Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, December 2, 2016

After the Armistice: The Doughboys Turn to Verse

The Doughboys' newspaper, STARS AND STRIPES, welcomed poetry contributions from the troops. After the Armistice, entries came flooding in since the boys no longer need to worry about surviving on the battlefield. All that made the paper were almost uniformly more doggerel than fine poetry and the sort of verse fans of Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg might toss aside as being laughably sentimental. Nevertheless, they seem to capture something about the American experience in the war.  Here are three I like.  

Chow Time: Possibly Eating Corned Beef (Willie)


O compound of wrecked flesh, rent and torn asunder, 
How do we e'er digest thy potency, I wonder – 
Cold, killed cattle pounded into paste, 
Pressed into tins and shipped to us in haste. 

Greedily we eat thee, hot or cold or clammish, 
How welcomely thou thuddest in the mess tins of 
  the famished. 
O leavings of a jackal's feast, O carrion sublime, 
No matter how we scoff at thee, we eat thee 
  every time. 


Sgt. H.W. White
Stars and Stripes, 1919

Saying Farewell to a Buddy

Goodbye, Old Pal

Goodbye, old Pal,
I've been to hell and back
There's where you fell,
    in mud, in blood, and rain.
Sure, we won –
    you paid the bill;
You swapped your life for
     that green hill;
Goodbye, old Pal.

Goodbye, old Pal.
We're sailing home,
     our job is done;
But still your grave's a trench
     against the Hun.

Call us back;
     we'll make our stand
Where you keep guard
      in No Man's Land.

Goodbye, old Pal.

Stars and Stripes, 1919

A Party of Wounded Doughboys Departing St. Nazaire for Home

The Song of St. Nazaire [Abridged]

Hurry on, you doughboys, with your rifle and your pack;
Bring along your cooties with your junk upon your back;
We'll house you and delouse you and we'll douse you in a bath,
And when the boat is ready you can take the Western Path...

For it's home, kid, home – when the breakers rise and fall – 
Where the khaki's hanging from a nail against the wall – 
Clean again and cheerful there – 
Handin out an ear full there – 
Where you never have to jump at the bugle's call.

Lt. Grantland Rice [Yes, the sportswriter]
Stars and Stripes, 1919


  1. Very nice, verse such as this helps later generations personalize the experience.

  2. I love the Doughboys' verse -- thanks for sharing. I've posted other examples such as "Home is Where the Pie Is" on my blog for those wanting to read more:

  3. I agree with the above. There's a lyrical quality in the poems which together with the content make them really moving and effective. David B.