I live in the heart and spleen of long abandoned territory
From here, their wartime home, in death machines,
Youthful uncertainty thundered out from aerodrome to lean glory
Or one way plunge into the silence of senseless eternity.
All those planes, gunners, pilots, course plotters, ground crews,
Bomb aimers, the busy business of battle, all long silent too.
Men and women played out their joy days in games of reality and chance
Danced with exhausted limbs and loss, the dice always tossed for them.
That war’s long shrivelled, though its semi-conscious seeds still sprout,
More potent and more remote, more bitter and more sour
Stumble into cankered leaf and disfigured flower
Without any greater wisdom, with as much unheeded warning.
But grass still needs taking off, and this is such a morning.
It takes over an hour to cut the lawn – short, backyard and sides,
The motor throbbing its mission of green demolition.
The handler almost rides, reopening neat walkways
Vaguely aware of as yet some out of date premonition.
It’s a journey of sorts, upping and downing.
As you slip round the cowslips: garden gate crashers, but welcome.
As you turn the corners to come back again.
As you change course for the next target zone.
Once you’ve begun, all the grass asks is that you stick to the task;
An abandoned haircut does not make good grooming.
And, not far from wartime runways, your mind wanders.
It’s not a Merlin engine. It’s not a Rolls Royce.
Underneath there is a propeller of sorts.
But something changes as you circuit;
As the routine becomes autonomous
Something hazily synonymous
Winds you in like a goat grazing round a stick.
I empty the load.
It’s eight hours to Berlin and back, wind accepted, if you make it.
Even the tension is in a state.
Superstition, your real armour plate
(Some limp all the way home to crack at the very last.)
Heavy metal roaring blasts them into mad airworthiness,
Pounds the airscrews into spinning
Deafening, deadening, demented pounding.
Clamorous, clangourous, relentless pounding.
Hounding inertia towards capitulation.
Each Lanc drones its triple load: crew, fuel and bombs
Taxies to takeoff;
A cruel journey with a reasoned explanation.
Metal shouldn’t fly. My mower doesn’t even fly along,
But cruises its impossible runway, made of curves,
Until the last blade of grass is shorn… or overlooked.
The bombers shake and rattle. Rendezvous, by the book
At cruising speed. Barely leave their own land,
Cross the channel, before accurate flack
Demonstrates that metal doesn’t fly.
And later, equations of tracer fire from German aces,
Lancasters losing course, endorse it.
I empty the load.
A thousand planes make an unbelievable din
Halifax and Lancaster become one noise to rule all noise
Hurl tumultuous Bedlam from the clouds
Awesome over British ears,
Over German: too easily imagined fears.
I am wound inwards to the centre and the last blade downed.
Life flailing in flames. Falling apart, they leave the sky unwillingly
Slow motion annihilation that happens neither waltz nor foxtrot.
Or, as reluctantly, drone on towards devastation – then home.
The bombs explode, some still on board.
I empty the bomb bay.
When those that return, a little faster now, to land and disembark,
The four engines silent at last, they must continue to throb
Mission bells that cannot stop vibrating.
Of course I mow in daylight.
The odd large stone my only enemy.
I switch off my meagre mower might.
I have destroyed, yet enhanced.
The lawn will scramble and begin to grow.
I survey the garden and its flower show.
My bombs didn’t kill everyone.
Did burning Berlin have a distant beauty of its own?
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, 08:11 •