Canto 8: Battle of Britain


God of our fathers, what is man!
That thou towards him with hand so various…
Temper’st thy providence through his short cause
John Milton


 

Alderangriffe

Black Bentley slinks thro’ Royal Tunbridge Wells,
Crunching begravell’d roads to Calverly,
At Four A.M, punctual as hotels,
Into dark morning’s ill-lit mystery
Out steps Dowding,
Man at the Air Force helm,
Appointment by the King, ‘Defender of the Realm.’

‘Sir,’ was chauffer’d to the centre
Of his Operations room,
“Morning girls, what news the weather?”
“Clear from Deal to Ilfracoombe!”
Cathode BLIPS were growing louder
Bulbs scarletting the gloom,
Models traverse imaginary air,
The stick-work of a master croupier.

“…forty… sixty… eighty… & more
Bandits fast approaching
The Southern shore…” with clammy claw
Pluck’d thistle struck Dowding,
“Send five squadrons to intercept,” his ties unloosening.

Biggin Hill
August 13th
1940


 

Royal Air Force

Crackling speakers announce men to their fate,
The summonstir to scramble & to fly!
“Queen to Bishop seven… that’s check & mate!”
Squeals Ginger up to Squadron-Leader Bligh,
From “Tally ho!”
To cruising thro’ blue skies,
With bold “Bandits below!” they swoop to scoop a prize.

“…in the field of human conflict
Have so many owed so much
To so few!” O how hearts were prick’d
By Churchill’s Tyrtaean touch,
“You know, Nigel, we shan’t be lick’d!”
Both of their spirits such
They crave the day, & that day’s victory,
As if they wait for Spain off Tilbury.

Bligh conducts a daisy-cutter,
Keen to renew the fray,
No time to dine, a swift woodbine,
“A wizard show today!”
The ground crew shout, “She’s ready Nige!” to cockpit, “Chocks away!”

Kenley
August 15th
1940


 

Bombing the Reich

They watch’d the wonder of the Milky Way,
Where Phaeton’s crashing chariot did scorch
A splash of stars awash with Hera’s spray,
Like glitter in the trail of Luna’s torch;
As mondenschein
Silvers the cloudy seas,
Wings steely aquiline float on propeller breeze.

Xaver basks in chic revelrie,
Infesting the late night bars,
Vesta’s disturb’d tranquility
As the sirens sound for Mars,
Flak throws up bright hostility
Where searchlights sweep the stars…
“O what disgraceful form of War to wage!”
Storm sleep-robb’d about shelters in a rage.

She crawls outside to count the cost,
Picks up the sky-pamphlet,
The War is lost while you are boss’d
By Hitler’s cabinet!”
“Now they have started something!” “Der Fuhrer shall finish it!”

Berlin
August 28th
1940


 

The Blitz

In fight for life found class distinction fades,
dying never showed a discriminating face:
serge or barathea alike to Hun or death
Peter Fahy

***

The scales are tilting from Fighter Command,
Real, empty seats at meal-times ev’ry day,
How terrible the strain upon that band,
Then here they come again, the cross & grey!
Twelve hundred planes
In eight-square miles of sky,
Bringing still-burning rains to churn the old Thames dry.

At the exposed heart of Empire
Has the world curtail’d all sense?
Sirens squeal & children cry a
Lament for lost innocence,
Mason’ry crumbles into fire,
Here Andersson’s defence
Lies mangl’d in a corrugated heap,
Beside the mess charr’d infants seem asleep.

The half-lights shine beneath the ground
On tunnels & platforms,
Tho’ songs abound sleep passes round
These snoozy, fidget dorms
Of whiskey, fags, soft sneaky shags & hopes for lonely homes.

Kings Cross
September
1940


 

Death of Sue Johnstone

Altho’ night fell the pigeon flocks took flight,
Docks shining with an eerie daytime glow,
Upspurting flames, the stark stench of cordite,
Those flailing falling rafters row-on-row;
Above them all
Those gutsy men still came,
Relentless to their goal, that capital aflame.

Beyond the bonnie estu’ry
& its looping curvatures,
Each anti-aircraft battery
Pointed accusing fingers,
A bubbling, peasoup cemet’ry,
Devilish defences,
A lottery, but at thy number’s root,
You’d better bag yersel’ a parachute!

Her blazing staircase made her freeze,
The wailing flames arrive,
Upon her knees, thro’ smoke-full wheeze,
“At least the kids survive!”
Clutching slow-melting teddy bears a young mum burnt alive.

Poplar
September 16th
1940


 

Battle of Britain

Paladin Goering hurls his armada
Currying English airmen to demise,
Another Phlegra, another Zama,
Unfurling upon frail, blue meadow skies;
“Now is the time!”
Ring-fingers fist a THWACK!
From Cherbourg to Trondheim the Luftflotten attack.

Nigh on ev’ry plane was scrambl’d
As the bloody crux was fed,
What battle royale entangl’d
Thro’ the smoky swirl-skies spread,
When the fate of Britain dangl’d
On such a slender thread?
“Unless this loss of pilots soonest staunch’d,
Tomorrow must see the invasion launch’d.

Christ-blood streams from a crucifix
Rain’s onto streets aflame,
Firedrake antics, like sixty-six,
But this time Lady Dame
Shone brilliant defiance as wave after wan wave came.

London
September 15th
1940


 

Bligh’s Capture

There is a heat at the heart of battle
Which only the heroical may bare,
Molder’s aim unlooses brutish rattle,
Sends Ginger smithereening into air;
Life-scything cry
Peals from that pilot’s end,
Poor Squadron-Leader Bligh has lost his perfect friend,

So fell upon the Major’s tail
A bleak, red mist descending,
Lets off such lethal eight-gun hail,
It seem’d t’were never-ending,
Such rages yet condemned to fail
‘Gin such skilful wending…
For in pursuit of vengeance being blind
His native shores of safety left behind.

Some sharp-eyed coastal battery
Hath clipp’d the wings off Bligh,
His chute <THWACKS> free, proclivity
Drifts slowly thro’ the sky,
Down to field-waiting muzzles with a bitter-season’d sigh

France
September 19th
1940


 

The Living Blitz

As sirens fire, up to his office roof,
For visions halieutic Norman climbs,
He’d lost too much at cards, so rose aloof
From crude & clutter’d fleshpits of these times;
As was his right,
Special immunity,
Felt he, death’s chances sleightest in the vast city.

Perusing London’s ‘Bright Young Things,’
Play ‘No Man’s Land’ twyx dances,
Sense-numbing battle slowly brings
Growing insouciances,
Borne stubborn by phlegmatic wings,
Tea-time in the manses,
As all, through the capital panoply,
Grew calm, as sleep panope in the sea.

“We share such bloodymindedness,
If Hitler thinks we’ll crack,
He’ll find in us the kind that does
Not kowtow to attack,”
Thought Norman as a cautious chauffer roll’d into the back.

London
September 26th
1940


 

Destiny of War

Refraining from his guttaral bombast
Hitler convers’d calmly over luncheon,
“The season for a sea-invasion pass’d,
We continue the bombing of London…”
Such sad truth aired,
“This war now beckons long,
Tho’ unfully prepared our will shall prove too strong.”

“England” spoke thwarted conqueror,
Cousins willing to admire,
Has subjugated India
With far superior fire,
Her Raj precursoring Russia…
But… her global empire
Must be destroy’d when all the fighting ends,
When all I wanted was to be their friends.”

“Russia!?” says Hess in stark surprise,
“Why yes, it has to be!”
Divining eyes gaze to the skies,
Our one true enemy,
Whose rabbits must be swiftly slain or chain’d in slavery.”

Berlin
October
1940


 

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