Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stop for a Second, while you're painting your Spitfires...

With all my Bag the Hun 2 activity doing a bit of research and poring over the lovely lead from Dom's Decals and Raidens.. when I read that Air Commodore Pete Brothers had died at 91.

He was a member of RAF 32 Squadron in 1940 who I'd seen interviewed in the Spitfire Ace  Documentaries (youtube) and who took a last spin (below video) at the controls of the "Grace Spitfire" at almost 90.

I got to thinking bout the greatest generation with the recent loss in the UK of the last Great War Vets and how much Owen and Sassoon contributed to how WWI was remembered in commonwealth countries., how poetry might move beyond generals and maps to touch on horror and futility

I'm in the middle of reading Dennis Wheatley's War Papers Stranger than fiction and started on T.C.G. James' The Battle of Britain (Royal Air Force Official Histories: Air Defence of Great Britain, v.2) (v. 2)
and recently read about the "taxi taxi" man in the battle of the atlantic.. Dark and desperate days indeed.

What poetry was around those few of 1940? this is just a start:
'The Few' by Edward Shanks



Now is this the last stronghold, defended only
By a frail handful of thistledown machines,
And now depends on these strange, unknown young men
Our inmost life.

But surely we have known them,
Our sons, our nephews, friends of our sons and daughters,
Gay and amusing, welcome in our houses
We knew them when the stronghold was their play-ground,
Young men to whom their land had given her plenty . . .
Tea on the airfield lawn, the light bird-chatter
Of young girls dressed like flowers, the casual flip,
Taking a dozen counties in its span,
The sports-car back to town, the cocktail bar,
Dinner, a show, the dancing and the laughter. . .

Till Cinderella's midnight, when the gong
Called for a change of lights, the flower-hues faded,
The bird-chatter was stilled, and they stood out,
Changed to our eyes in the livid glare of danger,
Separate in their blue, strange and unknown.


(but not aloud)

I am not gone so far away
That, even in my battle-place,
Through rifted cloud I cannot see
Spread dim below me England's face.

The woods that look like clustered weeds,
The chessboard fields, the pin-point spires,
Sun on familiar windows, even
Faint smoke of autumn garden-fires.

Since this I ride is English air,
I have not gone so far away:
From this new world I still can see
The world I knew but yesterday.

And I can see beneath my feet
The paths where not so long ago,
Before the summons came to me,
Your feet and mine were wont to go.

O new-wed wife, I am not far !
Even from the garden that we knew
You yet may see my frozen trail
Looped white across the blue.



The time will come when Ocean shall resume
His ancient sovranty upon this isle,
When all our glories shall deep-plunged be
Under a lonely sea,
And wide across this many-peopled room
The waves will roll again, mile on blue mile.

Then, not till then, the tale shall go untold
Of how the cloudy battlements were manned,
How when the gathering thunders rolled
And all the world else stood apart,
We waited, trusting in a little band,
We waited, taut and breathing close,
Till, when those vultures came to peck our heart,
Proud as a flight of swans the fighters rose.



This was their kingdom, the air, and it bore them like kings,
And they were the shield for us all who dwelt under their wings.

Brief had their lives been until then, nor much longer endured,
But just for so long as the need, till the end was assured,
This they gave up as a ransom, that we might go free,
Richness of days not yet lived, all the fullness to be,
The joy of life's long slow achievement, the race and the prize,
The peace of the ultimate evening, before the light dies.

All this they burnt up in a moment, the young men, the kings,
Who guarded this land in that hour by the might of their wings.

No gift have we now we may give them that weighs what they gave,
But the clouds of our skies shall entwine them the wreath for their grave.


Remember Me (By Beaman)
( I was gratified to find this recently written. they'ŕe not forgotten today.

Stay sleeping my love, for I’m not here long;
I want you to be strong:
The angels are singing and calling my name,
This soul they do proclaim;
I’ve come tonight my dear to say goodbye,
And for a brief moment with you close lie.

We ran to the planes, when the bell had rung,
A rushing of the young,
The smell of daisies, mixed with engine oil,
Drifted amongst our toil;
Cries of encouragement, we shouted out,
‘God bless! For our country!’ Strong hearts devout.

I’ll miss the soft touch of your crimson lips
That did my fears eclipse;
Those pale green eyes, that filled my every thought
Will soon be but distraught.
Sumptuous streaming hair, heaven’s perfume,
My yearning for you now does hope consume.

We rose as one, a blanket of aircraft,
I wish we could have laughed!
The engines roared and the wind groaned outside,
Below the ground did hide,
Beams of luminosity, danced round about,
Inside our cockpits, some feeble redoubt.

I’ll leave you with my wings, oft so proudly worn,
To give our child unborn,
One day tell him that his father had to leave,
But please don’t let him grieve.
‘I fought above England’s fertile pastures green,
So that you my son could flourish serene’.


Biggin Hill 1947

On Weald of Kent I watched once more
Again I heard that grumbling roar -
of fighter planes, yet none were near
and all around the sky was clear
borne on the wind a whisper came -
though men grow old, They stay the same
and then I knew unseen to eye -
the ageless few were sweeping by.

- Harold, Lord Balfour MC(Bar) Maj, RFC, RAF(Rtd),9 Victories,
Under-Secretary of State for Air, 1938-44


High Flight

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds...and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of...wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.

And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Pilot Officer RCAF.
Killed aged 19, 1941.

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