Auld rhyming lines not forgotten

Battle of Coru�a, where General John Moore died
Battle of Coru�a, where General John Moore died

IN October last year Moneymore reader Iris Stewart asked us to help her find the words of a poem that she learnt in the late 1950s in her old primary school.

It was called ‘The Burial of Sir John Moore’ and Iris could only recall a few lines.”

She told us that the poem “always seemed so very sad as Moore was buried at night, I presume in the battlefield.”

There was an enormous response to her request for the poem, including readers’ biographies of Sir John, and details of the poem’s Irish author, Rev. Charles Wolfe. Moore was a heroic General, mortally wounded in action in 1808 at the Spanish battle of La Coruña. He was hit in the chest by canon shot, a tragic incident reported by historians - “The shock threw him from his horse with violence, but he rose again in a sitting posture. A round-shot had torn a hole so deep in his left shoulder that the lung was exposed, the ribs over the heart and part of the collar-bone had been smashed, the muscles of the breast had been torn into strips and the arm was hanging only by the sleeve of his coat and a shred of flesh.”

In order not to prejudice the evacuation, Sir John was buried after nightfall, in secret, on the ramparts of La Coruña, described so movingly in Rev Charles Wolfe’s poem.

The poem, sent to Iris Stewart by many readers was printed here in full. Today I’ll repeat just the first and last verses:

Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,

As his corpse to the rampart we hurried;

Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot

O’er the grave where our hero we buried.

Slowly and sadly we laid him down,

From the field of his fame, fresh and gory;

We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone-

But we left him alone with his glory.

“On reading the poem,” said Iris, who wants to thank everyone who helped her rediscover it, “many memories came back to me of standing at the front of my school class reciting it. We had to be word perfect, as our headmaster was a very stern man. This was in the middle 1950s, and not having a TV, many a night was spent learning and rhyming it.”

She wonders now if News Letter readers can help her find another little poem - “Old Meg, she was a gypsy and lived upon the moors.”

Meanwhile Iris tells me she’s relearning the John Moore verses, which, over half a century since her first encounter with Rev. Charles Wolfe’s tragic lines “is very hard work!”