We are the guns, and your masters! Saw ye our flashes?
Heard ye the scream of our shells in the night, and the shuddering crashes?
Saw ye our work by the roadside, the shrouded things lying,
Moaning to God that He made them---the maimed and the dying?
Husbands and sons,
Fathers and lovers, we break them. We are the guns!

We are the guns and ye serve us. Dare ye grow weary,
Steadfast at night-time, at noon-time, or waking when dawn winds blow dreary
Across the reeds and the muds and the flats of the barrier-water,
To wait on the hour of our choosing, the minute decided for slaughter?
Swift, the clock runs...
Yea, to the ultimate second. Stand by your guns!

-- Captain Gilbert Frankau, R.F.A.


World War One poem which captures the elemental, dehumanising savagery of the trench war, and indeed of every modern war.

Major kudos to Albert Herring for pointing me to a website with the full text of the poem, and the author's name. All hail Albert Herring.


Okay, here's the deal. I came across this poem in a history book when I was researching for a project on trench warfare in World War One. The book only gave the first two verses, and I was led to believe that that was the entire poem. Personally, I think it works better that way. That's why the excerpt above remains in the all-new, edited version of this node.

But, in the interests of completeness (this site is called everything, after all) here's the full text of the poem:

We are the guns, and your masters! Saw ye our flashes?
Heard ye the scream of our shells in the night, and the shuddering crashes?
Saw ye our work by the roadside, the shrouded things lying,
Moaning to God that He made them---the maimed and the dying?
Husbands and sons,
Fathers and lovers, we break them. We are the guns!

We are the guns and ye serve us. Dare ye grow weary,
Steadfast at night-time, at noon-time, or waking when dawn winds blow dreary
Across the reeds and the muds and the flats of the barrier-water,
To wait on the hour of our choosing, the minute decided for slaughter?
Swift, the clock runs...
Yea, to the ultimate second. Stand by your guns!

We are the guns, and we need you; here, in the timbered
Pits that are screened by the crest, and the copse where at dusk ye unlimbered;
Pits that one found us -- and, finding, gave life. (Did he flinch from the giving?)
Ere, with the sun's
Rising, the sorrowful spirit abandoned it's guns.

Who but the guns shall avenge him? Battery-action!
Load us and lay to the centermost hair of the dial-sight's refraction
Set your quick hands to our levers to compass the sped soul's assoiling:
Brace your taught limbs to the shock when the thrust of the barrel recoiling
Deafens and stuns!
Vengeance is ours for our servants; trust ye the guns.

Least of our bond-slaves or greatest, grudge ye the burden?
Hard is the service of ours which has only our service for guerdon?
Grow the limbs lax, and unsteady the hands, which aforetime we trusted?
Dominate ones,
Are we not tried serfs and proven -- true to our guns?

Ye are the guns! Are we worthy? Shall not these speak for us
Out of the wood where the tree-trunks are slashed with the vain bolts that seek for us;
Thunder of batteries firing in unison, swish of shell flighting,
Hissing that rushes to silence and breaks to the thud of alighting;
Death that outruns
Horsemen and foot? Are we justified? Answer O guns!

Yea! By our works are ye justified -- toil unrelieved;
Manifold labours, co-ordinate each to the sending achieved;
Discipline, not of the feet but the soul, unremitting unfeigned;
Tortures unholy by flame and by maiming unknown, faced and distained;
Courage that shuns
Only foolhardiness; even by these are ye worthy your guns.

Wherefore -- and unto ye only power hath been given;
Yea! Beyond man, over men, over desolate cities and riven;
Yea! Beyond space, over earth and the seas and the sky's dominions;
Yea! Beyond time, over Hell and the fiends and the Death-Angel's pinions.
Vigilant ones,
Loose them, and shatter, and spare not. We are the Guns!

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