I was born about a year adrift, and resulted, from war’s end.
Suckled on, nurtured by, I played beside
Austerity and rationing and aftermath.
Our Co-op number became a friend.
As soon as I could – I read the comics of the few:
War tales told in the fifties and sixties; pictures first,
Pictures being more decipherable
And later the speech bubbles, like replacement crew.
I devoured them as flames devoured cockpits.
It’s safe to go to war in comics, vicarious understanding
No lasting damage, no obvious surgery.
Your eiderdown provides a cushioned flight and landing.
I absorbed Christmas shown war films too,
As traditional as crackers or mistletoe.
All black and white courage and disguise fear with banter
Celluloid man, screen only hero.
Caught in this false lining of good and evil
- The American western basking on the front line -
I didn’t ask my father enough questions
And lost the answers; never made up time.
Maybe he would anyway have kept them sealed
They were his after all, hard won possessions
He’d rather have given away but
They could never be mine, even willingly revealed.
Sometimes, when the weather and our grate throbbed with heat,
And after toast and butter, my sisters and I
Were told tales and anecdotes like Dickensian ghost stories
A kind of family history treat,
Edited by my parents.
Near missies from shrapnel a few doors away
Neighbours sons who never came home
Diving for cover when Stukers barred the way.
Close pre-war friends who went down with ships.
Ringing scorpions within a moat of petrol and igniting
Going to work at a hospital not that far from goods marshalling yards
A prime target for bombers geligniting.
Later I sensed that’s why my father wept
When he took our pets for putting down.
Our strays did not seem to live long
Before their inevitable one way sortie to the vets.
Maybe he was taking his war time anguish there
In a basket, hoping for the last time,
Sharp memory wetness roaring to the surface.
And my mother going still behind a stare.
They told us tales, anecdotes of abroad and home
But I heard whispers in the darkness behind us too
Where the fire cast shadows that danced without a tune
Nightmares of the scars of having come through.
Cenotaphs, local memorials, though always on display
Are just like putting things in drawers or cupboards
To be taken out for festivals of reliving memories.
Overlooked, though present day to day.
Knowing nothing of the terrors, the joys,
The anxious bravery the exhilaration
The deepest, unstitched rake of cannon fire through the heart
I have built the plastic planes, the fighters and bombers
And hung them, dog-fight, on my bedroom sky
Suspended them from strings and well armed
Played at taking part. I fought the Battle of Britain, tableau
Mine a simple plan, under my command.
My few didn’t lose a single man.
Life on the big drop of learning quickly, barely having learned to fly,
Uncanny awareness, personal survival touch, an owl-like scan
Skill, thrill, spill; paupers, princes, kings
Flying between luck and brilliance and sixth sense agility -
No landing ahead if they were not sitting on your wings.
Supermarine, Hawker Heinkel, Dornier, Junkers, Messerchmitt
Lancaster and Wellington super weapon things.
R.A.F. and Luftwaffe frozen in plastric
Before, during and after hostility
Both flights and imagination made of plastic stuff
Maouvred second hand and never diving deep enough
Into the realities of cockpit agony.
My yelps replaced the screams that knew death was harvesting
With airfuel fire shot into each breath.
My analogue offering to ghosts in shadow.
Submitted to Aircrew Remembered by David Lockyer. David holds the copyright and permission must be sought to reprint, thank you.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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• Last Modified: 26 May 2014, 08:08 •