need to find men to help;
I do not remember how far I crawled,
My injuries too many to deal with;
I thought of Gladys and felt the need to explain:
“Duty called, and called me to obey.”

A poem in memory of Captain Noel Chavasse, 1884-1917

By James Lewis (J4)