Canto 46: Phoney War

There is now once more a Germany with which England must reckon as an important member of the European family of nations.

Freiherr von Reheinbaben


B.E.F.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
Henry Reed

What happy breed of men cheer’d off to war;
Geordie, Scouser, Taffy, Scot & Cockney –
Shepherded yon the Cornubian shore
By Captains of His Highnesses Navy;
Unfit to fight
First-class modern conflict,
Like Agricola’s might stormdashing naked Pict.

They sail’d around Amorica,
Dodging periscopic glare,
We’ll hang out our washing on the
Siegfried line!” flits thro’ the air,
Human paraphernalia
Landing at Saint Nazaire –
Where vital lines of communication
Criss-cross precious strings afloss a nation.

Tommy Sumner fingers the dust
Coating the farmhouse grey,
Bland ketchup must, bayonet rust,
Hand grenades & Nestle
Spoke volumes while invoking occupants of yesterday.

France
September 13th
1939


Vae Victis

Festival terms charming to exstasi
The breathless followers of his visions,
Hitler’s vast voice soars over victory,
“The Almighty Lord has bless’d our weapons,
Surrenders wrung,
We suffer sleights no more!”
Poland – the very young victims of ‘Total War,’

Whose citizens now garden-weeds,
Their modern-age conqueror,
Now rules, he says, subhuman breeds,
Whose anthem plays no longer,
“In these fields we shall plant the seeds
Of our German future,
But first we must defeat the Western foes!”
He orders an attack before the snows.

Towards the front the Russians race,
Usurping spoils of war,
Vast empires face in that same place
Where they had met before…
Hands shaking ever warily like when men meet their whore.

Brest Litovsk
September 17th
1939


The Dogged Finns

Stalin shades in East Poland pencil black,
Studies the subtleties of the buffer,
Senses good well the Nazis could attack
Thro’ the passes of Scandinavia;
Thus to the Finns
He offers ‘fair’ treaty
Six small airbases wins friendship with Muscovy.

At Helsinki’s curt rejection
The blood of the Russians rise,
Dismissing the Jus Gentium
Leningrad fills with supplies
For one brief march Karelian,
A splendid exercise,
As light of hearts to battle strong men go
Up to those husky regions busk’d in snow.

As columns press the border posts
A dog-fierce enemy
Like vengeful ghosts rake Russian hosts
With bear-hug enmity
& bullets glaz’d in freezing haze, all sides the foemen flee.

Finland
November 30th
1939


Graf Spree

Albatross scythes thro the furrowing sea,
Nine helpless British merchantmen her pray,
Sinking each ship with a broadside fury,
The Altmark streams the survivors away;
In full steam haste
The English warships sped,’
Amidst the tackless waste hunter becomes hunted.

Three fast cruisers catch up with her
Off the prize-rich River Plate,
Kruppsides cripple the Exeter
But to duel at this rate
Could see the others destroy her
She flees, but is too late,
A shell from the Ajax blows the bridge sky high,
Panic! Mayhem! “Shnell! Schnell! To Uruguay!”

She sails form the harbour’s haven,
The English lie in wait,
An explosion, the scuttle done
Herr Lansdorff shares her fate,
In time honour’d tradition, for a captains shame is great

Montevideo
December 17th
1939

Winter War

Christmas comes & goes without a victor,
The warring nations weld this strangest truce,
The only battles broker’d by Russia,
Slipping a violent neck thro’ Finland’s noose;
Her Red Army
Check’d long the whole frontier,
Foe fighting stubbornly, belief relieving fear.

“Be strong & quit yourselves like men,
Make Death proud, proud to take you,”
Finns cry as Russians push again,
The many against the few,
Trying to gouge the front open
Against their heart’s sisu,
Dancing the dance of death between the trees,
‘Schwip-Schwip’ they went, ‘Schwip-Schwip,’ snow-skimming trees.

Stalin sends in the Betka tanks
Along the forest trails,
Onto whose flanks these furclad ranks
Unleash a lethal hail,
Of victory brew’d in the flames of molotov cocktails.

Finland
January 12th
1940


Stalemate in the West

The Phoney War is raging at its height,
Both sides conduct a fierce leaflet campaign,
Sometimes patrols skirmish into the night,
Sometimes a ship slips neath the Spanish Main;
What tensions rise
Each time Hitler aborts!
Unheterlan Allies content to man the forts.

Twisted steps are swiftly taken,
Thro’ Nazi racial doctrine,
A Pole told she is now German
As her Ahnenpass stamp’d clean,
Resisting pacification
Leads to but one mean scene –
Rotting husbands rocking at the gallows,
Bandsmen drowning bays of wailing widows.

Gallant little Belgium proclaims
Her arm’d neutrality,
Sidestepping games, chief of her aims,
Avoid hostility!
But selfishness breeds weakness says the court of history.

Europe
January 15th
1940


Finland’s Fall

As Russia floods the Reich with oil & grain,
The Reich returns full train-loads right on time;
Munitions, tanks & the modern warplane,
To help them pierce the stalwart Mannerheim;
One million men
Launch a grand offensive –
Tis now not if but when that bastard front must give.

Thick furs fire at fifty paces,
But for ev’ry man they slay,
Five more Ivan took fresh places,
Five fresh men to hold at bay,
Sheer exhaustion etch’d drain’d faces,
Working both night & day…
Desperate Sisu holding grimly on,
But in the end, the brave end, War’s are won.

Yes War! the ancyent arbiter
Of disputing nations,
Whose proud victor may cast censure,
Politic’s extensions,
For battlefield diplomacy drowns converse with it’s guns.

Helsinki
February
1940


Swing Youth

Not every German struts about like Geese,
Some have prefer’d to swing the jinx away,
That unencumber’d, evergreen release
Teenagers feel when real musicians play;
Eurythmical
Each gramaphonic scratch
Comblendeth mystical new music without match.

Young Xaver Stemmler caught the drug
& his hair grew awfa’ long,
Goes wiggling thro’ the jitterbug
& in English sang along,
When puffing like a paddletug
Settling himself among
The seats, he smokes a cigarette, or two,
Sits back & swoons, impassion’d, at the view.

‘In here there is no Nazi yoke,
In here feel liberty,’
He lit a smoke, he drew a toke,
He blew the white rings free,
While on the floor lush fraulines laugh’d flush with frivolity.

Berlin
March
1940

Conquest of Norway

Their native rock gript, from the Skagerak
To the Arctic Circle, by German hands,
Their soldiers withering neath the attack,
Their King harras’d by bombers thro his lands;
The Norwegians,
Hardiest of races,
Subjugated by Huns for mere coastal bases.

Millenial neutrality
Lay slain by Teutonic sword,
King low sighs & quits his contree,
Crosses oer the Romsdalsfiord,
At Tromso’s bomb’d out harbour quay
Hustl’d quickly aboard…
All round men of London’s fail’d strategum.
Those cold, damp troops who lost him his kingdom.

An eagle dipt across the day
Watching destroyers lurch
Beyond A bay, subdued & grey,
Climbing the skies in search
Of lofty throne, took seat, held Norway entire from the perch.

Galdho Peak
May 3rd
1940

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