Cambrai and Marne
by Charles G.D. Roberts (1860-1943)
Before our trenches at Cambrai
We saw their columns cringe away.’
We saw their masses melt and reel
Before our line of leaping steel.
A handful to their storming hordes
We scourged them with the scourge of swords,
And still, the more we slew, the more
Came up, for every slain a score.
Between the hedges and the town
Their cursing squadrons we rode down.
To stay them we outpoured our blood
Between the beetfields and the wood.
In that red hell of shrieking shell
Unfaltering our gunners fell.
They fell, or ere the day was done,
Beside the last unshattered gun.
But still we held them, like a wall
On which the breakers vainly fall—
Till came the word, and we obeyed,
Reluctant, bleeding, undismayed.
Our feet, astonished, learned retreat,
Our souls rejected still defeat.
Unbroken still, a lion at bay,
We drew back grimly from Cambrai.
In blood and sweat, with slaughter spent,
They thought us beaten as we went;
Till suddenly we turned and smote
The shout of triumph in their throat.
At last, at last we turned and stood—
And Marne’s fair water ran with blood.
We stood by trench and steel and gun,
For now the indignant flight was done.
We ploughed their shaken ranks with fire.
We trod their masses into mire.
Our sabres drove through their retreat,
As drives the whirlwind through young wheat.
At last, at last we flung them back
Along their drenched and smoking track.
We hurled them back, in blood and flame,
The reeking ways by which they came.
By cumbered road and desperate ford,
How fled their shamed and harassed horde!
Shout, Sons of Freemen, for the day
When Marne so well avenged Cambrai.