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I rarely do requests (well not in a blog!) but international bog-trotting superstar, long time friend and climbing partner Dave Salter asked for a poem. It’s not ‘Poetry Please’ so I’m not going to get all lyrical and record a reading. I’m sure that’s a relief to many readers!

So here is the verse inscribed on The Regiment’s clock tower at The Lines in Hereford (and has become known as ‘the SAS poem’):

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further; it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
Across that angry or that glimmering sea.

The verse is an extract from Flecker’s Hassan … The Golden Journey to Samarkand (1913). Flecker (1884-1915) was educated at Cambridge and Oxford and only got as far as consular service in Istanbul and Beirut before he died from Tuberculosis at the age of 30.

The extract from Flecker’s poem ( full version here) reads

THE PILGRIMS :

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea,
White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lives a prophet who can understand
Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.

There is no evidence that Flecker ever saw Samarkand, but the execution of Conolly and Stoddart in Bukhara in 1842, and the publication of an account of the event by Wolff in 1845, and the ensuing public outcry, would have fallen within Flecker’s formative years. Perhaps that is what inspired him.

The connection with The Regiment and the inscription on the clock tower in Hereford is more tenuous. Flecker and T.E. Lawrence were friends in Beirut in 1911, and Lawrence had photographs of Flecker in Arab dress. There is a suggestion that David Stirling whilst working with Lawrence may have been inspired by a quote in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926) where Lawrence paraphrases Flecker “they were not soldiers, but pilgrims, intent always to go the little farther”. It’s also been suggested that Stirling had a liking for a phrase within Hassan : “But who are ye in rags and rotten shoes, You dirty-bearded, blocking up the way“? However, the suggestion for the inscription came from Dare Wilson, who served in Palestine and commanded The Regiment in the 1960s.

But enough of the history lesson. My own Golden Journey to Samarkand, dreamed of since I was about 14 or 15 when I read about the Silk Road and the overland bus journeys (the so-called magic bus) to Kathmandu, is complete. I walked into the magnificent Registan an hour ago to watch the sunset. Khiva was the aperitif, Bukhara an appetiser, but Samarkand is the main course complete with silver service, cut glass and champers.

I’ll leave the last line to Flecker:

VOICES OF THE CARAVAN : in the distance, singing
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand

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