Over twenty years after the end
gardens still had hollow mounds
or curved corrugated tin domes half buried
some doing duty as tool sheds
many simply as they were
when the bombing stopped
full of the detritus of nights spent sheltering
while death flew overhead
Mounds and tunnels riddled
our playing fields
dry brick-lined hiding places
against bombers seeking factories
and factory workers
to blast and wreck
we used them for massive games of hide and seek
London streets had gaps, play spaces
festooned with stately spires of
purple flowers, amid mossy rubble
the occasional crumpled saucepan
so much broken crockery
As a child, our father collected bullets and bomb shards
watched fighters fall crashing out of the sky
and ran to collect souvenirs while the metal was still hot
I and my brothers knew wars last remnants
and played amongst ghosts
Copyright © 2019 Kim Whysall-Hammond
These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Follow’d their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.
Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
What God abandon’d, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.
by A.E. Housman (1860-1936)
To me, this poem is evocative of all those who do the dirty work for the rest of us. It is a WW1 poem, but also applies, I feel, to all those who fought in WW2, specifically to my Grandfather who fought in both world wars and his children: my Uncle who defended India, my Godmother who repaired Spitfires under enemy fire and her sister who manned (womanned?) the Barrage Balloons during the London Blitz. Plus my other Aunt’s American fiance who died at D-Day and all the young American boys my teenage mother danced with during the long wait for D-Day, and who she cried for as they left one night to take back Europe.
The mercenaries in this poem are actually the ‘Old Contemptibles’, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) of 1914— the professional British army before the rush of volunteers. The BEF was sent to France in 1914 to fight against the Germans.
She did not weep,
nothing so soft or poetic,
my grandmother sobbed long and hard
remembering war-crippled brothers, war dead father.
She had nursed soldiers, married one,
spent recent years in dread.
A few words on the Wireless,
a husband mustering with his gun,
and the nightmare returns.
As a child, thirty years later,
I saw hunger in her old eyes
a longing for security from fear
that she never lost.
Copyright © 2018 Kim Whysall-Hammond
For Ethel Maude Wellsted Brown (known as Maude), orphaned by the Boer War, Pharmacist during the 1918 Flu pandemic, wife and mother to Airmen and Airwomen. My beloved maternal Grandmother who married a poor boy from Malta and, despite the attitudes of the time, danced with black GI’s in Wiltshire as they waited to fight in D-Day and the liberation of Europe.
The photo is of her and her children in the mid-1930’s. The little girl in white grew up to be my mother. The three larger children were all in the RAF or WAAF in World War 2. They and their father came through the war unscathed.
According to my mother (who was eleven at the time), Maude sobbed for hours after the declaration of war was broadcast in September 1939..