Coventry – 14th November 1940

“The raiders first fired the medieval centre, crowned by its beautiful cathedral, which was gutted. They then poured hundreds of tones of bombs into the city, in an attack which lasted ten hours. Approaching one-third of the ctiy’s houses were made uninhabitable, …..A hundred acres of the city centre were destroyed. Five hundred and fifty-four people were killed, eight hundred and sixty-five seriously wounded.”
‘The People’s War Britain 1939- 1945’ -Angus Calder

Painting of bombed Coventry Cathedral, November 1940 ~ by John Piper, 1940

THAT NIGHT OF DEATH
by John J.Rattigan, November 1940
Who can forget that night of death,
Wrought by the sky devil’s fiery breath,
Who can forget that night of pain,
Dealt out by a madman’s twisted brain.
We shall not forget as our homes we rebuild,
On bomb-scarred ground where innocent were killed,
We shall not forget as we look at the land,
Where once stood a building so stately and grand.
Even God’s house is not safe from this Hun,
Who bombs and destroys at the setting of the sun.
So let him send over his cowardly hordes,
Who shatter the homes of paupers and Lords.
That night was severe, there is no doubt,
We had a hard blow, but they can’t knock us out.
For our men are of steel, our women won’t kneel,
Nor children for mercy plea.
A new hope will arise, when the world is free,
From the rubble and ashes of Coventry

( Not sure who owns the copyright to this work but quoted with kind permission from http://www.familyresearcher.co.uk )

Particularly appreciate the defiance of the poem, the use of the term ‘Hun’ seems archaic.So much war poetry emphasises evokes the helplessness and hopelessness that war can generate, whilst this poem confronts the horror war but suggests rejuvenation. Along with the reminder of how air attack ensured that civilians could have direct experience of warfare. The notion of a war poet being on some mission to depict the ‘pity of war’ to pampered civilians was over, and bombs don’t differentiate between the homes of rich and poor.

As we are now approaching Remembrance season, been thinking over the work of Alun Lewis, ( 1.July 1915- 5.March 1944). Serving as an Intelligence Officer with the Royal Engineers, he died near Arakan , Burma in what his regimental history described as (being) “accidentally wounded by a pistol. ” Lewis left only one collection published in his life time ‘Raiders Dawn’ (1942)

Vernon Scannell noted in his work ‘Not Without Glory’ (1976)
“He did not directly experience the terror, exultation, weariness and despair of battle and hammer out records of what he endured. He was a soldier-poet of a different kind; the reluctant unhappy warrior, suffering boredom, exasperation, loneliness, exile, frustration and anxiety, the civilian in uniform, fighting not the enemy in arms but the debilitating longing for the lost peace, for comfort and love. He was in some ways the representative poet of the Second World War.”

This poem ‘Peace’ is taken from ‘Selected Poems of Alun Lewis’ selected by Jenny Hooker and Gweno Lewis with a foreword by Robert Graves. Graves’s own son Ltn. (John) David Nicholson Graves, who like his father served with the Royal Welch Fusiliers, was killed in action near Arakan, on 18th March 1943.

Peace

“The wind blows
Through her eyes,
Snow is blanker
In her whiter thighs,
The birds are frantic with
Her last distress,
And flutter and chatter over
Her nakedness

And her blind
Eyes are prayers
Where she lives
By the boulders
The strong shoulders
Of the Earth
Who is kind
And harvest
Her prayers
And abideth
His time.

Destroyed is the well
Of her magic,
But where she lies silent
And tragic the earth
Pallid in reverie
Stirs with the birth
Of the flowers, the white
and the red that she gives,
The tendrils and swarming of all
That still lives, oh still lives !

And she comes from the dead,
Smiling without mystery,
Homeward slowly turning
Century by century,
And all the heart’s deep yearnings
In her Being is burning, burning. “

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