From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Original manuscript (september 1915)

Ypres is a poem about First World War written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Queen's Gift Book in december 1915.

Ypres is a Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. Ypres occupied a strategic position during the First World War because it stood in the path of Germany's planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France from the north (the Schlieffen Plan). In the First Battle of Ypres (19 october to 22 november 1914), the Allies captured the town from the Germans. The Germans use of poison gas for the first time on 22 april 1915 marked the beginning of the Second Battle of Ypres, which continued until 25 may 1915. They captured high ground east of the town. The first gas attack occurred against Canadian, British, and French soldiers, including both metropolitan French soldiers as well as Senegalese and Algerian tirailleurs from French Africa. The gas used was chlorine. Mustard gas, also called Yperite from the name of this town, was also used for the first time near Ypres, in the autumn of 1917.



Push on, my Lord of Würtemberg, across the Flemish Fen!
See where the lure of Ypres calls you!
There's just one ragged British line of Plumer's weary men;
It's true they held you off before, but venture it again,
Come, try your luck, whatever fate befalls you!

You've been some little time, my Lord. Perhaps you scarce remember
The far-off early days of that resistance.
Was it in October last? Or was it in November?
And now the leaves are turning and you stand in mid-September
Still staring at the Belfry in the distance.

Can you recall the fateful day — a day of drifting skies,
When you started on the famous Calais onset?
Can it be the War-Lord blundered when he urged the enterprise?
For surely it's a weary while since first before your eyes
That old Belfry rose against the sunset.

You held council at your quarters when the budding Alexanders
And the Pickel-haubed Caesars gave their reasons.
Was there one amongst that bristle-headed circle of commanders
Ever ventured the opinion that a little town of Flanders
Would hold you pounded here through all the seasons?

You all clasped hands upon it. You would break the British line,
You would smash a road to westward with your host,
The howitzers should thunder and the Uhlan lances shine
Till Calais heard the blaring of the distant "Wacht am Rhein,"
As you topped the grassy uplands of the coast.

Said the Graf von Feuer-Essen, "It's a fact beyond discussion,
That man to man we can outfight the foe.
There is valour in the French, there is patience in the Russian,
But blend all war-like virtues and you get the lordly Prussian,"
And the bristle-headed murmured, "Das ist so."

"And the British," cried another, "they are mercenary cattle,
Without one noble impulse of the soul,
Degenerate and drunken; if the dollars chink and rattle,
'Tis the only sort of music that will call them to the battle."
And all the bristle-headed cried, "Ja wohl!"

And so next day your battle rolled across the Menin Plain,
Where Capper's men stood lonely to your wrath.
You broke him, and you broke him, but you broke him all in vain,
For he and his contemptibles kept closing up again,
And the khaki bar was still across your path.

And on the day when Gheluvelt lay smoking in the sun,
When Von Deimling stormed so hotly in the van,
You smiled as Haig reeled backwards and you thought him on the run,
But, alas for dreams that vanish, for before the day was done
It was you, my Lord of Würtemberg, that ran.

A dreary day was that — but another came, more dreary,
When the Guard from Arras led your fierce attacks,
Spruce and splendid in the morning were the Potsdam Grenadiere,
But not so spruce that evening when they staggered spent and weary,
With those cursed British storming at their backs.

You knew — your spies had told you — that the ranks were scant and thin,
That the guns were short of shell and very few,
By all Bernhardi's maxims you were surely bound to win,
There's the open town before you. Haste, my Lord, and enter in,
Or the War-Lord may have telegrams for you.

Then came the rainy winter, when the price was ever dearer,
Every time you neared the prize of which you dreamed,
Each day the Belfry faced you but you never brought it nearer,
Each night you saw it clearly but you never saw it clearer.
Ah, what a weary time it must have seemed!

At last there came the Easter when you loosed the coward gases,
Surely you have got the rascals now!
You could see them spent and choking as you watched them thro' your glasses,
Yes, they choke, but never waver, and again the moment passes
Without one leaf of laurel for your brow.

Then at Hooge you had them helpless, for their guns were one to ten,
And you blasted trench and traverse at your will,
You had them dead and buried, but they still sprang up again.
"Donnerwetter!" cried your Lordship, "Donnerwetter!" cried your men,
For their very ghosts were guarding Ypres still.

Active, Guards, Reserve—men of every corps and name
That the bugles of the War-Lord muster in,
Each in turn you tried them, but the story was the same;
Play it how you would, my Lord, you never won the game,
No, never in a twelvemonth did you win.

A year, my Lord of Würtemberg — a year, or nearly so,
Since first you faced the British vis-à-vis!
Your learned Commandanten are the men who ought to know,
But to ordinary mortals it would seem a trifle slow,
If you really mean to travel to the sea.

If you cannot straf the British, since they strafen you so well,
You can safely smash the town that lies so near,
So it's down with arch and buttress, down with belfry and with bell,
And it's hoch the seven-seven that can drop the petrol shell
On the shrines that pious hands have loved to rear!

Fair Ypres was a relic of the soul of other days,
A poet's dream, a wanderer's delight,
We will keep it as a symbol of your brute Teutonic ways
That millions yet unborn may come and curse you as they gaze
At this token of your impotence and spite.

For shame, my Lord of Würtemberg! Across the Flemish Fen
See where the little army calls you.
It's just the old familiar line of fifty thousand men,
They've beat you once or twice, my Lord, but venture it again,
Come, try your luck, whatever fate befalls you.