LET IT BE HUSHED by David Raikes
Let it be hushed; let the deep ocean close
Upon these dead. Others may laud their parts,
Raise monuments of marble in their names.
But we who flew with them and laughed with them,
We other crews who, living side by side,
In outward contacts slowly came to know
Their inmost parts, who rather leave untouched
The wound we healed, the love we buried there.
These men knew moments you have never known,
Nor ever will; we knew those moments too,
And talked of them in whispers late at night;
Such confidence was born of danger shared.
We shared their targets, too; but we came back.
Lightly we talked of it. We packed their kit,
Divided up such common useful things
As cigarettes and chocolate, rations stored
Against a rainy day that never came.
‘And they cast lots among them!’ Someone said,
‘It was a pity that he wore his watch;
It was a good one, twenty pounds he said
He paid for it in Egypt. Now, let’s see,
Who’s on tonight. Ah Taffy — you’re a good one!
You’d better leave it with me.’ And we laughed.
Cold were we? Cold at heart. You get that way.
Sometimes we knew what happened; how they crashed.
It was not always on the other side.
One pranged upon the runway, dipped a wing,
The navigator bought it, and the gunner.
The other two got out, a little shaken.
Bob crashed when doing an air test, just low flying
— At least they think it was, they. couldn’t say.
The plane was burning fiercely when they found it;
One man thrown clear, still living, but he died
On way to hospital. The loss was ours, —
Because I shared an aeroplane with Bob.
We had to get another D of dog.
And some did not come back. We never knew
Whether they lived — at first just overdue,
Till minutes changed to hours, and still no news.
One went to bed; but roused by later crews,
Asked ‘Were they back yet?’ and being answered ‘No’,
Went back to sleep.
One’s waking eyes sought out the empty beds,
And ‘Damn’, you said, ‘another kit to pack’;
I never liked that part, you never knew
What privacies your sorting might lay bare.
I always tried to leave my kit arranged
In decent tidiness. You never knew.
But that is past. The healing river flows
And washes clean the wound with passing years.
We grieve not now. There was a time for tears,
When Death stood by us, and we dared not weep.
Let the seas close above them, and the dissolving deep.
THE SUN SINKS by David Raikes
The sun sinks and some early Southern star
Twinkles alone, and somewhere music plays;
O Night, what sad remembrances you bring!
I dream of home and friends and of the glow
Of firelight upon faces dearly loved;
And yearn for England; always have I loved
Those English hills, the seasons England knows,
Inconstant as the wind, her flowers and fields,
Nor ever knew how much. But little things
Of home and friends, and little memories
Come back to me, and sadden and subdue.
I think of you, my brother, exile too,
And in the midst of battle. And I smile
Remembering the games we used to play
At home; and we were children yesterday.
Life is too real, and from it all I fly.
The year slips back, and I am childlike still.
And dreaming of a youth who could not die
And building fairy palaces at will.
Poor dreams! Ah, it is glorious to die,
For what one loves. And when the moment comes
I hope I may be as steadfast as a man;
And yet God knows I do not wish to die.
I do not ask for peace, for peace I know
Is more than we should ask. We cannot fill
Our place on earth as men, and live as gods.
I do not ask for peace; it is a jewel
Too bright to look upon, too hot to hold,
A treasure to be glimpsed and put away.
I do not ask for any paradise
To greet me when at last the battle ends.
I ask not laurels; God in his time
Shall judge the servant, whether he did well.
But let me breathe once more an English spring,
And walk at will again through English fields
And let me take into my hand and smell
An English rose, and I shall be content.
ARMISTICE by David Raikes
It is the end at last. The calm of evening
Falls on the fields of Europe, scarred with war,
And all the weary world is stunned and silent.
The wheels that rumbled rumble here no more.
Loose stones still fall, to raise again the dust
Of ruined cities, still the echoes die.
And out of the dim twilight one arose,
And coming near, said, ‘Brother, it is I.
‘I who did not come back; the other chap
Whose name was on the cards, the unlucky one.
I was your friend, with you was young and keen,
And marched for hours with you and thought it fun,
‘And guessed that it was right. I was the one
Who travelled in a cattle truck with you,
Too cramped and tired to move, too cold to sleep,
And groused about the war and the army stew.
‘I was the one who stood all night with you
In some bleak outpost, ankle deep in mud,
And said that I was weary of the war,
And tired of so much pain and so much blood.
‘And talked of beer and apple trees in bud,
And England; talked in spasms through the night,
While staring at the darkness and the rain;
And then they shelled us in the morning light.
‘And I was with you on those raids at night,
And flew with you when you were hit by flak,
And you returned to base. I was the one
Who flew the aircraft that did not come back.
‘We knew the thrills of flying, you and I,
We knew the dangers. I had seen with you
So much of life and death, so many friends
Who passed beyond the skies. I also flew
‘Above the bounds of earth, where sunshine threw
Our shadows on the clouds, and with the light
Of myriad stars traced out a comet’s track
And dared the earth and heavens to stay my flight.
‘And I was with you, sailor, through the cold
Of Northern seas, and where the summer paled
Into an arctic twilight, and in seas
Where metal burned too hot to touch I sailed.
‘I was the one they saved too late. I hailed
In vain the rescue boat that could not hear
Till darkness and the waves washed over me
In pity for my agony and fear.
‘When you were working in the furnaces,
When you were standing at the gunner’s side,
When you were fighting from a sinking ship,
There I was with you, sailor, there I died.
‘You know me well. Though Life was bitter then,
It had its moments, precious moments, too.
Pity me not. The dice just fell that way.
Only remember, I was friends with you.’
Then he was gone. And in that hour I knew
That all the ruined lands, the wasted years,
Were nothing; but that these, my friends, were dead
—I turned away; my eyes were dim with tears.
This poem was written before any actual Armistice – it is David’s anticipation of the feeling that he will have when one is finally achieved. These poems are included in a collection of his poems which have been entitled ‘One or Two Little Things …’ which is how he modestly described his poetry in a letter back to his parents before he died. The poems cover 1943 -1945 during which time he was stationed in South Africa (for training), Egypt and then Italy. Many of the poems were found in notebooks with his personal belongings which were sent home following his death.
Prints of the three poems illustrated here, overlaid on Deborah Gillingham's Icarus drawings, can be ordered for £30 (size A2)