‘Hello, Soldier!’

The Happy Gardeners

Edward Dyson

WE WERE storemen, clerks and packers on an ammunition dump
Twice the size of Cootamundra, and the goods we had to hump
They were bombs as big as water-butts, and cartridges in tons,
Shells that looked like blessed gasmains, and a line in traction-guns.

We had struck a warehouse dignity in dealing with the stocks.
It was, “Sign here, Mr. Eddie!” “Clarkson, forward to the socks!”
Our floor-walker was a major, with a nozzle like a peach,
And a stutter in his Trilbies; and a limping kind of speech.

We were off at eight to business, we were free for lunch at one,
And we talked of new Spring fashions, and the brisk trade being done.
After five we sought our dugouts lying snug beneath the hill,
Each with hollyhocks before it and geraniums on the sill.

Singing “Home, Sweet home,” we swept, and scrubbed, and dusted up the place,
Then smoked out on the doorstep in the twilight’s tender grace.
After which with spade and rake we sought our special garden plot,
And we ’tended to the cabbage and the shrinking young shallot.

So long lived we unmolested that this seemed indeed “the life.”
Set apart from mirk and worry and the incidence of strife;
And we trimmed our Kitchen Eden, swapping vegetable lore,
While the whole demented world beside was muddled up with war.

There was little talk of Boches and of bloody battle scenes,
But a deal about Bill’s spuds and Billy Carkeek’s butter-beans;
Porky specialised on onion and he had a sort of gift
For a cabbage plump and tender that it took two men to lift.

In the pleasant Sabbath morning, when the sun lit on our “street,”
And illumed the happy dugout with effulgence kind and sweet,
It was fine to see us forking, raking, picking off the bugs,
Treading flat the snails and woodlice and demolishing the slugs.

Then one day old Fritz got going. He had a hint of us,
And the shell the blighter posted was as roomy as a ‘bus;
He was groping round the dump, and kind of pecking after it;
When he plugged the hill the world heeled up, the dome of heaven split.

Then, O Gott and consternation! Swooped a shell a and stuck her nose
In Carkeek’s beans. Those beans came up! A cry of grief arose!
As we watched them—plunk! another shell cut loose, and everywhere
Flew the spuds of Billy Murphy. There were turnips in the air.

Bill! she tore a quarter-acre from the landscape. With it burst
Tommy’s carrots, and we watched them, and in whispers prayed and cursed.
Then a wail of anguish ’scaped us. Boomed in Porky’s cabbage plot
A detestable concussion. Porky’s cabbages were not!

There the Breaking strain was reached, for Porky fetched an awful cry,
And he rushed away and armed himself. With loathing in his eye,
Up and over went the hero. He was savage through and through,
And he tore across the distance like a maddened kangaroo.

They had left a woeful sight indeed—frail cabbages all rent,
Turnips mangled, little carrots all in one red burial blent,
Parsnips ruined, lettuce shattered, torn and wilted beet and bean,
And a black and grinning gap where once our garden flourished green.

.     .     .     .     .

Five and fifty hours had passed when came a German in his shirt.
On his back he carried Porky black with blood, and smoke and dirt.
“I sniped six of ’em,” said Porky, “an’ me pris’ner here,” he sez—
“I done in the crooel swine what strafed me helpless cabbages.”

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