Home > Uncategorized > G. J. Whyte-Melville: Death is gathering his harvest – and the iron voice tolls on

G. J. Whyte-Melville: Death is gathering his harvest – and the iron voice tolls on


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

British writers on peace and war

G. J. Whyte-Melville: A soldier who fattens a battlefield, encumbers a trench, has his name misspelled in a gazette


G. J. Whyte-Melville
From The Interpreter: A Tale of the War

Boom! – there it is again! Every eye lightens at that dull, distant sound. Every man’s pulse beats quicker, and his head towers more erect, for he feels that he has arrived at the real thing at last. No sham fighting is going on over yonder, not two short leagues from where he stands – no mock bivouac at Chobham, nor practice in Woolwich Marshes, nor meaningless pageant in the Park: that iron voice carries death upon its every accent. For those in the trenches it is a mere echo – the unregarded consequence that necessarily succeeds the fierce rush of a round-shot or the wicked whistle of a shell; but for us here at Balaklava it is one of the pulsations of England’s life-blood – one of the ticks, so to speak, of that great Clock of Doom which points ominously to the downfall of the beleaguered town.

Boom! Yes, there it is again; you cannot forget why you are here. Day and night, sunshine and storm, scarce five minutes elapse in the twenty-four hours without reminding you of the work in hand. You ride out from the camp for your afternoon exercise, you go down to Balaklava to buy provisions, or you canter over to the monastery at St. George’s to visit a sick comrade – the iron voice tolls on. In the glare of noon, when everything else seems drowsy in the heat, and the men lie down exhausted in the suffocating trenches – the iron voice tolls on. In the calm of evening, when the breeze is hushed and still, and the violet sea is sleeping in the twilight – the iron voice tolls on. So when the flowers are opening in the morning, and the birds begin to sing, and reviving nature, fresh and dewy, seems to scatter health and peace and good-will over the earth – the iron voice tolls on. Nay, when you wake at midnight in your tent from a dream of your far-away home – oh! what a different scene to this! – tired as you may be, ere you have turned to sleep once more, you hear it again. Yes, at midnight as at noon, at morn as at evening, every day and all day long, Death is gathering his harvest – and the iron voice tolls on.


Tonight he is as gay, as lively, as cheerful as usual; tomorrow he will be but a form of senseless clay, shot through the head in the trenches.

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