The Poets and the World War: "Breakfast" by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson
This is a very short poem by Wilfrid Gibson, one of the founders of Georgean Movement in poetry. At this time of the evening (European time) in many houses the televisions are switched on and the screens are filled with football and other sport matches. The supporters are probably arguing and complaining about the coaches' latest choices and perhaps thinking of what they have betted (the winning team, the final score, the score at the end of the first half... well, the betting business is a little bit changed if compared to the war time and more complicated). More or less a "similar" situation we find in this shocking and atrocious poem (a triolet if we borrow the words from poetry metrics). The protagonists are recalled in the middle of a sport bet. Of course the differences are huge: they lie while eating breakfast and they only bet with a rasher and a loaf of bread. It's breakfast time, so morning time, when Ginger dies. The moment of the death has often a particular meaning in warfare and in war poetry. We hear the screech of the shells passing overhead, at the beginning and the end of the poem. As for the names, these might be mere inventions of Wilfrid Gibson, since there are not records of a team with the name of "Hull United". Anyway, in the notes of The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry edited by George Walter, we read:

"However, Hull City Reserves and Halifax Town both played in the Midland Counties League and met twice in 1914 - on 3 October and 12 November - so one of these matches may be what Gibson has in mind".

This poem is really a shocking and incisive example of the crossings of everyday war life, friendship and some echoes coming from the life far from the trenches in form of sport matches.


We ate our breakfast lying on our backs,
Because the shells were screeching overhead.
I bet a rasher to a loaf of bread
That Hull United would beat Halifax
When Jimmy Strainthorpe played full-back instead
Of Billy Bradford. Ginger raised his head
And cursed, and took the bet; and dropped back dead.
We ate our breakfast lying on our backs,
Because the shells were screeching overhead.