Canto 21: Warfaring

Older men declare war, but it is youth that must fight & die, & it is youth that must inherit the tribulations, the sorrow, & the triumphs that are the aftermath of war
J E Hoover



The darkest hour is that before the dawn,
By Slavophilic internecinum
Along the Valambrossa freight trains blown,
Halting at the sidings of th’abysm;
What ghastly smell,
Foul & nauseating
Ill-welcomes them to Hell… “Line up for delousing…”

They come to where the Grunfeld’s stood
& choose the two old fathers
With Heidi pale, whose thinning blood
That daily weaker courses,
All hugg’d & kiss’d the best they could
Until they kick’d Moses,
Yanking three kinsfolk from good family,
Put on the path to ash-eternity.

Stripping naked, they march to where
A sweet ensemble play’d,
“Why do you stare?” punching the air,
Brick chimney… all hopes fade,
Two brothers face death hand-in-hand, breath poison’d as they pray’d.



The Great Escape

We dared to hope against the spoken word
And even when their names were there to see
We couldn’t quite believe what we had heard
Denis Mackarness

Many months of muddy perspiration
Has built unto this tense, dramatic night,
From cramp’d passages subterranean
Seventy three men crwal into moonlight;
One muffl’d cough,
A sentry makes the find!
Deliverance is off, one hundred left behind.

Scattering in all directions
Bold as brass & sly they snook,
Til shoddy documentations
Watchful volk & sheer bad luck
Has denied their demonstrations –
Fifty thrown in a truck,
Twenty serv’d a severe smack on the hand,
Only three reach all-elusive England.

The truck halts at a remote spot,
Fifty file out to piss,
A mauser shot, their stoumachs knot,
“What the bleedin ‘ell’s this?”
Hitler’s machine gun vengeance, smoking muzzles spit & hiss.



Slave Labour

The sick bay was Heaven itself
An oasis for its inhabitants
In a desert of inhumanity & grief
Maria Joffe

They drew them from the children of Dachau
Four corners of a suppliant empire,
Mere animals to pull the Nazi plough,
Dragg’d thro a steadily stagnating mire;
Slow work’d to death,
“Such waste to slay early,
Until it’s dying breath it can make you money.”

Thetis spat out a freezing spray,
Soak’d those thin rags on Sergei,
Whispering to himself each day,
“You must survive… do not die!”
Busying round a windswept bay,
Sand sticking in the eye,
Burying scores of deadly little mines
According to Rommel’s murd’rous designs.

How girding was each night to hear
This sweet canary sing,
End drawing near, thro’ death & fear,
Patient & enduring,
“Turn it up Stiltski…” “…World service… the Russians are winning!”

Jan 15th


Soldier’s Homecoming

For it’s the same old story,
There’ll be no jokes when you come back
And little bloody glory
Timothy Corsellis

The soldier may be taken from the War,
But that War will never leave the soldier,
Into Rosegrove the train roll’d… as a door
Flung ope, there stood worm-eyed Tommy Sumner;
His only leg
Tip-tapp’d onto platform,
He paus’d, roll’d up a fag & hobbl’d his way home.

He was a simple, honest man
From streets pluck’d ordinary,
Out-serving the ferocious span
That was his ‘Tour of Duty,’
But home was where the hate began,
Twas alien country –
The fate of Western civilisation
Depends on jam, suet, spam & bacon.

Tommy carried little Lucy
To bed & said, “Goodnight…”
“Goodnight,” said she, innocently,
“Why did yer ‘ave to fight?”
“To save the world from one bad man, go sleep or he might bite!”



Love’s Bond

The moon was full & the night rippl’d fair
For the homecoming of Monsieur Merlot,
Drifting gently on cushionings of air,
Dogs barking in the farmyard dark below;
Piercing the night
Shone a secret beacon,
Bright-flickering flashlight of his destination.

With wonderful euphoria
Feet thump back on native ground,
Poetical adventurer,
Unborn children to astound…
Welcoming this paratrooper
The Maquis gather’d round…
For their lovely leader, Miss Innocent,
A concupiscent angel had been sent.

“Pierre!” “Veronique!” cheeks embrace,
Love shares its desp’rate cling,
While passions race the jaundiced face
Of Constance simpering
Distorts to monstrous maelstrom… blister’d with twisted feeling.

May 29th


Escape in the Jungle

Shane Slater sat cracking his teeming lice,
Emaciated, weakend with fatigue,
Sustain’d by friendship & handfuls of rice,
Laying this damn’d railway league after league;
“You are cowards!”
Brave men told ev’ry day,
Ramm’d home with fists & swords slicing ensanguin’d spray.

Poor Alfred, half dead with disease
(Most thought he’d nearly had it),
Shown piles of rocks, “Coward! move these!”
He tried but could not do it,
So tied between two supple trees,
A sweep… the rope is split-
Terribly tearing his torso in two,
Back upright went those bent trunks of bamboo.

Shane snaps, a ghost looking aghast,
Soul shares his friend’s death-pain,
So broke & dash’d, the bullets pass’d
A bee’s dick from his brain,
Three miles of jungle flash’d by ‘fore he saw his thigh’s bloodstain…




It may be said that we tackled wherever we could,
That battle-fit we lived, & though defeated,
Not without glory fought
Henry Reed

With certain gen’ralry new thought took hold,
With growing doubt comes disillusionment,
Der Fuhrer naught but bemustach’d cuckold
Upon der Fatherland’s destruction bent;
“…Stalin soon here…”
“…We must agree a plan…”
“…our sacred country steer from that deadly madman!”

Having lost both an arm & eye,
Tho’ mind in prime condition,
Von Stauffenburg, willing to die,
Gneis’nau’s dashing great-grandson,
Responded to the sacred cry
Of this secret mission,
“I’ll do it if you guarantee the coup!”
“Assured, but first there’s one thing we must do…”

Von Falkenburg & Steulpagnel
Pour’d Rommel a fresh Schnapps,
“Just your name will avoid civil
War & Deutschland’s collapse!”
He thought awhile then gave it, “He’ll be martyr’d” “Yes, perhaps…”

May 27th


Agony of Command

Two empires allied since the Peace of Ghent
Combine to strike a rival from the Earth,
Into low landing crafts their soldiers went,
With rifle, helm & ammo-belted girth;
Reading, smoking,
Enjoying life’s sweet breaths,
Of their loved ones thinking or conjuring their deaths.

Eisenhower bore cognizanze,
‘Supreme Allied commander,’
His charges set to march on France
Depending on the weather,
Jan Mayen charts the likely chance
Of skies sweeping clearer
Upon the sixth… to risk it don’t know…
What do you think Monty?” “ I would say… go!”

The sirens of the Norman shore
Broke his indecision,
“But war is war, I won’t say more,
My thanks to everyone,”
& looking at his wrist-watch in an instant he was gone.

Southwick House
June 4th


Denial & Destiny

Across Ribbentrop’s desk scorches ‘the sixth,’
He has the spy sack’d as a dissident,
“Heavy seas must deny that narrow width,
Generals peel
Their presence from the shore,
Went playing at Kreigspiel, lost in an unreal war.

From the auld Roche Guyon castle,
Duke Rochefoucourt’s stately seat,
Bound a happy, bouyant Rommel
Like the cat who got the treat,
With the promise of no trouble
Drives smiling down the street,
His wife shall get a gift on her birthday,
Those front-line tensions half-a-world away!

Upon the fringes of the Reich,
Fair coast of Normandy,
The Naiad psyche draws Friedrich
To sunset-colour’d sea,
“I am ready,” heart thumping free, “to die for Germany!”

June 5th

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