You told me, in your drunken-boasting mood,How once you butchered prisoners. That was good!I'm sure you felt no pity while they stoodPatient and cowed and scared, as prisoners should.How did you do them in? Come, don't be shy:You know I love to hear how Germans die,Downstairs in dug-outs. 'Camerad!' they cry;Then squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.And you? I know your record. You went sickWhen orders looked unwholesome: then, with trickAnd lie, you wangled home. And here you are,Still talking big and boozing in a bar.
One of Britain’s great anti-war poets, Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), published these lines in 1918 in his book Counter-Attack. A newly discovered draft of the poem indicates that he had to tone them down at the request of his publisher, Heinemann.
The original draft included the words ‘you're great at murder’ and ‘gulp their blood in ghoulish dreams’.
According to The Guardian, a letter accompanying the draft referred to ‘Canadians & Australians airing their exploits in the murder line’, adding: ‘I know of very atrocious cases. Only the other day an officer of a Scotch regiment … was regaling me with stories of how his chaps put bombs in prisoners' pockets & then shoved them into shell-holes full of water. But of course these things aren't atrocities when we do them. Nevertheless, they are an indictment of war – some people can't help being like that when they are out there.’
Sassoon received the Military Cross but threw it into the Mersey.