Thomas Rahilley Hodgson, Pilot Officer RAF Volunteer Reserve, was killed in action on 17th May 1941 aged 25. He was survived by his parents and his wife. Hodgson is listed on the Runnymede Memorial , which commemorate around 20,000 individuals who died whilst serving with the RAF during World War 2 ,and had no known grave.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission database entry lists him as ‘Pilot Officer’ Hodgson, Thomas Riley, Service number 89066, from the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. His parents were Raymond and Ellen Hodgson, his wife was Elizabeth Hodgson of Alderley Edge, Cheshire. Finally we learn that he attained a BA ( Hons) from Leeds University.
In 1943, a collection of his poems titled ‘ This Life This Death’ was published by Routledge, London. Hodgson had been writing poetry since 1932, and only seven out of the fifty-five poems in ‘This Life This Death’ could strictly be called ‘war poems’.
In Daniel Swift’s book ‘Bomber County- The Lost Airmen of World War 2 ‘ ( 2000), there is a reference to Hodgson having a few lines of a poem titled ‘Nocturne’ published in the Times Literary Supplement (TLS) dated 12th June 1943: The date that Daniel Swift’s own grandfather, serving with the RAF, was killed after his plane was shot down. This could well have been a review of ‘This Life This Death’ .
Nocturne ( extract)
“The grey sky overcast, and dying the sun
red tangle, huge among
the bare branches of trees. Last call
of birds, and night coming,
cries of children slim and clear
Fear of mortality ”
Three poems by Hodgson were published in ‘Air Force Poetry’ edited by John Pudney and Henry Treece from 1944.
Hodgson’s poetry has also been included in two crucial World War 2 poetry anthologies,’The Terrible Rain ‘ ( 1977) and ‘I Burn For England’ (1966)
Searchlights Over Berlin
“Their silver scalpels probe the wound of night
seeking out doom, a death
to death. And now
no highflung phrase, no braggart
gesture of the hand or jaw
can still the double fear. Who fly
ten thousand feet about in the shrill dark
are linked with those who cover
under earth to hear, vague as sea
upon an island wind. the murmur
which is, for some
eternity, for some
And he is rising mad who searches here
Hodgson suggests that there is no value placed on dying whilst fighting in a war . In the above poem, Berlin raid has no tangible goal-“for some eternity, for some an ending” but meaningless. This is quite a contrast to the line offered by those in authority in the officially sanctioned film ‘Target for Tonight’ from 1941, prepared in documentary format. Here German bases and industrial centres targeted by RAF squadrons .
Whilst ‘It is Death Now We Look Upon ” , commemorates similar themes. One of the most famous English language poems about flying has been W B Yeats ‘An Irish Airman Foresees his Death’ first published in 1919 with its opening lines “I know that I shall meet my fate/ Somewhere among the clouds above.” Yet by World War 2, pilot had been a defender than an avenger.
It is Death Now We Look Upon.
murmurous the river-
which is a memory –
it is death now we look upon.
hands have no meaning
eyes no longer speak
sorrow like a dream
out of the dusk remembering
it is death now we look upon .
call home the old,
and let him lie
lapped in their shaken
call home tomorrow’s quick
the beautiful, the glad,
Call home the children
we have made
but shall we not know.
Cancel all tears,
and let all love
that pain we may ease,
it is death now we look upon.”
It would be too easy to assume that Hodgson knew that he was somehow destined not to survive. Certainly the casualty rate of Bomber crews who were either killed, taken prisoner, or wounded was near 60%.
Two other poems from ‘This Life, This Death ‘ are worth looking at, ‘In memory of Two Polish Airmen’ who died in a mountain accident, and the harrowing and bleak ‘Autumnal 1940’. Both are strong and direct, unsentimental. Not obscure, or trying to be literary masterworks.
Neither is there any attempt to find some redemption within the natural world. In the first poem,the mountain, the sky, even the curlew , are indifferent to the fate of the two men who were killed. In the second, the desolation of nature is slightly more in tune with a world falling into twilight.
In memory of Two Polish Airmen
(Killed on the Slopes of Snowdon, October 1940)
Darkness along closed their eyes
on the bare mountain’s spine, and brought
unsought for peace. No bomb-burst
brilliance, no starry constellation
blotting out the sky with its
impersonal hate brought them
this sudden ending,
who dreamed of Warsaw
in the falling light, and held
the brutal death of love
like a cinder in the hand searing the flesh.
Now give them for a shroud the mountain’s mist,
and for a requiem, the curlew’s call,
more lonely and more wild
than promised vengeance
in their hearsing hour,
the senseless tide of grief.
Cry from the sea the grey birds
in the twilight, and their crying
echoes among the grey
of the cliffs, where once
the lovers in the Summer gladness
walked, and now
no longer walk. For time
is running out:
day, year, and age
falter to their uncertain end
and death usurps
the glory of the changeless hour.
What kiss can cancel now
the terror of the breaking heart,
what smile, or touch of hand
the fall of cities, of the bitter
ruin of men’s lives,
About earth’s four corners
harsh blows the wind of grief,
and truth, poor shard,
is racked again upon the river tree,
beneath a blackening Sun.
the grey birds from the sea
in the twilight of the world.
‘Squadron’ by Alexander Johnson, used by kind permission of the artist.
More artwork from Alexander Johnson : Alexander has been working on a World War 2 related art work such as the Deanland Air Field Project and is also inspired by his late father’ s service as a pilot during the War.
A Burnt Ship A blog about Stuart era poetry and prose related to warfare . Companion blog to this one.
Target for Tonight film on Youtube.
Commonwealth War Graves entry for Thomas Riley (sic) Hodgson
Copies of ‘This Life This Death’ can still be found on Amazon UK but the book has been out of print for decades now.
‘The Terrible Rain : War Poets 1939- 1945 , an anthology selected and arranged by Brian Gardner’ , Magnum Books, 1977
‘I Burn for England . An Anthology of the poetry of World War II Selected and Introduced by Charles Hamblett, Leslie Frewin, 1966
‘Bomber County The Lost Airman of World War 2 ‘ , Daniel Swift, Hamish Hamilton , 2010.
‘Air Force Poetry’ , edited by John Pudney and Henry Treece, 1944