Reginald Skinner—Notebook Poetry

A poem from Reginald Skinner’s prison camp notebook

Reginald Skinner’s prison camp notebook contains seven full-length poems. (See “Reginald Skinner—P.G. 59 and Beyond.”)

The poems are:
Reflections of a P.O.W.
The Fireside Fusiliers
The Mirage
The Long Range Desert Group
A Father’s Story to His Son

Reginald did not record the authors of the poems, but some of the poems appear with attributions in other prisoner’s notebooks, most notably Robert Dickinson’s “Servigliano Calling.”

“Reflections on a P.O.W.” is in G. Norman Davison’s diary, and the same poem also appears in “Servigliano Calling” with the shortened title “Reflections.” See “Camp 59 Poets.”

In addition, “The Mirage” and “The Fireside Fusiliers” are in “Servigliano Calling.” All three poems are credited there to Cpl. D. Nevitt. (See “The ‘Servigliano Calling’ Poets,” “‘Servigliano Calling’ Camp Poem #8,” and “‘Servigliano Calling’ Camp Poem #10.”)

Of course, it’s entirely possible Reginald wrote some of the poems in his notebook himself.

Reflections of a POW

Outside the snow has fallen
And it’s freezing hard and good
Or maybe it’s been raining
And it’s inches thick in mud
You’ve just received your dinner
But it’s only made you feel
A little bit more hungry
So you say roll the next meal

You think of food in England
For you’ve nothing else to do
And then your back starts itching
For the lice are standing to
You then strip off your clothing
Sit upon your bed of straw
And loudly curse this country
And you say roll on the war

You think of your own bedroom
No vermin to be seen
Of prewar days in Blighty
And of what you might have been
You think of what could be worse
Than a prisoner of war
And then you think of Libya
And your pals who lives no more

You see once more the desert
The scorching sun on high
You hear again the shrapnel
And the bullets whistling by
You see your comrades falling
As they hold the Hun at bay
And you do your best to help them
As their lifeblood ebbs away

You thought you were unlucky
Until this crossed your mind
That vision of the desert 
And the boys you left behind
Yet really you were lucky
For you’ve still got your life
And you think of her in England
Not a widow but a wife


It’s a common thing in Civy Street
To always have a moan
And you never seem to appreciate
The things that go with home

You even moan at home-cooked food
And in general moan about life
And little did you realize
That you had seen so little strife

Then this thing called war arrives
And you had to go and fight
That’s when you start to appreciate
The sweetest things in life

So all you lads now remember
In future when you moan
And to remember to your dying day
There’s no place like home sweet home

That no matter what your troubles are
And you are feeling blue
You are always bound to find
Folks worse off than you.

The Fireside Fusiliers

I’ll tell you a story
No matter who you be
Of a bunch of spineless guzzlings
Way across the sea
They have no guns or rifles
They shed no blood or tears
For they’re conscientious objectors
The Fireside Fusiliers

While women serve in the navy
In the army and air force, too
The only jobs these men will do
Are the ones where there’s no fighting to do
Their ranks have been getting thicker 
And longer for over two years
And now there’s about 50,000
Of the Fireside Fusiliers

I believe they have a medal
That’s one they call their own
And it’s pasted bright green and yellow
Designed by a woman at home
It has in the centre a white feather
And a cure for cold feet appears
And the motto of self-preservation
That’s the Fireside Fusiliers

The pubs are their defense
And the bar their firing bay
A billiard cue their rifle
And they practice every day
When Jerry’s been defeated
they go looking for souvenirs
Then tell you how they won them
That’s the Fireside Fusiliers

Now Sailors daily risk their lives
To bring the rations through
For there’s 50,000 of them
Not just a score or two
And when the war is over
And we are once more drinking beer
Let’s hope we meet some of them
Fireside Fusiliers

The Mirage

Was on a lonely desert outpost
Where the sunburnt sentry lay
Looking out toward the Jerries
Not so very far away

The flies for miles around
Converged upon that lonely spot
And the burning sun above him
Made the yellow sand red hot

For three hours he lay there watching
But he didn’t mind that day
For he’d just received a letter
From three thousands miles away

For thirteen weeks he’d waited
Waited very patiently
And, now at last, it had arrived
That note from o’er the sea

From the girl whom he had married
Some seven years ago
And their little baby daughter
How he adored them so

Such a lovely little kiddie
Just six years old last June
But old enough to scribble
Please, Daddy, come home soon

And as he lay there looming 
Across that barren land
The desert disappeared
And he saw another land

Instead of stifling desert air
There fell a cooling breeze
And instead of rock and sand
He saw green fields and trees

He heard the whistling of birds
Not the buzzing of flies
And he saw a babbling stream
Where the wadi lies

He saw a little village
And a cottage on its own
With roses round the doorway
The place he knew as home

And he saw himself sitting there
Such a peaceful sight to see
With his wife right beside him
And his daughter on his knee

In those days he was happy
And he wished for nothing more
But now all that was over
For since had come the war

And then he’d joined the army
For duration he had signed
He got sent out to Egypt
And left his wife and child behind

And as he thought of Egypt
Away went all his dreams
The trees the meadows
And the sparkling stream

He heard the flies around him
As he lay upon the sand
Serving his King and country
In that God-forsaken land


When day is drawing to a close
And evenings shadows fall
When flowers nod in sweet repost 
We hear the night birds call

These from a tree on yonder hill
Comes drifting o’re the vale
The sweetest tune you’ve ever heard
The song of the nightingale

The partridge calling to his mate
Across the new mown hay
An owl is hooting by the gate
As you wend your homeward way

Then slowly o’re this peaceful scene
The moonbeams shed their light
Here peace along reigns supreme
As day turns into night

The Long Range Desert Group

Far, far across the desert 
Midst the sand and dust
Enduring all the hardships in creation
Exists a noble band who the natives ought to trust

For keeping them from complete extinction
They live upon the desert, they sleep upon the sand
Where the night wind chills the very souls
Of the men from the motherland

No cheery fires to warm them when the sun has gone to rest
No comfort to pass the weary hours away
They halt where darkness finds them
To await the dawn of another day

After weary hours of darkness
After hours of troubled sleep
The dawn begins to break a dismal gray
The sleeping camp awakens as the sun begins to peep 

Across the shadowed sand dunes 
Where they lay
From the cheerless light of dawn
Through the torrid heat of day

Their work goes on
But their spirits never fail
And after weary hours of travel their hearts are always gay
Though they’ve left behind a long and dusty trail

Some of these boys will never see that homeland shore again
They are resting now beneath that silent waste
But they will always be remembered, pals will love them all the more
Though death has left behind its bitter taste

But still they go on fighting for the cause
Keeping England’s standard flying high
Until the day they are victors of this war
And happiness complete for all is nigh

A Father’s Story to His Son

Sit down my son, I’ll tell you a story
Don’t worry it won’t take me long
You’re reaching the age of man now
And it will teach you not to go wrong
As a civvy* I was never hungry
I ate all I could when I chose
My life was a model of order
I always took care of my clothes
As a soldier I looked for promotion
And tried to be upright and true
Believe me when I tell you
The army’s the best place for you
As a prisoner the first year was hell
The camp, the life, the food
And when I got my self-respect back
I tell you, it did me some good
The moral of this little rhyme, son
I want you to see, if you can
Don’t complain and keep clean and honest
And never let down the old man

*Slang term for “civilian” 

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