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Lay for the Day
1st July


The First Battle of the Somme began on this day in 1916 and continued for four and a half months. On the first day of the Allied assault along a 21-mile front, against well-entrenched German positions, there were 60,000 British casualties, 20,000 of them killed. By the time the offensive was called off in November, total casualties are estimated to have been 650,000 Germans, 195,000 Frenchmen and 450,000 Britons.

Film of the First War’s Shell-Shocked

These are the war artists
their Chaplin walks
their dancing scalps
their uncontrollable trembling.

No grim poem, painting or story
more eloquent than their ballet.
Terror and pity threw the switch
opened the shutter.

In the middle of the dead
skulls and worse
they became baby bodies,
torsos fair-skinned and hairless.

Young men from northern Europe, limbs gibbering.
Tongue never told what their shakes speak.
Oh me shivering china
be still be still be still.

John Gibbens
from Church of Thorns



The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar