Robert Service

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Rhymes of a Red Cross Man

Service, Robert

Last Updated: Mar-14-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)


This is a collection of poems based on Robert Service’s experience as a Red Cross ambulance driver in France during World War I. The book begins with the patriotic call to war: "High and low, all must go: / Hark to the shout of War!" Some of the volunteers never come back (e.g. "The Fool," "Our Hero," and "My Mate"). Others are severely wounded (e.g. "The Convalescent" and "Wounded").

Many of the narrators express their love of home, family, and especially their fellow soldiers (e.g. "The Man From Athabaska," "Carry On," and "Bill the Bomber"). Only a small number of these poems evoke specifically Red Cross work. One of these is "The Odyssey of ’Erbert ’Iggins," in which two medics carry the wounded from the battlefield. Another is "The Stretcher Bearer," in which the narrator is unable to clean a blood stain from his stretcher and wonders, "if in ’Eaven’s height, / Our God don’t turn away ’Is Face."

Throughout the collection there is evidence of ambivalence toward the individual German soldier. In some moments he is "Only a Boche" (or Hun) who has killed the soldier’s buddies, but in other moments the narrators reflect that their opponents are also ordinary men, sons and fathers, who love their families.

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