‘Lads, you’re wanted, go and help,’
On the railway carriage wall
Stuck the poster, and I thought
Of the hands that penned the call.
Fat civilians wishing they
‘Could go and fight the Hun’.
Can’t you see them thanking God
That they’re over forty-one?
Girls with feathers, vulgar songs –
Washy verse on England’s need –
God – and don’t we damned well know
How the message ought to read.
‘Lads, you’re wanted! Over there,
Shiver in the morning dew,
More poor devils like yourselves
Waiting to be killed by you.
Go and help to swell the names
In the casualty lists.
Help to make the column’s stuff
For the blasted journalists.
Help to keep them nice and safe
From the wicked German foe.
Don’t let him come over here!
Lads, you’re wanted – out you go.’
There’s a better word than that,
Lads, and can’t you hear it come
From a million men that call
You to share their martyrdom?
Leave the harlots still to sing
Comic songs about the Hun,
Leave the fat old men to say
Now we’ve got them on the run.
Better twenty honest years
Than their dull three score and ten.
Lads you’re wanted. Come and learn
To live and die with honest men.
You shall learn what men can do
If you will but pay the price,
Learn the gaiety and strength
In the gallant sacrifice.
Take your risk of life and death
Underneath the open sky.
Live clean or go out quick –
Lads, you’re wanted. Come and die.
• Propaganda – information spread to promote a cause. In World War I, this included posters and speeches made to convince people that the war was right and young men should join the armed forces. Many poems written in the later stages of the war attacked the propaganda of the early war, seeing it as lies that had helped to kill many thousands of men.
• Civilian – someone who doesn’t fight in a war/ is not a member of the armed forces. In war poetry, especially that written by soldiers, these people are seen as quite clueless.
• Comradeship – company and friendship of others. Particularly that between those going through hard times, such as in the trenches.
What is the poem about?
The poem is an attack on the people at home who convince and force the young men out to war without being aware of the realities. The poet particularly picks out the “fat civilians”, “girls with feathers” and “blasted journalists as being to blame for sending the men out to be killed. The poem is very bitter and satirical. It is written in the first person, suggesting a personal response to the matter. It parodies and mocks the propaganda posters of the time (“’Lads, you’re wanted, go and help’”). The second half of the poem (last 5 stanzas) suggests that war does have some positives – the men who go and fight will learn from the experience “To live and die with honest men” which clearly contrasts with the earlier attacks on the people who stay at home and don’t fight.
• Regular rhythm and rhyme – why do you think this is? Why is it so tightly structured? – it makes it more convincing and quite persuasive (like the propaganda the poem is criticising)
• Ballad style (a poem which tells a story, usually sentimental)
• The songs used in music halls at the time, convincing the men to enlist were usually ballads.
• Why use this style? – the poet is parodying the methods used to convince the men to go and fight.
Think about these words – what do they suggest and emphasise?
“Lads, you’re wanted” – youth, their naivety and innocence – are there any other words in the poem which suggest this?
“Fat civilians” – direct attack on those who don’t fight
“Shiver in the morning dew” – the reality of the conditions at war and in the trenches
“More poor devils, like yourselves” – shows that the people they are fighting are not any different from them, hinting at the pointlessness of the war.
“Go and help to swell the names” – emphasises the great loss of life.
“the blasted journalists” – direct attack on the journalists who continue to tell lies and convince the men they should go
“Help to keep them nice and safe” – contrasting with the danger the men will face in order to protect the “blasted journalists”
“wicked German foe” – the traditional view of the enemy in the propaganda, but in this instance quite a satirical statement – as we know that the German soldiers are no different from the British soldiers.
“out you go” – sounds like they want rid of them, forcing them out of the country
“Come and learn” – sounds much more welcoming and suggests the educational value of the war
The changing tone
• Tone = the poem’s overall feeling and/or attitude
• The first six stanzas – how would you describe the poet’s feelings and attitude here? – very bitter and satirical, attacks on people at home – what words suggest this?
• The last 5 stanzas – what does the poet believe you can gain from war? – “strength”, “gaiety”, an education in how to be “honest” and heroic
· A caesura is a break in the middle of a line of poetry – e.g. A full stop or pause in the middle of a line.
“Lads, you’re wanted. Come and die.”
Why does the poet break this line up? What is the effect on the reader? – makes you pause and think, isolating the final sentence which is a big twist on the earlier propaganda statements. It’s the reality of the war – that is what will almost certainly happen to them – much more honest than the earlier ideas.
Where else does he does this in the poem? To what effect? – Look at line 35.
• Regular rhyme and rhythm
• Reveals the reality behind the propaganda
• Is an attack on those in charge of the war and those profiting from it (journalists)
• Is not entirely anti-war – there is still a belief that war can be a positive experience for those who are honest and fight for their country.