John Bayliss (1919- 2008)

A Forgotten Poet of World War 2

John Piper- ‘All Saints Chapel Bath’ 1942
Thank you to copyright holder ‘Tate Images’ for its use

I first came across the work of John Bayliss from looking at Andrew Sinclair ‘The War of the Wasp- The Lost Decade of the Forties’  (1989). The book’s title came from a John Bayliss poem ‘Epilogue : Testament and Prophecy’ .

“And  I say to you who have seen
war like a wasp under a warm apple
rise and sting the unwary
that its breed shall multiply
and fill the air with wings, and dapple
disaster on the bright sky,
and worse things shall be than have been.

But there shall yet be  better ”

RAF serving John Bayliss is probably most known for his poem Reported Missing.

Born in October 1919, educated at St. Catherine College Cambridge. John Bayliss’ poetry was already widely published in magazines such as (Modern Reading, The Providence Journal, Poetry London, Lyra ) by 1943- the year that ‘Indications’, a joint poetry collection featuring John Bayliss, James Kirkup and John Ormond Thomas was published by Grey Walls Press. Bayliss was also an accomplished literary editor before joining up in 1943.

John Bayliss also co-edited an anthology with Alex Comfort ( poet, writer, and pacifist) titled ‘New Road’ .
A review can be found in The Spectator Archives  Whilst in 1944, John Bayliss’ poetry collection ‘The White Knight and other Poems’ was published Fortune Press.

A particular favourite of mine is ‘Sonnet’ , just sums perfectly the vulnerability of a town or city from bombing as in to ‘bear the flame’ . Time or the weathering of the climate can not diminish them, but an enemy out to avenge a bombing raid can.


…..And all the lovely towns that lie in darkness,
carved by their statuary of spire and wall,
betrayed by tower or winding terraces,
white road and whiter waterfall;
what must there fear, who did not fear the spoil
and spell of Time, whom winter did not tame
with blade of frost,-shall these now bear the flame
because an alien town has suffered first?

So was it ever with the beauty made
to stir and breathe by man. His creatures fade
even in their imagining.
And now the darkness breaks into a thing
of fire, and bell in burning tower
sounds birth and death with one far ringing.”

From ‘I Burn for England- and anthology of the poetry of World War II’ Selected and Introduced by Charles Hamblett. ( 1966). Finally, from the same anthology, the only war poem that I can think of that mentions Tarot cards,- John Bayliss’ -An Old Photograph’

“See what rewards the Tarot send;-
these children playing in the sand
have met their deaths by water of
under the moon in the dark air
on deserts where steel dragons stood
triumphant in the angel’s stead.

For this one found his castles were
no counter to the waves of war,
and fever took this one and made
the salt sea water drive him mad,
and this one died a falling dream
beside a friendly aerodrome;

One photograph, three graveless men,
the Tarot pack, All Hallows moon. ”

Possibly inspired by T.S.Elliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ and its several  references to the Tarot.

Future projects

Hopefully in 2017, I will be able to include poems that weren’t originally written in English, and next month should feature Dutch poetry about the ‘Mistaken’  Raid on Nijmegen of 22nd February 1944. Also hope to write up to some of my research in to the poetry of Johannes Bobrowski (1917- 1965), German poet who spent several years as a Prisoner of War in Russia during World War 2.

Alan Ross

I have covered the work of Alan Ross in the companion blog to this one
Pleased to announce that the War Poets Association have published an extract of a long piece I have written about the ‘War at Sea Poetry’ of Alan Ross ,and can be found here
Alan Ross biography
I mistakenly  titled Vernon Scannell’s 1976 book on World War 2 poets ‘Not Without Honour’ when should have been ‘Not Without Glory’.

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