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

Before dark morning’s ill-lit mystery,
Black Bentley slinks thro’ Royal Tunbridge Wells,
Crunching the gravel road of Calverly,
White villa echoes to its butler’s bells;
Behold 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

“Queen to Bishop seven… that’s check & mate!”
Squeals Ginger up to Squadron-Leader Bligh,
Now crackling speakers call them to their fate,
The summonstir to scramble & to fly!
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,
“Spot of dinner?” he join’d Ginger,
“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,
These steel wings 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…
“What a 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,
Fresh 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,
Besdie the mess charr’d infants seem asleep.

The half-lights shine beneath the ground
On tunnels & platforms,
Tho’ songs abound sleep passes round
These e’er fidgeting 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,
& all those falling rafters in a row;
Above them all
Those gutsy men still came,
Relentless to their goal, that capital aflame.

Yon Thames’ 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,
& soon the flames arrive,
Upon her knees, thro’ smoke-fill’d wheeze,
“At least the kids survive!”
As clutching lovely teddy bears their mother burnt alive.

Poplar
September 16th
1940


 

Battle of Britain

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

Nigh on ev’ry plane was scrambl’d
As the bloody crux was fed,
In battle royale entangl’d
Thro the smoky swirl-skies spread,
Where the fate of Britain dangl’d
On such a slender thread,
Unless this loss of pilots sooner staunch’d
Tomorrow sees the invasions be launch’d.

Christ-blood stream from its crucifix
Rain’d 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;
Death-barber’d cry
Peals from that pilot’s end,
For Squadron-Leader Bligh has lost his bestest friend.

He fell upon the Major’s tail
With bleak, red mist descending,
Let off such lethal eight-gun hail,
It seem’d t’were never-ending,
Yet rages are condemned to fail
‘Gin such skilful wending…
For being blind in pursuit of vengeance
He’d almost flown atop the shores of France.

Some sharp-eyed coastal battery,
Blasted the wings off Bligh,
His chute <THWACKS> free, proclivity
Drifts slowly thro’ the sky,
Towards those 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 sleight in such a 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.

France
September 26th
1940


 

Destiny of War

Refraining from his guttaral bombast
Hitler convers’d calmly over luncheon,
“The season for the sea-invasion pass’d,
Then let us continue bombing London…”
A sad truth aired,
“This war now beckons long,
Tho’ not fully prepared our will shall prove too strong.”

“England” spoke thwarted conqueror,
Cousins willing to admire,
Has subjugated India
With far superior fire,
Her Raj precursors our Russia…
But… her global empire
Must be destroy’d when all this 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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