Originally distributed as HVM Society Verses – No.27
on 6 June 2014
During some of the darkest days of world war two, HV Morton was on look-out duty from the church tower of his local village of Binsted, Hampshire, where he commanded the Local Defence Volunteers, when he wrote:
“… it is a still night. And now the clouds part and the moon shines through, casting green shadows so that I can see the little hamlets lying below among haystacks and fields. The lime-washed cottages shine like snow in the moonlight, little cottages with front gardens bright with Canterbury bells, geraniums, and poppies; and I think that a more peaceful bit of old England could not be found than this village of ours. Yet every cottage holds an armed man. If I rang the bell now they would come running out with their rifles, ready to defend their homes. Such a thing has not happened in Britain since the Middle ages… My own point of view, and, indeed, it is that of all the farmers, the farm labourers, and the cowmen who compose our local L.D.V., is that, should the rest of Britain fall, our own parish would still hold out to the last man.”
(with grateful thanks to the Trove archive)
Later, in 1944, the tide was beginning to turn, and seventy years ago today the largest invasion fleet in history sailed from Southern England, during a fortuitous break in the weather, to establish a series of beach-heads in Northern France – the Battle for Europe had begun.
HV Morton Society member Mike Bassett, of South Africa, has written a series of poems about the war years he spent on the Isle of Wight, when young, as he witnessed events which included the Battle of Britain and VE Day, as well as the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Mike recalls, “… what a sight it was to see the Solent absolutely jam-packed with warships etc., and then – come June 6th – not a single ship in sight. It was eerie and utterly memorable and I am proud that I was a witness to it all.“.
I thought I would share one of them with you on this, the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings.
With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
VIGNETTES OF BOYHOOD
1 – 1940 and on
by Mike Bassett
“Portsmouth: Sunday, Sept., 15th 1805. At day weighed with light airs Northerly”. Extract from Nelson’s Diary written aboard the Victory before Trafalgar.
Units of the Home Fleet put into Spithead – August, 1940.
A clear, full moon and cloudless sky,
And in the gathering gloom,
Across the still and limpid sea
The silent warships loom.
The signals flash from bridge to bridge,
Like tiny, glowing sparks:
The mighty turbines slowly die –
The giants rest in the dark.
Then the wailing of the sirens,
And the deep, low drone of ‘planes,
The searchlights and exploding bombs,
And Portsmouth crowned in flames:
And etched against the ghostly light
Of a gently falling flare,
The Victory’s masts rise gaunt and black
In the brilliant, silver glare
Of another Trafalgar – here.
The stench of a burning city;
And the rolling banks of smoke,
As a tanker slowly settles,
And her clawing seamen choke,
And on the beach next morning,
‘Mid the charr’d and oily dross,
The body of a merchantman
Tattooed with a rose and cross.
The joy of search – and finding,
A burnt-out One-O-Nine,
The stab of fear as the Stukas struck (more)
Like screaming hawks in line.
Long vapour trails that smudge and fade
In the blue and lovely skies
Where, like an angel’s shining sword,
The sylphine Spitfires wait:
The swarming blocks of bombers,
That scab the sky with mange,
And stepped-up high in the warming sun
The glinting fighters range:
Or standing high on the roof-top,
By the “Grecian” statues tall,
To watch the raucous Flying-Bombs
In sudden silence fall.
Or diving, in a cricket match,
On coils of rolled-up wire,
As a Junkers roared at tree-top height,
Machine-guns blazing fire.
And later still, the exuberant Yanks,
Who came from “Over there” – “swell!”
The Memphis Belles who gave us gum –
And gave their lives as well.
The massed armada of shipping
On D-Day minus One;
And the heavy, foreboding silence
That descended when all had gone
To meet their fates on the beaches
And the white-hot cauldron of Caen.
And now and then, through tears and cheers,
“A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square”,
But where, O where have the people gone.
And where, O where the years? (end)