Canto 18: Deadlock


This hungry war opens his vasty jaws
Shakespeare


 

Desert War

Only the blind and stubborn hope to track
This wilderness. The thoughtful leave their bones
In windy foodless meadows of despair
Sidney Keyes

Rommel retreats into Tunisia,
Romantic lands of Hannibal’s Carthage,
Scrapp’d out by Roman, Vandal & Berber,
Inspiring War, beautiful War, to wage;
Then takes his last
Glance over Africa,
The vital days are pass’d, now to face Der Fuhrer.

Our young Sumner enters a room,
To bivouac there nightly,
Sauce bottle moved, boobytrap <BOOM>
The poor sod copp’d a blighty…
Soon led thro sad hospital gloom,
Leg sawn off at the knee,
From clench’d fingers the surgeon eas’d his gun,
Tom stared back blankly, “Yer goin’ home son!”

The Via Balbia is strewn
With hulks & jerricans,
The Arabs’ boon, from sten to spoon,
Bedecking caravans,
Nearby… Anthracite corpses rot forgotten in the sands.

Libya
May 15th
1943


 

Chindits

As pair of lamplit eyes camp in the skies,
“Boss, up there, its a Wellington bomber,”
Breaking cover to bring them fresh supplies,
Harass’d by the rat-a-tat & motar;
The call to go,
Swashbuckling nigh complete
Sharing out the ammo they rise on weary feet,

Then set forth forth for India
Form detachments small & sleek,
With the crazed Japanese soldier
Playing games of hide & seek,
All their mules & oxen hayster
For the’d all grown too weak:
Behind, the jungle’s cool neutrality
Had left, for them, a kind of victory

Hacking rough paths thro’ Jungle dense
By webs & drooping snakes
Tho tired & tense their fine-tuned sense
Always the right road takes
Til one-by-one they burst upon their goal as thin as rakes.

Irrawady River
May
1943


 

Dambusters

Europa’s moon looks brilliant tonight,
Peaceful apart from the lilted whirring
Of Lancaster fleet in full & well-form’d flight,
Splendid rows of Rolls Royce engines purring;
Wheeling around,
They face the Molder Dam,
Where with a whooshing sound a bouncing bomb did slam

Aslant the pane, leapt up & dipt
& spun for a thousand feet,
Like flat stones on a flat sea skipp’d
Twards monolithic concrete,
Then with a monstrous thunder ripp’d
A gaping hole quite neat,
Thro’ which a vast torrential ‘gan to pour
Into the vital vallies of the Rhur.

She’d heard a pretty whirring sound,
She turn’d & she did pray,
Wild waters bound across the ground
Her screaming swept away,
With cars & trees & homes livestock reeling in the sway.

Mohne
May 17th
1943


 

Lost at Sea

After the death spelt out in headlines, after the gains
Broadcast by the dispassionate voices,
Comes word to a village
John Pudney

***

Freda & Rose arriv’d at the butchers,
Sov’reigns & ha’pennys stretching round the back,
Where, as they went shuffling to the counters,
Foze Freda by a vision of ‘er Jack;
Pellucid glow,
Flank’d by blue guardian,
“Rose, love, we’ve gotta go… forget bloody bacon!”

Boy soldiers play War midst sandbags,
Down Cog Lane a telegram,
Some Azrael along the flags…
Maggie drops ‘er jar of jam,
Flush-hot, slips on her pumps & rags,
Rush’d out to find ‘er mam…
Collar’d with Granny flappin’ down the street,
For sev’ral seconds cold hearts lost their beat…

“Our Jack is missing, presumed dead!”
The ‘ole street ‘eard ‘er shout,
Base fears that fed on common dread,
Calamity & doubt
Are rude-releas’d into the world while scrikin’ ‘er eyes out.

Burnley
May
1943


 

Secret War

At England’s heart there stands a splendid house,
Both Oxford & Cambridge equidistant,
Grounds hush’d more than a sleeping harvest mouse,
The fine façade stately & innocent;
But step within,
A new world is reveal’d,T
he day’s work shall begin for England’s unseen shield.

Crack team of elite specialists
Work hard on the ENIGMA,
Chess masters & cryptologists,
An expert crossword puzzler,
Mathematicians, star linguists
Brought from America,
To decode the unbreakable machine…
If Germany but knew she would go green!

“With but one panzer division
Reserve in Sicily,
The battle’s won before begun!”
She pour’d a pot of tea,
“As Sun Tzu said, To win a war first know thine enemy.”

Bletchley Park
June
1943


 

Invasion of Italy

“What is it all for, love & peace & war,
When both the wide way’d Earth & Man’s action
Remain as constant as the Northern star?”
Muse three old, mid-day crones down the station;
Their wise old eye
Translates the censor’d news,
Watching the trains pass by pack’d with Palermo’s Jews.

From harbours of Tunisia
Arab maidens sang goodbyes
To a fabulous flotilla
Form’d to ferry the Allies
To sandy old Sicilia,
Neath luscious sommerskies,
Overwhelming the unprepared beaches
Of shell-shock’d, co-axial defenders.

The scenery invokes the gleam
Of early Punic Wars,
When first the dream, by hawk Tireme,
Floats yon the Roman shores,
Spreading Hellenic legacy – cultura, learning, laws.

Panormus
July 10th
1943


 

General Patton

Patton hot-steps upon the Gela plain,
With shoulder-pads & ego equal wide,
Ambitious utterly for this campaign,
A contest perfect for his buxom pride;
His bow unbent
No foeman could withstand,
As Axis soldiers sent skidaddling inland.

The general struts ‘cross the stage
In a shiny, armour’d car,
All round his green swards come of age,
Death’s incisions maim & mar,
Envisioning a full front page
Lures him like a lodestar,
“Step to it boys, come on, the Truman Trot!”
“Geeze boss, five miles an hour, its far too hot.”

The city chants, ecstatical,
“Down with Mussolini!”
Once beautiful the capital
Of citrus Sicily,
In war’s rough wake looks dead & lifeless like a leafless tree.

Palermo
July 23rd
1943


 

Escape from Colditz

Bligh look’d upon the verdant Molden vale,
Sheer schloss serenely firmamentward shoots,
So foreboding he grew a chloric pale,
Heart sinking to the bottom of his boots;
Oflag IVC,
Cold castle for bad boys,
Broad gates bolted firmly with such soul-scarring noise.

Oer the claustrophobic courtyard,
After evening’s cramp’d apell,
He watch’d the patterns of the guard,
Felt familiar feelings swell,
“I’ve made a plan, it sounds quite hard,
But best give it a bell!”
He told the season’d escape officer,
“Yes, good luck, it’s time we hit another…”

Nigel appear’d quite debonair
In German uniform,
Snook down the stair with perfect care,
Dropp’d where bright flashlights comb,
Brush’d off the dust, saunter’d outside & headed off for home.

Germany
July
1943


 

Turning Tide

When the all-clear sounds- he falls fast asleep,
When reveille sounds- he jumps up like a nail…
When the signal is ‘advance!’ he advances
Aleksandr Trifonovich Tvardovsky

***

Kertsch morphing from hope to emergency,
Its little instigator keeps his cool,
Whittling away this news from Sicily,
“It must be a feint, they think me a fool!”
”Turn from assault,
From now spurn all attacks,
In Balkan hills we’ll halt the Allies in their tracks!”

With all reserves from the coop flown,
The Wehrmacht cuts its losses,
Their Eastern Front by barrage blown,
Then sliced in two by sappers,
All round them enemy hath grown,
Asiatic faces:
A Turkestani waves the red flag high,
Storming the bridge ice-shrapnel splic’d his eye…

…so drops the flag, soon brandish’d proud
Wave’d by some Kamchatkan,
Pick’d from the crowd, a bullet cloud
Slays in decimation –
Flag rais’d by an Irkutski, always forward to Berlin!

Suska
July 12th
1943

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