‘The sand of the desert is sodden red,’ wrote the imperial poet Sir Henry Newbolt in ‘Vitai Lampada’ of a disastrous nineteenth-century military encounter in Egypt –
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;
The Gatling’s jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
Half a century on, the Egyptian sands ran red again in the Second World War, and a very different poet, Keith Douglas, wrote – in more realistic vein than Sir Henry, for he was a combatant rather than an armchair spectator – of the grim sights of this new mechanised warfare.