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

Battle of Britain
David Lockyer 2012

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.

303 squadron pilots

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 • Last Modified: 26 May 2014, 08:08