Wednesday, 3 June 2009


Sixty nine years ago this week British forces were stranded and cut off on the beaches around Dunkirk, under bombardment and awaiting rescue by fleets of small ships. My brother, aged 18, was amongst them. It is one of my early memories.Some time ago, in a writing class, we were asked to write a note about a vivid memory. Only after we had registered it were we asked to write a poem about it. Maybe some people can write poems to order, but I can't. I struggled and came up with this very poor one. However - it does tell the story of that fateful Sunday afternoon and evening - so ignore the rotten poetry and concentrate on the story.

On the return of a beloved brother from Dunkirk.

In the black fen soil
the village sinks
untouched by war
except by wireless
and its sons
"somewhere in France"
and a telegram
on a Sunday afternoon.

Rooks wage their own war,
clacking their crusty beaks.
Below them we walk...
father, mother, sister
and I,
through grass newly mown,
past the graves of our grandfathers,
on the soft sweetness of the
Summer evening
to the church door.
Its cold, iron ring turns.
The door clangs open.
Faces turn.

Inside is redolent with
old hymnals, candle-wax and
lilies heavy with pollen.
"Now thank we all our God"
They rise and sing
while we kneel to give thanks
for his safe return.
My tiny hand inside father's rough one,
I turn and look up;
and I see the tears as my sister
looks down at me.
Those tears - and her smile
stay in my heart for ever.

The photograph above stayed in the breast pocket of my brother Jack's uniform jacket throughout the World War II. I have it now. It is battered and bruised but I treasure it greatly. Jack died in 1986, my sister, in her mid-nineties. died in 2001.


Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

I have been waiting to read this ever since you mentioned it. I love everything about the first stanza and most of what follows. It isn't 'poor' or 'rotten' at all!

I tried to scan a photo this morning for the blast from the past meme but it didn't want to work. So I'll try another one for tomorrow - hopefully!

Rowan said...

I think this is a beautiful poem, it says what matters and makes me see the people in the church as your brother comes in. It must have been a wonderful moment for you and your family. There are fewer and fewer of the men who not only came back but also survived the rest of the war. As Churchill said, Dunkirk was not a victory, but it was a triumph of grit and determination and sheer bravery. It's a moment in our island's history that always makes me feel proud to be British. And it's a lovely photograph of you:)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver, I read yesterday's post and today's and just want to tell you how fine I think they both are—poetry included. Your reflections of time and place are alive and real, which is all any writer could ever ask.

Really, really wonderful.

Heather said...

I think your poem is beautiful - it paints a picture and creates such deep feelings. Having your photograph was obviously very important to your brother. How wonderful to have had such a loving brother and sister - you must miss them both. I know a little of what your family went through as our son served in Northern Ireland on three tours of duty and in the first Gulf War. We were lucky too.

Teresa said...

Hi Weaver,

It's a poem to treasure. Its welcome simplicity and heartfelt description of that time and those events make it a wonderful - and most worthy - poem to commemorate a brother's safe return.

Was very touching... thanks for sharing.

Cathy said...

The poem is beautiful. The story is beautiful.
War is ugly. We have friends abroad fighting in a war I am against. Their wives and children here live with worry and on Sundays it really shows. You look at them and you know what they are praying for. We feel a need to stay "upbeat" for them but if we worry what depths of worry are they feeling?
I remember my late father in law telling me he felt the entire circle of emotions while he was in the South Pacific. He was a bomber pilot and abhored killing. He waited years before having a child come into a world he wasn't sure of any more.

Jules said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jules said...

Just as I liked the meme, I am very caught by this, it is wonderful. Some of the most vivid memories become intertwined with minute details (like the rooks), and I have similar recollections of the period when my brother was in Northern Ireland.
I can't quite put my memories down quite so simply or beautifully though. You're clever.

jinksy said...

I think this is a beautiful piece of writing, viivid, emotional, real. It brought tears to my eyes...

HelenMHunt said...

Such precious memories. Very moving.

Leenie said...

Amen to the above.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Derrick - I never try to scan photos into my computer - I take a photo of the photo with my digital camera, put it into Picasa and then export it to a file on my desktop ready to transfer to my blog.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for the comments Rowan.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks Scribe - your comments are always appreciated.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Heather - I think I was too young to realise the dangers my brother was in, and I think my parents did a marvellous job of keeping their worries from me.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Teresa and Cathy - thanks for the comments. Glad you liked the poem.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for visiting Jules. Shall pop over and read your blog in a few moments. Glad you liked today's post.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Jinksy, Helen and Leenie - thanks for saying such nice things - I do appreciate your bloggy friendships.

Elizabeth said...

A perfect poem.
vivid, specific and heartfelt.
so lovely.

Totalfeckineejit said...

I wish my rotten poems were as good as that.In fact I wish my good poems were as good as that!

gleaner said...

Beautiful and tender poem and story.

gleaner said...

I forgot to say, thanks for your tips on putting photos on your blog. I thought I needed to scan and I'm surprised how clear your photos appear.

Seth said...

Touching poem. There are so many beautiful phrases and moving moments. Wonderful!

Cloudia said...

A very noble post. What a privlege to share it. Thank you!!
An incredible moment- and YOU were part of it!
I honor you and appreciate your sharing, Dear.
You are invited to my virtual tribute tomorrow (weds) at my blog if you are able. aloha friend

Cloudia said...

Oh, you are nobly modest-your poem a gift!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

The poem is really lovely. You have a serious talent, you know. And I adore both of the photos you've posted. You appear to have looked just the same all your life! Isn't it wonderful to gaze into the eyes of oneself as a child?

I just watched a movie about Winston Churchill concerning Dunkirk. Such a remarkable event.

Michael said...

Thank you so much for a beautiful poem. My late father returned from Dunkirk and was a proud member of the Dunkirk Veterans Association - now sadly disbanded I believe.

Mistlethrush said...

Nothing 'rubbish' or 'rotten' about it just full of vivid images.

Do you need the last two lines? The preceding two already imply it also they make a stronger ending.

Coastcard said...

I, too, grew up with those evocative rooks, old hymn books and black fen soil (my rooks, soil and churches were in rural Norfolk); but thanks to the stalwart service and sacrifice of our respective relations (& thousands of others), youngsters of my generation were able to grow up in relative peace.

How grateful I am, therefore, to those who served to bring about stability, justice and freedom. Your poem and photo complement each other perfectly and in a very moving way.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Good point Mistlethrush - I don't think the last two lines are needed - as you say the sentiments in them are implied - always the best way with poetry, wouldn't you agree?

jeannette stgermain said...

The poem describe bits and pieces of what you experienced and is vivid. I really hope that you keep this one as a momento, even though you think it's not good.
What a wonderful treasure to have the photo that your brother carried with him throughout the war.

Reader Wil said...

Actually I love this poem, because it tells a story. It's good! The other poem is more difficult to understand.Thanks for sharing this memory. Have a great day!

Woman in a Window said...

Is that you in the photo, Weaver? Did he carry your dear face with him?

To me it doesn't read like a poem, it reads like a story, a history and it is rich and welcome. Thank you for that.

Anonymous said...

There's a simplicity and a narrative directness about this that is very moving, Pat. It works.


Red Clover said...

oh weaver, the memory, photo, & poem are beautiful. Thanks for sharing. This world is a marvel; joy, sorrow, desperation, and redemption. 18 is so young.

Janice Thomson said...

Poignant words Weaver that reach right into one's heart...

Bdogs said...

I'm so terribly late in seeing this, Weaver, and I don't imagine you'll see my comment. That is a fine commemoration of the day. And how wonderful that he was spared.

I've been doing research lately into France, 1940, and the aftereffects of Dunkirk played a role in the refugee smuggling down south. I'm hoping to write about this, next. Thank you for the emotional insight. Your brother and sister must have been a great deal older than you, as mine was.