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image for Fred Jakes' World War One poetry to be celebrated War is a splendid time to relax and write poems

Perhaps the most famous of the poets of World War One, Fred Jakes, is to be celebrated in a special service in the Somme this weekend. Jakes died there just seconds after the 1918 ceasefire which signalled the end of the war, from a bullet wound he had sustained a few minutes earlier.

Jakes was a serving private in the trenches of the Western Front, where he wrote many of his best poems. Many of them were saucy, but showed the humour of the common British Tommy.

He first discovered he had a talent for poetry after one of the many "variety nights" which were common entertainment throughout the Front. There, the troops could have a fun time and share their love of theatre and poetry. Jakes performed for the first time a poem which would become a well-known war-time favourite, "Big Kraut weapons".

Big Kraut weapons
Pounding our trenches
I can smell the sausages burning
My buttock unclenches.

Like many of Jakes' poems, it is full of innuendo and unsettling rhymes. Of course, Jakes only had one buttock after his left one was lost during a German shelling attack in early 1915.

Another of his most famous poems is "My Helmet", which commemorates his friend Barry who sadly died after an unfortunate trip to Paris.

Every day I polish my helmet
It's shiny just like liquorice
Barry forgot to keep his clean
Now he's dead from syphilis.

Finally, here is one of the last poems that he wrote in mid-1918, which celebrates the great war weapon which helped lead the Allies to victory. Simply called "Tank", it is also one of Jakes' rudest and was censored for many years. At last it can be published in its entirety.

I climbed inside a metal box
To rest and have a wank
To my surprise the box had wheels
I'd stowed away in a tank

I hid until my great release
The first time in many years
But sadly then the tank stopped sharp
My mess clogged up the gears.

Truly he was a genius of the subtle innuendo, not like today's "blue" comedians.

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