Blunden: Although the words may have been put down after the war, the poem was actually composed in my mind almost at the moment we came out of our own concert to see quite a different concert on the horizon.

Concert Party

Interviewer: Yes.

Blunden: ‘Concert Party: Busseboom.’ It relates to I believe the London Division’s concert, which was open to us and we were for an afternoon or two in billets there, or in huts within sight of the battlefield, easily only three or four miles east and, of course, not far from Ypres.

Concert Party

The stage was set, the house was packed,
The famous troop began;
Our laughter thundered, act by act;
Time light as sunbeams ran.

Dance sprang and spun and neared and fled,
Jest chirped at gayest pitch,
Rhythm dazzled, action sped
Most comically rich.

With generals and lame privates both
Such charms worked wonders, till
The show was over – lagging loth
We faced the sunset chill;

And standing on the sandy way,
With the cracked church peering past,
We heard another matin?e,
We heard the maniac blast

Of barrage south by Saint Eloi,
And the red lights flaming there
Called madness: Come, my bonny boy,
And dance to the latest air.

To this new concert, white we stood;
Cold certainty held our breath;
While men in the tunnels below Larch Wood
Were kicking men to death.

I would perhaps add the detail that this was the case – that Larchwood was a famous tunnel system of ours – the Germans got in and the only weapons at hand for many of the miners were their feet or fists. And this fight was going on while we came out of our divisional concert party within just that short distance but we could do nothing except just stare.

from Undertones of War (Penguin Classics, 2000), copyright © Estate of Mrs Claire Blunden 1928, by permission of PFD on behalf of the Estate of Mrs Claire Blunden. Recording used by permission of the BBC

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