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)

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