Alan Booth lives in England. Prior to his recent retirement he was a Senior Lecturer in Accounting. Although he has written one short novel (The Trials and Tribulations of Doris and Arkwright Broughton) and is currently writing a second book, Alan Booth is new to writing poetry

Were you there God?

Were you there God
On that summer's day
When a lover and his lass
Made love
Lying on the new mown hay
In the year of nineteen hundred?
And were you there God
When nine months later
Tommy Atkins, like a silver bullet,
Shot out his mother's womb?
Oh! What time of happiness
Even for a bastard
And a lover and his lass.
But you were there God,
When that lot happened,
Were you not?

And God, were you there
When German might and force
Turned out the lights of Europe
In what we then did call
That War to end all wars?
But you were there God,
You were there
Because you are everywhere
And knowing of all things.

So you really were there
When Tommy Atkins,
Kitchener's extended finger saw
Pointed straight at him
Calling him to the fight?
Did you then mind, God,
That Tommy Atkins
Lied about his age
When he felt that call
To the Colours of the Fusiliers?
You were there then, God,
Were you not?
For you are everywhere.

Were you really there God
When Tommy Atkins
Full of hope and cheer
Climbed in that boat -
The one that sailed to France?
And did you hear the Padre
Tell the lads that all was well,
That you were on their side,
And they'd be home
Before that Christmastide?

And you were there God,
Were you not,
When that small boat
Fetched up upon the beach
And the lads made their advance
Along the shore
And onwards unto Flanders
Where now the poppies blow
In unforgotten fields.

And Tommy Atkins,
As he marched along
Saw not the washing
Hanging on some future Siegfried Line
But the bloodied bodies of his dead
And dying friends
Draped over wires of steely barb?
But they were not alone
For you were there God,
For you are everywhere.

But Tommy Atkins was not destined
There to die.
For him it was the shelter of a trench -
Freshly dug, and eight feet deep -
With a ladder to escape o'er the top.
He'd scarce been there for half an hour
When, of a sudden,
A funny noise droned overhead.
And then it stopped
And something dropped
A little further up the trench.
There was a flash, and then a bang
And bodies burst.
And Tommy Atkins saw his mates
Blown all to smithereens.
But you were there God
You were there
For you are everywhere -
As everywhere are now
The spread and spattered bodies
Of Tommy Atkins' mates

Next time Tommy saw the Padre
He asked why,
When with you standing there beside,
His mates had all been killed.
And the Padre told him,
"The ways of God's are strange"

And then it rained and washed away
Some of the blood and gore -
And what remained was eaten by the rats.
Do you remember God
Sending those of your creatures
To keep us company in our cold and sodden trenches?
Those rats bit into us no less than did the winter nights
As we did try to sleep and dream of home
Amidst the tumult and the noise of battle.
But you were there God,
You were always with us were you not
As your soldiers soldiered on
In Delville Wood, at Loos and Arras, and at Ypres
And Cambrai and upon the Somme?

You were there God,
Were you not,
On that fateful day -
So was it you who made the whistle blow
For us to raise ourselves above the parapet
And march into the no-man's land?
But march we did - and to great cost.

When all about me fell and I was all alone
In trust I turned to you, God,
As I ran and ran and ran in fear and shock
For I knew not which the way I ran -
I was but sixteen years of age.
But you were there to guide me
You were there, God, were you not?
For the Padre 'd promised
You'd be always at my side.

The Colonel said I'd been a coward
To run away and not to face the foe.
So when dark Night gave way to hazy Dawn
They tied me, blindfold, to a stake
And through their misting eyes
My comrades ripped to ribbons
A heart that bled for England -
My fellow Fusiliers had dared not but obey.
When that last and dreaded order came -
To take a steady aim and to Fire
But you who would not save
Your own son crucified upon a cross
Why should you save me?
The Padre bowed his head
And in a broken voice did say
"Amen! Indeed the ways of God are strange."
But you were with me then God.
You were with me, were you not?

When I ran that day in fear and shock,
Why did you make me not to run
The other way and towards the foe,
For I knew not which way I ran?
And whilst I'd still be dead
I'd not have died
A bastard to the Fusiliers
You were there God -
You were there,
So why was it so, why was it so?

The Old Pals have returned
But some still lie in Delville Wood
At Arras, Loos, at Cambrai, Ypres
And on the Somme.
Some passed through the Menim Gates
And some stayed well within
Their names inscribed upon the walls.
For families and generations
To stand before and bow their heads.
And elsewhere, in the fields of France
The saddened pilgrims chant
"They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old,"
As they pause before the crosses, row on row
In that close yet foreign land.
But not for me a cross to mark the spot
No name upon a stone
Where, bare sixteen, I fell
Shot by my own.

Who will remember me
Where e'er the sun does rise and set?
Remember reader - remember and mark well
He also served who ran away
Confused, and scared and shocked.

So in the fields of Flanders
Where still I lie alone
Will one poppy blow for me, Lord,
Will one poppy blow for me?
You should know God,
You should know
For you are everywhere.
But bloody hell, God
Bloody hell
Were you there - or were you not?

Copyright 2001 by Alan Booth