Arras, April 9th 1917
Today marks the centenary of the opening of the British and Canadian offensive at Arras, on the Western Front.
Hawtin Mundy of New Bradwell, Buckinghamshire, fought and was captured in the battle. His powerful memories were recorded late in life, inspiring community drama and song that ties modern Milton Keynes and its inhabitants to its past.
Here is a part of Hawtin’s moving testimony:
Hawtin’s description of the battlefield at Arras was carefully turned into song by Paul Clark for the play Days of Pride, and has never failed to move audiences each of the many times it has been sung since. Paul, a Canadian who settled in England to work at the Open University, wrote many songs for the Living Archive; this is perhaps his finest. A song written by a Canadian, based on the words of a Buckinghamshire lad, that transcends nationality and time.
The Valley of the Shadow
words & music: Paul Clark
Our great attack had failed, we’d nothing left to give.
Our wounded hanging in the wire had little time to live.
The German shells came screaming down
To shred them where they lay,
Abandoned in the valley of the shadow.
The torn and shattered fields, the bits of wire and steel
No blade of grass, or branch, or leaf, to make the place seem real.
An ancient traveller passing by just couldn’t help but say:
“This surely is the valley of the shadow.”
The battle ground at night would look as bright as day,
As Very flares turned blackness into ugly, lifeless grey.
The twisted shapes that once were men in senseless patterns lay,
The tenants of the valley of the shadow.
Let paintings of that scene be hung upon the wall
In rooms where governments decide if men should stand or fall.
We’d never go to war again if leaders had their say
While looking at the valley of the shadow.