Mike Subritzky

Private Basil H. Pulford
Private Basil Pulford
Served on Gallipoli, and later took part in the Battle of the Somme

In Memory:
ANZAC 12/2824 Private Basil H. Pulford
6th Hauraki Company, Auckland Infantry Battalion, 1NZEF
1886 - 1954

UP FROM THE FIRE-STEP

They were rum faced, blushing young Hauraki men
half pissed and smoking last cigarettes and fags in quiet groups
… in the jumping off trench. Young men from Waihi, Paeroa, Tauranga,
Te Puna, Katikati, Kopu and Thames.
Dutch courage be buggered, Nelson had it right all along,
this was to be his 9th time over the top… “jumping the bags,”
and the rum cut right through, and “cotton-wooled”
the terror that was to shortly come… and it would come;
they all knew it.

… When the whistle blast blew its shrill,
clear, unmistakable signal to all who heard it.
He was the third man up the fire-step ladder.
The crack and thump of a single rifle shot sounded
and the man directly above him pitched backward and behind him.
Then he was up, over the fire-step and running.

It was then that the machine guns commenced their swathe,
cutting through the men of the Auckland Infantry Battalion
in a wide and fiery arch.
He fell into a shell hole; rose covered in mud and filth,
and again was on his feet, bayonet fixed, nothing up the spout,
nothing in the magazine
… hunched over the empty weapon, clearly frightened,
while men fell in silent screams either side of him.
… and the din of cannon fire,
… and the hail of machine gun fire,
… and the crack and thump of those individually
aimed and fired ‘personal’ small arms shots smothered his world –
A world of chaos, blood, mud, filth and death,
… and everywhere the stench of burnt chemicals and mouldering death.

When the first wave reached the pill-boxes and other hard points,
that bastard wire had not been cut by the Artillery.
It was complete and intact…
They were forced to deal with each pill-box
as they came upon them.
… Hundreds died, and the Auckland Battalion,
once proud, professional and determined,
bled itself to a standstill against those bastard pill-boxes
… that morning at Passendale.

His trousers were ripped and torn
both from shards of exploded HE shells
that littered the moonscape that was Passendale,
and the uncut wire,
and his hands were bruised and bloodied.

For a time, he and several cobbers gathered
in the bottom of a shell hole and shared a couple of fags.
The Huns were firing to their left;
he removed his bayonet
and then fed two clips (10 rounds) into the magazine of his rifle.
Now he could do his job of kill,
a sniper since Gallipoli, none of this “centre of the visible mass” bullshit…
all of his kills were headshots. Helmet or Picklehauber
it mattered not.
Headshots on men who, minutes earlier, had been firing to kill him.

He continued to fire until the heat from his rifle
was burning his hands as he worked the bolt.
The rum had worn off by now, and groups of wounded and dying
were all about him.

… When the second whistle blast blew its shrill,
clear, unmistakable signal to all who heard it.
This time when he rose in faithfulness and fidelity,
not out of some act of bravery,
but being a Thames man, he knew that
for the rest of his life he would have
to walk down the town’s main street,
Pollen Street,
and face men and comrades
who were here and with him now… today.
… Men who had risen and moved forward,
at the whistles second shrill blast.

He too rose and ran forward with the other Thames men
and never heard the round that smacked him
high in the chest… the centre of his visible mass.
The round spent itself punching its way through the four
slung bandoliers that he was wearing.

250,000 Empire soldiers died in that battle,
but he was not to be one of them.
After 18 hours unconscious in a shell hole,
the British Medics found him during the battlefield cease-fire.
… Some snot-nosed ‘Lance-Jack’ yelling
“Oi Sir, I reckon this one’s goin’ ta make it… he’s a Kiwi.”
Private Pulford was passed down the line that next day.
… and lived.

Written for the December 2005 IWVPA Club Theme Project, “Fidelity

Subs,

You honour your Country and your Countrymen – these are wonderful words of courage and glory – they help to tell the untold Kiwi Story!

Thanks for sharing this historical tale of courage – you have immortalized (in poetic words) this brave man Basil Pulford and that is as it should be my friend.

Great writing – great tribute to an unsung hero!

Blessings
Billy Willbond
January 10, 2005