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Poetry of Direct Personal Experience
Our Collection of Aviation and Military Poetry

Honourable Discharge
David Lockyer 2012

 (A true story in honour of an anonymous rear gunner) 


Dishwasher gurgles, clock tocks…  seemingly louder.

Outside, a plane drones  - holidaymakers unaware of any irony -

Cars pass, sparrows squabble and squall in their noisy way.

But this is personal, internal:  this eleventh hour poppy stillness… silence.


His final flight… the bomber lands, taxes in.

The engines feather no longer meaning danger… stutter into cooling.

The tail gunner extricates himself, his keepsake out-performed death.

Miracles can rest.

In the rear for all those raids, he’s looking forward to

Optimism out of uncertainty, fireweed from rubble.

Not only the Lancaster has shut down.


Years calendar on: work, leisure… what there is of it;

Courtship, marriage, children, grandchildren;

Hopes, intentions, fulfilment, disappointment

Wartime as hushed as two minutes remembrance.

Even the night-frights fade.

Things best left in the past are left there… so it seems.


Then, after fifty years: more war, in the Gulf… news via the T.V.

U.S. Bombers close their target… immediate… in-flight photography.

Out of nowhere, like an enemy fighter,

His long peace is raked from nose to tail.

One of those modern bombs explodes an old mine in his mind.

Emotions contained in iron, buried in deep pits, surface:

Upwelling raw ores, gushing crude oil.

But weeping, sobbing… uncontrollable, inconsolable

Make these metaphors real.


Talking, doctors, psychiatrists, sleeping pills…

Nothing, no one, can Red Adair the force of repressed recall.

Race of tracer, whack of flak, slash of shrapnel

Flare, vibration, concussion,

Every shudder from all the fear in the plane.

The hopelessness and awful relief as other aircraft fell

That long look downwards from his tail end bubble

Getting there, getting back…  in one piece, in enough pieces.


The bomb craters do not fill.

The engines do not rest.

The flashbacks continue like air raids.


Then… he joins a museum party:

War memorabilia, recollection, diary, anecdote,

Spitfire, hurricane and…. Lancaster.

“Can I touch it?” he asks.

“I’ll have a word,”  the unexpected reply.

He walks to the turret

His loneliest place on Earth confinement.

Beside him: a ghost crew; in step with his trepidation.

Uncertainly his fingers reach out, touch… and do not burn

His mind doesn’t detonate again.


Lays his forehead against the Perspex

Something discharges.

Something lighter-than-airs his virulent memories.

He is free, free of repressing, free of daring not to recall

Airworthy again.


I was not there, grew up with my father’s Eighth Army reticence,

But this is still personal, internal, this eleventh hour poppy silence.

The clock bell booms. I stop, committing to the quiet.

I touch the Perspex.

I see through

And in the stillness, something discharges to me.


Submitted to Aircrew Remembered by David Lockyer. David holds the copyright and permission must be sought to reprint, thank you.

rear gunner

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 • Last Modified: 26 May 2014, 08:07