In the poem “Route March Rest”, we follow the march of s company of Soldiers through a small countryside village. The writer uses this setting to illustrate to us, how War travels and moves. The writer does this in several ways, using effective technique.
When “B company” are first depicted to us, we are told how they “march in staggered columns”, through the “lanes”. Lanes being a typical feature of the English countryside, “March[ing], through these “lanes”, however, normally the words used to describe the way you would pass through this sort of scene, would not be “march”[ing] in this way. Already, so early on in the poem we can see that “B Company”, don’t really belong there. They are depicted as a “machine”, that metaphorically, “clanked and throbbed”. Being described in this way, almost leads us to forget that “B Company” are in fact a group of Soldiers, who are also, human beings. When “B Company” are “march[ing]”, they become a machine, and this is how Scannell represents War in this poem.
We know from what we are told that the “men” are carrying weapons. Their “rifles” are described to us as “slung”. For an instrument of War, so powerful as a rifle, to be casually “slung” is also quite an effective way of evoking the horror of the War. Also for us to be aware that there are Soldiers, carry rifles, in such close proximity to young school children, is also quite shocking.
In the poem it is not clear weather or not the sight of the men in the village is unusual, however, they are described to be wearing, “helmets”, and “boots”. With them they bring the familiarities of the army, such as the “reek” of “leather” and “rifle oil”. These smells are described as being ” thick…on the body of the day”, almost as if the day is being smothered with the scent of the army and War. However it is made clear that the everyday features of nature and a villages, such as, “thrush and blackbird song”, could not be “stilled”. A typical element of the countryside, is not being diminished by the troops.
Whilst “B Company”, take a “rest”, and “fall out”, they “sprawl[ed]” or “squatt[ed]” on the “green”, another aspect of country village scenery. We are aware that this is a typical countryside village, because of the various features that we are aware of in this village, including, the “green…church” and “school”. We are to be particularly focused on the school, where as the soldiers, “rest”, the children in the school, are having their playtime, in their school “playground”. The “calls” of the children from the playground, are described to have, “sprayed”, over to where the soldiers are, The children are describes as being “bright as buttercups”. This suggests immediate innocence. The fact that the children are described in this way shows us that they are seen almost as something “bright” in a dark time, in world of war.
When the “platoon” rest, they watch the children and it is as if, the children and the army rest together, and for a moment, while the soldiers “fall out”, they are resting, and are not the “machine” of War. They are just normal human beings, like the children.
The children are soon “called” in from “play”, by a “handbell”. In the same way, the “platoon” must soon end their “rest”, too. When they do they are “ordered”, back to “march”, and are once again, they are “A long machine”. In this way, it is as if the soldiers are just like children, they are “called”, or “ordered”, and they do just as they are told, even a “machine” of War, must be “ordered” around, and disciplined, just as children have to be. They are part of a group, and when part of this group they are not individuals, they are all under the command of someone else, just as the children are under command from the teacher.
As they continue through the village, they pass the “marble plinth”, with the “roll of names”, a War memorial, from the First World War. The Soldiers notice this, and the general thought is that there are “too many” names, for the “small” village community. This is quite a sobering thought for us and the Soldiers in the poem, because it is almost as if they are training to go to War, only to end up as a name on a War memorial. A Memorial such as this is another common feature of villages, post-world war. In small villages it is more prominent how many young men from that small area have lost their lives in the War.
The ending of this poem is very effective, especially to evoke the horrors of War. In the ending, the Soldiers, as they march into the distance, can hear the voices of the children singing a hymn. The poem ends with the sound of their voices, being described as “frail sound”, which is “already fading, soon to die”. By this Scannell could one of two things. He could be referring to the sound becoming more faint as the Soldiers march further away from the school, or he could be intending a deeper meaning. Most probably in that the children who are singing, are already “frail” in this time of War and unrest. The last part of this where it says “soon to die” is the most horrifying thought, that these innocent children may soon die, because of the War these Soldiers are training to fight in.
In conclusion, Vernon Scannell, uses the setting of the English countryside to evoke the horrors of War very effectively. He does this by making parallels between the Soldiers and the children of the village, and by depicting the marching Soldiers as a War “machine”, marching and confirming the horror of War has arrived in this small “community”.