War Poetry Website header image

The War Poetry Website -  

Poetry written during the Second World War and some written recently about this war and its aftermath.

Ken Tout 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings
Irfanulla Shariff A Tribute To The Illuminated Woman of World War II
Rob Walker The Party - duty, love, and fear. A poem written about a father's experience.
Petty Officer Stanley Kirby The Ensign and the Plank. The only poem Stanley Kirby ever wrote. It is about a shocking occasion which obviously made a big impression on him.
Tony Church 2011

A poem in memory of Piper Bill Millin

Namur King 1915-1968 Ode to the full moon during an "alert", 1942
Tom Walker RN Bloody War - The cause
George Fraser Gallie
Second World War poems by George Fraser Gallie discovered amongst his papers in 2009. A Voyager's Song, and Rocca san Giovanni
May Hill (1891-1944)May Hill's Home Front poems reflect on her concerns in the Second World War
Clare Stewart, Ontario, Canada"Wish me luck. . . "
Leon AdamsThree poems sent by an American soldier serving in Iraq. They are by his grandfather, The Rev. Leon Adams. The Rev. Adams was born in England in 1917 and lived in Belgium and Scotland before emigrating to Canada where he settled and where he wrote many poems. The first of these dates from before the Second World War.
A God of War
Threnody of Nations
Tea at Olivier's
 Curtis D. BennettHarbingers (Normandy)
D Day Landings Commemoration
This poem is by a man who knows war, Vietnam veteran, Curtis D. Bennett, and is a reflection on the events and ceremonies in 2004 to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the D Day Landings in Northern France.
Jan TheuninckFive poems by Jan Theuninck. Jan comes from Ypres in Belgium. You can read his poetry about the First World War on another page.

Ken Tout, a veteran of D Day, a British tank commander, recalls the events of 70 years ago (June 2014) and offers a new remembrance verse.

In August a group of us veterans from the Northamptonshire Yeomanry go to Normandy to the site of our most notable tank battle (Operation Totalize).
We make the normal visits to cemeteries, stand at graves of remembered pals and recite 'They shall grow not old...'
However we are always aware of other comrades who suffered what would eventually prove fatal injuries but because they survived a while, yet died young, are not remembered on official gravestones or memorials.
This is particularly poignant for us because we crewed the notorious 'Tommy Cooker' Sherman which often exploded in a volcano of fire and cremated one or other of the crew as they sat, with another crew member emerging bodily on fire. Due to the pollution of the soil caused by the inferno these places are still discernable.
In August at least one son of our regiment will stand where his father came out of his tank on fire and then endured a brief but useless life after discharge. As I saw the event, joined in destroying the German self-propelled gun and later commanded the replacement tank I have a very personal interest. For our August event I have written a short alternative verse to the traditional one for such tragic spots -
Honour them who may have woken
to know the battle's grim tomorrow;
yet equally whose youth was broken
by living death of pain and sorrow:
they shared the pulling down of blinds
on their own shattered limbs and minds.
Ken Tout,
(Dr Ken Tout, OBE)

A Tribute To The Illuminated Woman of World War II

(The poet's notes follow the poem.)

Our humble tribute to you
The illuminated woman
Of Word War II
Oh! The courageous Miss Noor Inayat Khan
Great grand daughter
Of the Sufi king Tipu Sultan
The Tiger of Mysore
You were bestowed
With the highest military awards
For your splendid valor
Oh! The most charismatic heroine
Of World War II

Oh! The beloved daughter
Of the legendary Sufi master
From whom you learned
The jewels of spirituality
Love, joy, harmony,
Endurance and beauty
And when he passed away
You nurtured your mother
And siblings with benevolence
We truly cherish your munificence
Oh! The kind hearted woman
Of World War II

Oh! The emblem of
Purest beauty and grace
You, the poet and musician
You, the writer and champion of languages
Your stunning tales of inspiration
Now captivating the children's attention
You, the amazing air force lady
You, the brilliant wireless operator
You are Madeleine and Nora
The master of disguises and aura
Oh! The dynamic spy
Of World War II

Oh! The incredible tigress
You were betrayed
And tortured with the high level of severity
Yet you stood firm and never gave up
For the sake of humanity
You challenged the wicked hegemony
Fighting heroically
Against the horrendous evils
You sacrificed your precious life
Uttering the last single word, "Liberte!"
Oh! The Freedom Fighter
Of World War II

Oh! The Sufi princess
You are the sweetest martyr
That we all madly admire
You are the icon of integrity
Dwelling in our hearts for eternity
You are now the radiant star
In this glorious universe
May God, The Almighty, All-Compassionate and All-Loving
Bless your gentle soul, rest you in peace
And grant you the highest place in heaven
Oh! The most magnificent woman
Of World War II

 Irfanulla Shariff

Poet's notes about the poem

The language of poetry is a metaphor. Here the word, “illuminated“ is a metaphor. The readers should not take this literally.
Miss Noor Inayat Khan’s first full name was, “Noor-un-Nisa”. For short, people used to call her Noor. The meaning of “Noor-un-Nisa” is the divine light of womanhood”. Her name speaks for her great spiritually illuminated qualities. That is the reason I gave her the title, “The Illuminated Woman”. This is not the ordinary light, but the light of enlightenment.
The poem, “The Illuminated Woman Of World War II” is dedicated to Miss Noor Inayat Khan, the heroic woman of World War II. This poem fully illustrates her remarkable life story.
Miss Noor Inayat khan was a British national. She was an extremely talented lady. This brave woman fought against German fascism during World War II. She was a part of British Air Force and worked as a wireless operator. She was later recruited by British Special Operations Executive (SOE). As a SOE agent, she performed her duties very efficiently in Nazi occupied France and gave Gestapo agents a very hard time.
During her operations in France, she was betrayed by a double agent and then arrested by Gestapo agents. She made two dramatic escape attempts, but was recaptured and sent to Germany. Here she was interrogated, tortured and finally sent to the Dachau Concentration Camp, where she was again severely tortured.
At last, when Gestapo agents found that they were not making any progress in getting the classified information out of her, she was executed on September 13, 1944 and her body was cremated.
The only word she said before she was executed was, “Liberte!” For her remarkable gallantry, she was posthumously awarded a British George Cross and a French Croix de Guerre.

Bio of Irfanulla Shariff

Irfanulla Shariff has been writing poetry for years. He has a great passion for writing inspirational poetry. His work has been published in various poetry magazines and anthologies. His poems were selected to appear in “The Sound of Poetry”, a special audio CD and tape collection. He was presented an International Poet of Merit Award by the International Society of Poets in 2002. Irfanulla's poetic influences are Rumi, Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. He is also a member of Illinois State Poetry Society. By profession, he is a Computer Scientist and Telecommunication Engineer. He is married, lives in South Elgin, Illinois, USA and has three children.

To top of page

The Party

Here's a poem I felt compelled to write shortly after my father (James
Thomas Walker) passed away in May 2011. He rarely spoke of his war days.
I expect he chose to not dwell on them. However, this poem is from a
story he told me about forty years ago.
Rob Walker

Three months was the least we would sail,
From Fort St. John to St. Ives,
And we set out again with one hundred-six men
In hopes we would come home alive.

The able on both sides enlisted,
To wage the Great War on their foe,
And the safety of those who were loved and held close
Was the force that compelled them to go.

This was my fourth tour of duty,
With more than our fair share of nubs,
But they would return with the lessons they'd learn,
As long as we stymied the subs.

Two ounces of rum was our issue,
To be drunk before bed for our nerves,
But we stored it away for that most fateful day
No ninety-day wonder deserves.

We checked on our stockpile of foxers
That were saving our lives by their sound,
Whenever we missed with the DCs we dished,
And the Jerry's torpedoes came round.

The Third Reich developed a missile
To skim slightly under our wake
And alter its path to deliver its wrath
To the noise the ship's engine would make.

Our Corvette could never stop moving,
For the noise from the foxer would fail,
And the racket that kept us alive would be still
And the 'fish' would be right on our tail.

The Captain had given us orders,
For whenever the engine was down,
To slip off our shoes - so we'd break out the booze
And we'd binge without making a sound.

Two weeks out of port, in the crossing,
When the spray of mid-April still bit,
In spite of the engineers' efforts,
The engine decided to quit.

The subs kept on ringing the radar,
And now we were waiting to die.
As we prayed, the mechanics, who couldn't make noise,
Had no other choice but to try.

As they laboured to fix what was broken,
The men up above faced their fear,
And no one would sleep for three days on the deep
With the prospect of drowning so near.

I saw the crew stagger and stumble
As the waves and the booze took effect,
But they knew that their eyes never would see St. Ives
If they so much as spoke on the deck.

The carryings on and the binging,
With an absolute absence of noise
Caused a fear so intense it turned boys into men
And some of the men into boys.

And somewhere above me a seabird
Looked down upon miles of sea
Where the sun on the whitecaps and wind in its wings
Must have made it feel glorious and free.

As it spotted our speck of a vessel
And thought how men must be at peace,
With forty-eight million warriors killed
And no plan to surrender or cease,

It spied this superior species
From its vantage point, miles above
And watched as the speck slowly sank out of site,
Out of hatred and fear, out of love.

Rob Walker
Received October 2012

The Ensign and the Plank

You've pulled a man from the freezing sea all black with ship's oil fuel
You've cleaned him off, and see his wounds and wondered what to do,
You see the whiteness of his ribs where steam has skinned him too.
The guilt you feel when you look at him feeling glad it isn't you
And all you have to ease his pain is aspirin and 'goo.'

You fear to look him in the eye for the question you know will be there
The answer you know is certain death, and there's nothing more you can do.
You light him a fag, and give him your tot as he looks for the rest of his crew.
Then you lay him out on the iron deck knowing that's his lot
Briefly wondering if you did aright by giving him your tot.

For the rest of the watch, with a sail maker's palm with needle and with thread
You sew him up in canvas with the rest of that night's dead.
With a dummy shell between their feet, making certain that they will sink
You sit and sew till the morning's glow, amid the mess and stink.
By dawn's grey light you carry them aft, to the ensign and the plank.
And the hands off watch gather round all bleary eyed and dank.

Then the skipper with his bible says a sailor's prayer
Our father which art in heaven (we hope you're really there).
One by one the dead are gone slid from the greasy plank
A second's pause and then a splash, they sink beneath the main.

The hands go forward, feeling chill, thinking of those that were slain
with a certain knowledge in a while we'll do it all again.
Each one being still alive, breathes a silent prayer of thanks
Wondering, with a cold dark fear, will I be next on the plank?

Petty Officer Stanley Kirby

This poem was introduced to me by his nephew at the launch of Heroes. (From a new book of war poems, Heroes. - November 2011) - DR


A poem in memory of Piper Bill Millin

Tony Church writes occasional verse and is a member of the St. Andrews Pipe Band of Hamble Le Rice. [Hampshire, UK]
On 4th/5th June this year [2011] there is a "Pipefest" on Sword Beach,Normandy, to commemorate Bill Millin, the D Day Piper who died last year, raising funds for a statue in his memory.
Tony Church composed this verse, partly because Bill, piper to Brigadier Lord Lovat, embarked for the D-Day Landings from the Hamble river.

Piper Bill

(The legend of Bill Millin, the D-Day Piper)

The sighing surf on sand abounds, and seabirds call, the only sounds
At break of summers day, and yet, within the hour men will have met
Their destiny as war’s shrill chatter ends this tranquil scene. The clatter
Of machine guns spit their hate, as landing craft nose in to grate
Against the shingle to disgorge their human load who wait to charge
Into oncoming deathly hail, but never faltering, nerves taut, pale
Faced, leaping down into the cold wet breakers, seeking firm foothold.

Struggling forward, arms raised clear to gain refuge ahead, so near
And yet seeming so far away as spiteful guns traverse and spray
The killing ground that lies ahead, already littered with the dead
And dying who would never see this bitter, bloody victory.
Then faintly, through the deafening din, an alien sound is heard, the thin
Melodious wailing cry of highland pipes, though bullets fly
Around him, he is unscathed still. Thus starts the tale of Piper Bill.

Bill, who piped for Brigadier Lord Lovat, raised a special cheer
When, leaving on the previous day, took up his pipes, began to play
“Road to the Isles”, as, leaving Hamble river for this costly gamble,
Lifting spirits of the men, calling, cheered and cheered again,
Who as the Solent slipped away, all knew that on the following day
They’d face their own worst fears and doubts, prayed that when it came about
They would stand firm and conquer fear to face the perils that appeared.

And now, amid the smoke and roar of high explosives, Bill endures
The hail of death, which all around leaves him untouched, while yet the sound
Of “Highland Laddie” fills the air as fingers on the chanter dare
To still defy the lethal storm, this awesome hell in all its forms.
Yet death and wholesale demolition, backdrop to this exhibition
Of the art of Scottish piping, even with the bullets sniping,
Will not quiet this hardy Scot, surviving mortar shell and shot.

He marches at the waters edge, still playing, able still to dredge
From deep within his mortal soul the courage to maintain and hold
Himself upright despite the urge to run for safety, then emerge
When all is still and quiet again, escape the trauma and the pain.
But Bill is made of sterner stuff, clutching his pipes he starts to puff
And fill the bag, then with a squeeze, his hands again with practiced ease
Launch into yet another air, lifting spirits everywhere.

And so the legend now is born, as Bill continues to perform
Beyond this strip of golden sand known as Sword Beach, where many men
Have fallen, sacrificed their all in answering their country’s call,
But in this page of history this part of France will always be
Where Highland Bagpipes did their part with inspiration, and gave heart
To all who witnessed Bill that day, who, when he crossed that beach to play,
With all his great panache and poise, gave the Highland Pipes their voice.

Tony Church

Ode to the full moon during an "alert", 1942

Full moon, brilliant, all-revealing, quiescent,
Spirit of silver silence, soul of night,
I have waited since the first pale crescent
Of your nascent beauty touched the world with light;
I have watched the envious stars grow dimmer;
Orion’s girdle faintly glimmer,
Fading beyond your fair translucency.
And, now, the earth, resplendent, caught in dreams,
The incarnation of those long desires,
Her woods aflame with lambent fires,
Her diaphanous streams
Transcended by a deep tranquillity….

Thus I, the poet, extol with eloquence
The full moon’s loveliness
And light,
Her calm magnificence;
Dreams of a happy lover!
How, then, can I confess
The beauty hides a cold malevolence,
A hideous, furtive hate?
That, in the myriad pathways of the night,
Soon Death will hover,
Death indiscriminate?
Bodies, fearful now, will cringe and press
Close to the heart of earth;
That Hell will burst through Heaven, the wild, mad cry,
A devil’s scream of terrifying mirth,
As foul destruction thunders down the sky;
A crashing, cataclysmic violence
That shatters babies at their hour of birth,
Dispassionately, age and innocence!

Moon, ally of hate and man’s vile desecrations,
No more the world will know your madrigals,
But, be the symbol of the shame of nations
Until the last star falls.

Namur King

Namur King 1915-68

NAMUR KING was born in Blackwood (South Wales) on the day British Army won the battle at theBelgian town of Namur. Hence the name. (5 of his brothers all named John had previously died of TB.)

In 1939, at 24 years old, he volunteered for the British Expeditionary Force to France. he saw action as Da dispatch rider and driver, coming under enemy fire. He was vacuated at Dunkirk.

Subsequently he was stationed in the Falkland Islands, as S.America was under threat of Japanese attack.

More poems by Namur King may be found on the Remembrance page.


Bloody War  -  The Cause

Tom Walker, now almost 90 (June 2010), served in the Royal Navy in World War Two. He wrote many poems and is particularly proud of this one since few war poems address the causes of war.

When greed sups with the devil
And principles are shed
When power is corrupted
And truth stands on its head
When fear pervades the confused mind
And fools are easy led
When reason is a prisoner
The bell tolls for the dead.

Tom Walker

George Fraser Gallie – Poems discovered amongst his papers in 2009

It’s rare to find a war poem, such as this first poem, expressing pleasure. George Fraser Gallie 1922-2006 wrote a number of poems whilst serving in Italy and North Africa with the Royal Engineers around 1943 when he was 21. They have recently been discovered amongst his papers by his son.

The poems below are two of several that were mailed home to his mother who lived in Penmaenmawr, North Wales.

In the first poem there is a reference to 'Craig Mor'. This was the family home, and the 'Hut' was the seaside hut in the area where his peacetime holidays were spent.

A Voyager’s Song

I drove through the desert of dusty tracks
Through many a Sicilian street.
Past acres of vineyards and Orchards and flax
And mile after mile of red poppies and wheat.

I drove past the Sphinx and the Cairo zoo,
And remembered the trips that I used to do.
And I thought of my friends
And I thought of ‘Craig Mor’

And the old Austin 10
And the hut on the shore.
I lay on the sands of Syracuse
in the heat of a Mediterranean noon

I nakedly swam in the crystal hues
Of the silvery sea by the August moon.
I dived in the foam of the breaking wave
And remembered the spots where I used to bathe.

And I thought of my friends
And I thought of ‘Craig Mor’
Of the rattling stones
And the hut on the shore.

I sauntered down the rutted track
Which wound its way past white-washed farms,
I felt the sun on my naked back
The Italian sun on my face and arms,

I smoked my pipe as I went my way
And remembered the pleasures of yesterday.
And I thought of my friends
And the hut on the shore,

And I thought of ‘Craig Malin’
‘Cregneish’ and ‘Craig Mor’

George Fraser Gallie 1943 aged 21.

To top of page

Rocca San Giovanni
It is quiet here now, the valley is silent.
Only the birds and the stream have their noise,
The twittering, bubbling sweet sounds of nature.
Apart from this – silence which nothing destroys.
The smell is a faint one of morning and pine trees,
Of bracken and water, of woodland and stream,
The sight is of rushes, of mill house and lime trees.
The feel is of peacefulness sweet as a dream.
But at one time this valley, this valley of heaven,
Became a most torturous valley of hell.
For the fighting was bitter, the Hun held on grimly,
Regardless of losses, and many men fell.
For the British came north and the silence was shattered,
By rifle – machine gun – trench mortar – grenade.
The Messerschmitt diving bought sickening terror,
The valley vibrated with Death’s serenade.
But the British advanced and the valley was taken,
The fighting moved northward as Gerry moved back,
And the only remains to give proof of the fighting,
Are freshly dug graves at the side of the track.
Again it is peaceful, the valley is silent,
Only the birds and the stream have their noise,
The twittering, bubbling sounds of nature.
Apart from this – silence which nothing destroys.
George Fraser Gallie, November, 1943.

To top of page


Leon Adams

The God of War

Thoughts on the Italian Invasion of Ethiopia

Mars has again descended from his throne

To ravage earth with bloody human strife;

To break away the bonds of peace and love

And send one nation warring with another,

As sparrows combat o'er a trifling crumb;

To wash the verdant earth with sickening blood

And herald death into a million homes.

The fields are strewn with reeking, dying men

Filled with the thoughts and hopes of worlds gone mad.

The future? Famine! Poverty! And Strife!

Wars are made by men who seek to line

Their itchy pockets with dishonoured loot.

God sighs. Life goes on.

Leon Adams

St. Catharines, Ontario, 11 November, 1935

Threnody of the Nations

We have hated and fought,

We have murdered and fled,

But the peace that we sought

Is alone with the dead.

We have offered ourselves

On the altar of greed;

We have poisoned our sons

With our venomous creed.

We have bombed and destroyed;

We have raped and diseased,

Till the earth has grown dark

With our war-obsequies.

We have sung our wild song

In the ghouls' jubilee,

And, O Love, once again

We have crucified Thee.

Leon Adams
Lennoxville, Quebec, May 16, 1940.

Tea at Olivier's

We shall have tea at Olivier's and eat

patisserie francaise

served by a waitress

in blue dress,

white apron, and

white cap.

We shall sip hot tea

and chat about

the battle of Britain,

the latest German move,

our men,

our lovers,

and our hopes.

We shall drink tea

while bombs tear out the hearts

of twisted men;

we shall eat

patisserie francaise

while they are tasting


Leon Adams

Sherbrooke, Quebec, 29 November 1940.

To top of page

Curtis D. Bennett


(From Normandy)

Frail, old men with weathered hands stand,
Alone, lost on the wide sandy beaches,
Each turning back his rusty mind clock
Piercing the veil of memories
When they were young, anxious and terrified,
Boy-soldiers in battle fighting for their lives,
Experiencing the gamut of fear and death
Watching friends died horribly,
Scarring their young minds.forever.

Blue beaches murmur waves
Splashing old, rusted war remnants.
A sea bird flaps wet beaches
Where the sea swells and crashes gently on wet sand,
Retreating back erasing all footprints.
The men stare the distance,
At blurred memories through tears.
Trickling down their cheeks dripping softly,
To merge with the sea like before.

They came to say good-bye to their friends,
To a confused past which has no answers.
The graveyard crosses watch in stony silence,
Stoically from tree shadows on soft meadows,
In eternal military formation fronted by small, flags,
Wind-shivering in the hush of silence.
Marching the stillness in quiet precision
Protecting the young soldiers buried there,
Frozen in time and death

The old veterans stand awkward, unsure with the dead.
Experiencing those familiar, dreaded, sick feelings
Of remorse, regret, blame, and fault for what happened
To their generation who gave so much for their country.
They have gathered one final time
To share history, blame and guilt for all eternity
Banding together as one, they embrace the moment,
Experiencing once more, this terrible place of

And the same salt sea air, still blows up from the beach
Once inhaled in panic by all the young fighting men
Mired in the beach mud conducting the senseless slaughter of children,
Trapped forever in the obscenity and vulgarity of war,
The pain returns for a moment, overwhelming them,
It hangs suspended, as real as yesterday, then drifts away and mellows away.
Now time, history, and denial blessedly blur the horror and inhumanity
Of what they did; of what was done to them.

The War President from America
Mounts the podiums to prattle the virtues of war,
Attempting to rewrite history, to deny war's reality,
He exploits the moment for selfish means,
To justify his war as a noble cause, ignoring its brutality,
Thoughtlessly attempting to validate, substantiate, and authenticate,

War's vicious crimes against civilization
Turning the senseless slaughter of innocents
Into a righteous cause, to be proud of and condone..
Turning war into a sound-bite of empty words
Of praise, blessing, glory, and accomplishment.
Something to be proud of, to revel in,
To relish with sacred, biblical rhetoric
From a shallow, self-centered political opportunist.
Whose meanings and oratory become quickly lost,
His words floating away with the wind, out of relevance, out of touch
Out of context, drifting, beyond the restive crowds.
To fall useless and disappear, in the cold, impassionate mud.
Falling deaf on the ears of the dead warriors
The ultimate, wasted sacrifice, from another generation

It is at this moment, the old veterans
Eyes mist up, overflow, and tears flow shamelessly

As they at last comprehend all their sacrifice, all their pain,
All their sorrow, all their suffering, all the death,
Did not change or alter a thing, was not a lesson learned
Nor an experience not to be repeated..
Realizing their friend's painful, brutal, ultimate sacrifice
Was only a necessary evil of Mankind's political process
Which has never changed, and never will,
For each generation brings anew to the world
Its own self-styled madness of universal death, tragedy and suffering,
In wars to be fought by the young, bright-eyed children of the world
Unknowingly raised as sacrificial lambs of slaughter,
To be killed and gone forever, for nothing.
That is why, all Veterans cry.

In this hallowed place of the dead
The lonely graves of war's youthful victims
Who died for a thought,
an idea, for a cause
Promulgated by selfish, insane men in power
These war graves and cemeteries are Harbingers
Of the eternal, mindless death cycle of war.
Young men killed by politicians' words and mindless acts,
Their promise and existence forever ended too soon.
Now, forever sleep beneath the green muffled grass
Sharing the earth with the youth and victims of past wars,
Too numerous to count, to numbing to contemplate,
The dead, as powerless and impotent as the now living
To change or alter, or detour the inexorable course of madmen,
They patiently wait for the next generation to join them.

Curtis D. Bennett

To top of page

Jan Theuninck

Stalag Zehn B

the feldwebel became a general

the campdoctor , a professor

and we the jews - it's banal

we stayed jewish - no error .

Jan Theuninck



wandering jew,damned jew

and no words on them are forbidden

suspected of crimes and treason

they have been put in jail

they have been tortured and murdered

in the name of an insane idea

and now - more than ever -

who is next, please ?

Jan Theuninck


Mauthausen 186

Stone by stone

we made a step

Step by step

we went to heaven.

Jan Theuninck


the sun shines

on the dune

the bunkers hide

the undesirable

all of them lose

their innocence

lost blood

on the beach

the sea...

guilty !

Jan Theuninck


The real post-war power

is still the one of the "Uebermenschen"

and this "democracy" can't be realized

but on the back of the "Untermenschen" !

Jan Theuninck

To top of page

Clare Stewart

"Wish me luck...”

She waits
In the late twilight,
Shivering in the wind
That scoops up
Over the lip
Of the chalk cliff.

She waits,
Listening to the
Throb of the
Wimpy’s engines
As the squadron nears
Her look-out post.

She waits
For a glimpse of a
Gauntleted hand
Waving at her eye level,
The hand that caressed
Now ready to trigger the tail guns.

She waits,
Keeping watch
Ears straining to catch
The returning flight,
Waiting to count the returned
And the missing.

She waits
Past the dawn...
Waits for the missing...
And waits...
And waits.
Clare Stewart

20 October, 2002

Clare Stewart is the daughter of a Second World War Canadian soldier and a British War Bride, and was born in Canada after the war. She is very proud of the service her family has given to their countries since the time of the American Revolution.

To top of page

May Hill (1891-1944)
May Hill was a modest Lincolnshire seaside villager who maintained eloquent comprehensive ‘Home Front’ diaries during World War Two and also expressed many of her thoughts and prayers in poetry.  A compilation of her poetry, with a selection of related diary excerpts, edited by two grandchildren, has been published as ‘The Casualties Were Small by Ambridge Books.. Readings of several poems and extracts can be heard on ’The Casualties Were Small’ – on Deben Radio. Anyone interested in the life of country folk during the Second World War will find the interviews in this radio programme of interest.The war affected them in many ways: they even came under attack.

May Hill’s Home Front Poetry and Diaries
One of the major themes running through May Hill’s writing was her care and concern for her only son Ron who had joined the RAF just before his 20th birthday in November 1940. ‘The Click of the Garden Gate’ was the first poem showing a mother’s sentiments. Rene, in the poem, was May’s elder daughter who lived elsewhere in the village.

The Click of the Garden Gate

I hear the click of the garden gate
But it is not he
He comes no more either early or late
To his dinner or tea
He is far away in an Air Force Camp
Learning to fight
(I wonder if his blankets are damp
And if he sleeps well at night)

Not twenty years when went away
Just a boy
He may never again come back to stay
To delight and annoy
Will what he has gained balance what he has lost?
He will change
Will his growth to manhood improve him most?
Or make him change?

I open the casement into his room
So tidy and neat
And the sun shines in and chases the gloom
And the wind blows sweet
Ready for him when, early or late
He comes back home to the sea
I hear the click of the garden gate
But it is not he.
(Perhaps it is Rene coming to tea!)

May Hill, December 1940

During the following year Ron had been exposed to danger even during his local training as an aircraft instrument mechanic before being posted abroad. Two incidents of mis-handling of bombs by ground crews could easily have resulted in explosions and his death. In fact he was lucky to survive both incidents. ‘The Casualties Were Small’ was an expression of May's worst fears.

“The Casualties Were Small”

When Winton Aerodrome was bombed
The “Casualties were small”
Just your son, and my son, and little widow Brown’s son,
The youngest of them all.

And your son was your eldest lad,
Handsome and straight and tall.
A model for your younger sons,
Beloved by you all.

And Mrs Brown’s, her youngest boy
Her sole support, and stay.
So like his father, all her joy
Was quenched, on that dark day.

And mine, my only son and pride
So loved and dear to all.
The blast of bombs spread far and wide
Tho’ “the casualties were small”.

May Hill, September 1941

May recorded and gave her views on many happenings, nationally and overseas, which were reported in newspapers and on the BBC wireless. For example she was very moved by the news, in January 1943, of the bombing of a school where many lives were lost when air-raid sirens had not sounded. She recorded this in her diary and wrote a poem: ‘Bombing at Noon of School at Lewisham’.

Bombing at Noon of School at Lewisham

Flowers were blooming at noonday
In a city garden on earth.
Children fair, happy and gay,
Laughing aloud in their mirth.
Out of the skies above them
With never a warning wail
Swept a storm of thunder and lightning,
With murderous steel for hail,
It mowed them down like a reaper,
And thunder-bolts crashed and crushed,
Bruising, and killing, and maiming,
Wherever the storm-clouds brushed.

Christ walked in the garden at eventide,
And in wrath beheld the wreck;
He said “It were better for him who did this deed
That he were drowned in the deepest sea
A millstone about his neck
For he hath offended my little ones
In their innocent happy play.
But leave to Me the Vengeance,
It is mine, I will repay.”

We buried the broken blossoms
In a grave in the warm brown earth
But Christ gathered up the plantlets,
And took them to Paradise
He planted them all in a garden fair
Where flows the River of Life.
They are growing there and will bloom again
In the loving Father’s care.
Where no storms come near, or death or fear,
They will wait for those they left,
And will welcome them in at the garden gate
United for evermore.

May Hill, January 1943

May’s later poems went on to relate to wartime weddings, her son’s active RAF service in North Africa and Italy, concern for others on both sides of the conflict, losses of young men from the family and community and a very personal loss.

See the Books Page for details of a book of her writings.

My thanks to Tom Ambridge for providing the notes on May Hill's poems.

To top of page