Hidden Freedoms

Child of Empire, he freely starved in Valetta
Free to resent the many fat priests
Free to go
Desperate, hoping

Stowaway to Istanbul
Free to be beaten by the Ottomans
Sent back to hunger
Not stopped yet

Stowaway to Britain
Set loose in Imperial London
Free to prosper
Free to work

Free-diver repairing Brighton’s Pier
Freely volunteered in 1914’s Expeditionary Force
Free to marry, to be British
Free to stay

Forty descendants, freely British
Freely given gifts of a Maltese boy
Seven fought in British wars
Immigration can be a free gift

Copyright © 2017 Kim Whysall-Hammond

Written for Today’s National Poetry Day, which this year has the theme of Freedom.

As usual, when given a prompt or theme, my mind heads off slightly askew. This poem tells some of the story of my Maltese Grandfather. He came to Britain as a stowaway with nothing, found welcome and work. We need to remember how many of us are descended from people like him — and to remember to allow others similar freedoms.

9 thoughts on “Hidden Freedoms

        1. He made sure I could quickly swim 3 times the length of a troop ship. Said it was the way to survive a sinking once in the water. He told me that he’d been on a torpedoed ship in WW1. He then sailed to Canada and back in WW2 (we trained pilots in Canada as it was safer). I can only imagine how that felt at the height of the U-boat menace!

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            1. I am struck by the ease with which he found a place in Britain, but my husband (an historian) has pointed out to me this morning that one of the thing all Empires do is suck people into the centre and make then part of the whole.

              He also said a colonial empire (Britain as opposed to ancient Rome) also flings surplus population out to the edge —which is, I guess, what happened to your ancestors.

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            2. Yes, I think it would be “class” cleansing, similar to “ethnic” cleansing. For a long time Australians used to be ashamed of having “convict” ancestors. when they started researching family histories in the 1970’s onward, it became clear that many of the convicts had committed relatively minor crimes simply trying to feed their families. I have a written a poem I shall pubish soon about a 12 year old boy who was “transported” for stealing a pound of suet. His descendant in Auckland who was an experienced researcher, had a very hard job tracking down his history, due to the family’s efforts to hide the conviction. The poor were certainly cleared out of the way where possible.

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