Canto 9: Manoeuvrings


What trouble is beyond the rage of man?
What heavy burden will he not endure?
Jealousy, faction, quarelling, & battle,
The bloodiness of war, the grief of war.
Sophocles


 

A New Rome

The Generalissimo took supper,
Settl’d in his leather with Chianti,
Imagining sat with Calphurnia
Discussing tribal Gaul’s hostility;
His brilliance
Unecho’d in the field,
Valletta’s fine defence him offers meagre yield.

Churchill builds strength in wily stealth –
East of Cyrenaica
The forces of the Commonwealth
Cross Egypt’s ancyent border,
In fiery line & perfect health
To claim an Uttica –
From Bardia & dune-sunk lunar sands
Drove Italy’s panic-stricken warbands.

Pride-swallowing Mussolini
‘Neath Hitler’s stern voice squirms,
“Fuhrer! help me! my grand army
Rack’d with retreat & worms!”
“Of course, my friend, but in the end it must be on my terms.”

Rome
December
1940


 

Churchill’s Stoicism

Those fairy-lights which grace Piccadilly
Each christmas are, this year, black’d-out bomb-rough,
Who’d have thought that war could raze a city,
The shape of things to come comes soon enough;
Up Churchill rose,
In whom all hope intern’d,
Thro’ him resistance flows, thro’ him the worm has turn’d.

Aft breaking fast with steak & wine,
He inspects old London town,
His passage clapping people line,
A rallying, “Are we down?”
On all sides, “NO!” “We shall be fine!”
“God bless King George’s crown!”
“Whatever Goering hurls us from the air,
We’d rather die in London than despair!”

P.M. returns to pens & lamp,
Still sirens stretch & roar,
The shelter damp, an aide-de-camp
Asks how they’ll win the war,
“Fight on & hope America walks thro’ our open door.”

Whitehall
December 10th
1940


 

A Daring Escape

“I must avay into the big wide world!”
Sang survivors of the down’d Luftwaffe,
Beyond the wire the last soil layers curl’d,
Behold brave Oberleutnant Von Werra;
Fellow escapers
He bids auf weidershein,
Then offs for fresh capers, to steal himself a plane.

Brassy bold at the police station,
“Sir, my name Captain Van Lott,
I’ve crash-landed my Wellington,
Another plane must be got…”
To an airbase promptly driven,
Suspicion soon grew hot,
“I’ll check your credentials with Aberdeen,
There’s a war on you know…” our man, unseen

Slips thro’ the toilet window slick,
Sprints to a Hurricane,
Whose engine’s tick its mechanic
Sets off… sat in the plane,
An officer aims his pistol right at Von werra’s brain.

RAF Hucknall
December 20th
1940


 

Death of Eleanor Stemmler

“I’m delighted to tell you Frau Stemmler
A sanatorium has been founded
With facilities to help your daughter…”
“They will take good care of my beloved?”
“I’m sure they will,
All prospects beckon fine,
Now if you could just fill these forms in & then sign…”

Eleanor enter’d the abbey
Breathing air quite crisp & clean,
Hippocratic morality
Sacrificed to cleanse the gene,
Guaranteeing supremacy,
Small matter of hygiene –
When feeble-minded deem’d unfit to live
By eugenists no doctor could forgive.

She went out her for a country ride
With excited patients,
Cool monoxide hard pump’d inside,
When closed the precious vents,
She died crying, “Momma!” fingers scraping desperate dents.

Hessen
Christmas Day
1940


 

A Second Daring Escape

Train scythes thro’ Canada’s Arctic semblance,
Within, German captives clamour for ‘go,’
Persistence pays, Von Werra sees his chance,
Knocks black bars out, dives head-first into snow;
Such moments come
For those who dare be bold;
The frail breath of freedom turns misty in the cold.

Trekking thro’ freezing wilderness,
Warm’d by determination,
Light-twinklings his endeavours bless,
From the banks American,
The long Saint Lawrence thaws her dress,
Channels ‘tween ice floes run;
A rowing boat stolen without an oar,
So sets it drifting for the safer shore.

Footfall… to some old folk he drew,
“Is this Amerika?”
“Why yes, but who the hell are you?”
“I am an officer
Of the German Air Force… I am… I was a prisoner!”

Ogdensburg
January 24th
1941


 

Desert Fox

As Rommel took first steps on Afric sand,
All about servants of the fiasco
Load ships, evacuation was at hand,
Arms strewn as if by Trasimene’s flow;
He cocks his cap
Thigh-cracks a riding whip,
“Someone get me a map, I want to take a trip.”

His plane flew lofty on the tour
Of simmering hot Syrte,
Sang some nomadic troubadour,
“What beauty & how ghastly!”
Italy flees along the shore
Yon mud-baked Benghazi,
“We shall form a fresh defence line down there!”
With that they whip back westward thro’ the air.

Between palm-leaf lined boulevards
Parades the Werhmacht grey,
Like picture-cards, ev’ry ten yards
& what a hand to play,
When his aces, the Panzers, have arrived to join the fray.

Tripoli
February 14th
1941


 

Family Tradition

Bruce Slater struggled with the tractor key,
His right arm nigh useless without a hand
Whose bones lie pick’d clean at Gallipoli,
Buried up Anzac Cove, under its sand;
Then came on his
Son Shane with feisty spring,
“Pop, back down in Alice, the army’s recruiting!”

Tough silence overcame the scene,
Roughly broken by Bruce spit,
Altho’ these moments long foreseen,
His Heart-strings still twinge a fit
& tho’ his barely barely nineteen,
“Go son, go do your bit!”
Shane whoop’d with joy, hugg’d his tann’d father,
That night they tuck’d in the Bush together.

The fire crackles as the stars
Sprinkl’d light thro’ the murk,
They talk of wars, Bruce shows the scars
Inflicted by the Turk…
“Son, soldiery is one days fighting for five weeks of work.”

Northern Territory
April
1941


 

The Axis

Von Ribbentrop receiv’d Matsuoka
At Fuschl, gatehouse of the grand Alpine,
The war is won,” stated over dinner,
“Strike now & England’s empire will be thine!”
On Berghof peak
Hitler waited calmly,
“This moment is unique in all of history!”

They found him in a warlike mood
& Spring’s rejuvenation,
“Brother, when battle is renew’d
This won war will be well won,
When if ye act upon thy feud
With Rooseveldt’s nations
I promise thee Germany shall assist,
& smash those Allies with our Axis fist.”

A gasping captain makes him jolt,
& Matsuoka smile,
A lightning bolt, “The Serbs revolt,”
A demon spits its bile,
“Then we shall bathe their babes in blood & burning corpses pile.”

Berchtesgaden
July
1941


 

Birth & Death of Brian Davies

How joyous when a newborn cries its first
& suckles glibly on its mother’s teat,
Whom with his father’s swelling pride-to-burst,
Them understanding life its sweetest sweet;
Wild sirens sound,
Death soars in from abroad,
Bombs battering the ground along the old Mill Road.

What did you think of life, my child,
Before that bad bomb’s striking?
Thy little ward all whitely tiled
I hope was to thy liking,
Murmurs of conversation mild
Spear’d by tearful scriking,
& that warm milk you seem’d to quite enjoy
For those few minutes, you & Lawrence Foy.

“Ee-ya, la! They’ve bomb’d nan’s chip-shop!”
“Bloody, bastard fokkers!”
& still bombs drop, caught on the hop
Huskisson’s poor dockers
But most of all slain babies names remain e’ermore to shock us.

Liverpool
May 4th
1941


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