Category Archives: poetry

Two stories to share with my family and friends

The first story concerns me daydreaming and looking out of my shop window one beautiful summer’s day. A few lines of verse came into my head. Then I thought to myself: why don’t you put this in your window to lift other spirits as they have done your own? I grabbed for a pen before the words vanished.

Using our computer engraving system I did it on a piece of burgundy coloured laminate.
Some time later, a man came into the shop enquiring after something he had seen in the window. It turned out to be the poem I had written. “How much is that selling for?” he asked. Nonplussed, but thinking on my feet, I replied “£12.50”. “Fine,” he said, “I’ll have that for my static holiday caravan.”

Later, the thought occurred to me that that modest sale had, nonetheless, gained me admittance to one of the world’s most exclusive clubs: that of a poet whose work people will pay to read! The words of those few lines are as follows:

Our journey through this life is brief, very brief.
Enjoy the world for the beauty that it offers.
Be kind, show compassion. Be happy.

My second story concerns a veteran who stopped me outside the shop to tell me that a poem I had written to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War was to be read out that Sunday in church by a member of the British Legion. Apparently, it had been adopted by the Legion and was being read out each year. You can imagine how moved I was to learn of this. I think they may have picked up on the poem from the local paper.

I may have posted it on my blog at the time, but just in case I didn’t here is it:

A LAMENT TO WAR

A sea of time has passed us by and still we think of them:
The lives unlived, the dreams curtailed, the legions of our men.
We did not know, we could not tell, what terror lay in store,
As year on year the butcher’s cry demanded more and more.

For full a hundred years and more our power had waxed supreme
And kept large conflagrations low and made us start to preen.
We thought we could control events and stop war in its tracks
With webs of close alliances, diplomacy and pacts.

A maelstrom poured upon our men of iron, steel and fire,
And sent a piteous wail of grief through every town and shire.
We must press on, we told ourselves what now we have begun,
Till British pluck and doggedness did triumph o’er the Hun.

Through mud and ice and poison gas the order was ‘stand fast’;
This trial of strength twixt mortal foes, it surely could not last.
For four long years we stood our ground and bravely would not yield,
Till northern France ran red with blood through every poppy field.

Delusions born of hubris ease had caused us to believe
This war could be no different from the rest we had conceived,
But science changes everything and chivalry was dead,
Midst fire and smoke and strafing planes and mustard gas and lead.

Oh God above, what did we do to vent our foolish spleen,
But sacrifice the best we had on altars of the keen?
How little did we think it through and cry aloud ‘enough’!
But yet preferred to stumble on with bloody blind man’s bluff.

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Poem: Hubris at Waterloo

Unsparing of his soldiers killed,

Yet loved by them in every way.

Oppressed folk all around he thrilled

As Europe’s monarchies he flayed.

 

‘Upon their stomachs, armies march,’

Said Bonaparte the Corsican.

Europe and Asia, he almost grasped!

That ego said, ‘of course I can’.

 

A wild adventure drew him east

To fabled Sphynx’s quizzic stare;

But Horatio sank his fleet

And left his army stranded there.

 

Then east again to Moscow’s gates

With half a million of his best,

The great retreat was left too late:

With winter came that grimmest test.

 

An island race stood in his way

While others trembled at French might;

To field their armies it would pay

And lead them in a daunting fight.

 

Through two decades it fought it out;

Old liberties were put on hold.

To drive France from its last redoubt

It knew it must be hard and bold.

 

Prussians, Russians, Austrians, Dutch,

Belgians and Swedes joined in the cause;

No one thought of the future, much,

Just to survive those endless wars.

 

At Waterloo the dye was cast;

Sad soldiers penned their final wills.

Those British squares, they must stand fast,

And Frenchmen by the thousand kill.

 

Cavalry charged against the squares:

Sharp sabres aimed at British breasts.

How would those lines of redcoats fare?

How would they meet that fearsome test?

 

Volley on volley they must shoot,

‘The closest thing you ever saw…’

‘Hard pounding!’ balled the Iron Duke,

Till Boney’s men could take no more.

 

To save the day, an Army Corps!

The Emperor’s Imperial Guard:

Unbeaten in a foreign war,

The hardest of the very hard.

 

In silence and in fearless line

They bore down on their British foe;

But raked by fire ten thousand times,

They did yet make an awesome show.

 

At last the fates smiled on the reds;

Their musketry was so intense.

Sad doom came in a storm of lead:

‘Now was the game up,’ Boney sensed.

 

But Allied lines were fading fast,

Exhausted from the nine-hour fight,

When in the distance came at last

Old Marshal Blücher’s Prussian might.

 

The fearless Duke maintained morale,

Galloping round those battered squares;

They stood there fixed like Zulu kraals,

One and all did that peril share.

 

The day was clinched, at fearful cost,

With corpses measured by the ton.

‘The next worst thing to battles lost’

‘Is surely that of battles won.’

Was Napoleon murdered on St. Helena?

I personally believe that it was the power of money that defeated Napoleon. Britain dominated world trade. She was already a hundred years into the Industrial Revolution and these two provided her with the funds to build a truly colossal fleet to keep herself safe from invasion, safeguard all her worldwide trade routes and become the paymaster of all the European monarchies opposed to the ideals of Revolutionary France. French battlefield techniques remained superior to those of any other of the European powers, including ourselves, just as the Nazis were in World War Two; but just as in that war the underdogs got better so that their combined material and numerical numbers eventually proved decisive.

I think also there is a strong case for arguing that we made an end of Napoleon on the remote, South Atlantic island of St. Helena, his final place of exile. Crimes need three ingredients: means, opportunity and motive. We had all three. It was a healthy Napoleon who arrived at the island at the age of forty-seven. Six years later he was dead.

First, as our prisoner, we obviously had the means and opportunity. Finally – in my view the decisive factor – his incarceration was costing us a fortune. On that small island of ten miles by six we felt it necessary to garrison 2,000 troops. Second we also felt it necessary to maintain two ships of the line on permanent duty sailing round the island.

The final and perhaps decisive factor influencing the British government of the day was the nightmarish fear that France – which bounced back strongly after Waterloo – would mount a rescue operation to rescue their humiliated hero and begin the Napoleonic Wars all over again.

Please Hubris at Waterloo to read a poem I’ve written attempting to tell the story of Waterloo.

Britain’s most spectacular WWII op

DAMBUSTERS

On the mighty dam men guarding it knew
That a reckoning was coming by air;
The hum, it grew, as the terrified crew
Followed the bomber with which it was paired;

Never was a venture as bold as this,
To blow up a thing so massive and strong;
Only a plan with a devilish twist,
At the centre of which was a bouncing bomb;

Flyers were needed with critical skills,
Matched with a bravery few could muster;
Then with much luck they could go for the kill,
Bestowing on them well-deserved luster;

Ruhr workshops were on the hit-list that day:
Much ordinance for the war they did make;
Across factory floors would floodwaters lay:
German war efforts would falter and shake;

Destruction was wrought on a frightening scale:
Nigh half the flyers would never come home;
’Twas a mission beside which others would pale:
Their glory written on tablets of stone.

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