|John Collings Squire|
…But I'm not so think as you drunk I am
--“Ballade of Soporifice Absorption,” J.C. Squire, 1931
John Collings (“Jack”) Squire was a writer and literary editor known for his witty parodies – and for his expert knowledge of Stilton cheese. His poetry of the First World War War has been almost wholly forgotten.
Squire volunteered for military service in the war, but was rejected due to his poor eyesight.
In 1915, he published a short poem that, one-hundred years later, continues to speak to current wars and conflicts.
God heard the embattled nations sing and shout
"Gott strafe England!" and "God save the King!"
God this, God that, and God the other thing—
"Good God!" said God, "I've got my work cut out."
In this poem, God listens as people of both the Allied and the Central Powers call on him to intervene on their behalf. The second line of the poem leads with the German military slogan – translated as “May God punish England” – and concludes with the British national anthem “God save the King.” All countries and all faiths invoke the name of the Almighty, for this, that, and “the other thing.”
Archie Surfleet, a private with the East Yorkshire Regiment, wrote in his diary, “Saw some fellows with a German helmet, quite a massive affair with a spread eagle and a scroll saying ‘Mitt Gott für Koenig und Faterland.’ [With God for King and Country]. Strikes me God must think we are a pack of fools: surely he can’t be on both sides.” Private Surfleet also commented, “Not many of us are religious in the true sense of the word though a lot of us turn to God for help and comfort when we are afraid: that does not make us religious.”*
As Matthew Shaw, curator at the British Library explains, “The closeness of death made belief – and its opposite – a pressing issue for the millions of men serving on the front and for those left behind at home.” (Shaw’s article on faith, belief, and superstition in the war is worth a look).
By the close of Squire’s short poem, however, we feel the greatest sympathy for God. Like a harassed parent who has been repeatedly pestered to referee between warring siblings, God knows better than anyone how hopeless his job is, given the immature obstinacy of the combatants.
*Tommy Goes to War (p. 26), by Matthew Brown