The Poetry of Julian Grenfell: Prayer for those on the staff

Audio footage and explanation of the poem

By Samuel Cooper

Julian Grenfell in uniform with his DSO ribbon
Letter to his mother: 'Glad you liked the "Staff" poem. It had a great success out here. Punch would never take it, because of its religious tone'

Prayer for those on the staff

Fighting in mud, we turn to Thee

In these dread times of battle, Lord,

To keep us safe, if so may be,

From shrapnel snipers, shell and sword.

 

Yet not on us – (for we are men

Of meaner clay, who fight in clay) –

But on the Staff, the Upper Ten,

Depends the issue of the day.

 

The Staff is working with its brains

While we are sitting in the trench;

The Staff the universe ordains

(Subject to Thee and General French).

 

God, help the Staff – especially

The young ones, many of them sprung

From our high aristocracy;

Their task is hard, and they are young.

 

O lord, who mad’st all things to be

And madest some things very good

Please keep the extra ADC

From horrid scenes, and sights of blood…

 

A war poet not without humour

 

‘Prayer for those on the staff’ is a satirical poem that Julian Grenfell wrote after refusing a position as extra ADC (aide-de-camp) because, he said, his regiment had too few officers.

He uses an obvious yet effective juxtaposition of his difficult job as a soldier on the front to the relative safety and ease of work for the generally aristocratic ‘Staff’. He ironically claims that the issue of the day depends entirely on ‘the Upper Ten’ and that ‘their task is hard’. He finally asks that God might keep the Staff from ‘sights of blood’, more or less at the expense of protecting the soldiers, inferring that, simply, they would not be able to handle it.

This page was added on 23/06/2011.

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