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HE WASN’T A HERO

This is a poem about William Robert Fox, known to his family as Will, who was born on 14th June 1896. The places in the poem are real places and he really visited them during his time with ‘D’ Company of the 10th Battalion, the Essex Regiment.  He joined up in June 1914 and was killed in action in September 1915 aged barely nineteen.   Until he was six years old Will was raised in Shadwell High Street in Stepney, East London. From June 1904 to June 1910 he lived at Stifford Cottage Homes, following the death of his father, James.

He wasn’t a hero renowned for brave deeds But he heeded the message of Kitchener’s needs He was just a young soldier boy, Margaret’s son Who fell to the shell and the gun of the Hun.

They trained him for shooting, and marching, and shooting They marched him through Warley and Shorncliffe and Tooting Then they despatched him to Codford St Mary And housed him in barracks behind an old dairy.

They trained, how they trained him on Salisbury Plain They drummed in the message again and again When you’re in the trenches along with the Frenchies Stay alert, be a soldier and don’t dream of wenches.

It took them a year to make him a man To obey every order and every command They repeated his lessons again and again But no one shoots back on Salisbury Plain.

Late in July of nineteen fifteen They said ‘Best make your will, Will’ – you know what I mean? So he wrote out his will, like many another Saying ‘All that I have, I leave to my mother’.

Soon they sent him to Folkestone, he went there by rail From Wylye’s small station, and then he set sail On a boat o’er the channel to the port of Boulogne France and the chance to show just why he’d joined.

But still they just trained him, though they showed him our front But ‘only a safe bit’ the officer said, being blunt ‘cos we don’t want you injured, or even worse, dead And we’re sure you won’t be if you just keep your head.

After six weeks more learning they sent him away To a newly-built billet in a village called Bray Then for two weeks, best as Will could remember He was held in reserve, ‘til the fifth of September.

The Berkshires moved out and the Essex moved in At last for our Stepney boy war could begin Two companies went who were ready to fight ‘D’ on the left and ‘C’ on the right.

They lobbed shells at Jerry and he lobbed some back No ground gained or lost despite several attacks His regiment’s diary tells us the rest He was wounded by shrapnel, some in his chest.

Wounded by shrapnel, ours not theirs Wounded - by shrapnel – ours - not theirs Three young British soldiers. Private Fox, Corporal Smee And another, unnamed, met the same destiny.

They took them to hospital where Willie died No family, no friends could be at his side He died on the tenth and on the next day He was buried at Thiepval, he lies there today.

A year in the training, four days in a trench Nothing achieved before he was spent Then we killed him ourselves.

.   .   .   .   .  

I wonder if ever he’d fallen in love But he was so young and heavens above He’d had a hard life since his father had died He was lucky that Stifford was there to provide.

And I wonder if ever he chanced to discover The joy and the heartache of being a lover Kitchener killed him, poor Margaret’s son So we’ll never know what he might have become.

 

Rod Shipley

August 2018