When the Welsh poet Edward Thomas (1898-1917), who had signed up for the British Army in 1915, was asked what he would be fighting for, he stopped, picked up a pinch of earth and crumbled it between finger and thumb before letting it fall. He then replied, “Literally, for this”.
In ‘Adlestrop’ he describes an unscheduled stop that he had made at a small train station in Gloucestershire in the course of a train journey on June 24, 1914, a little more than a month before the war began.
Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
Thomas was killed at Arras in April 1917.