Beaumont Hamel, Somme 1916 - Alan Marquis

This poem is my interpretation of an event which took place in November 1916. My source was a conversation with the son of a veteran of 51st ( Highland ) Division, Bob Duncan. 7th Btn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. His service record from WW1 and a sketch-book, were presented to the Museum at Sterling Castle in June of this year. - Alan

The Battle of the Somme began early on the morning of July 1, 1916, near the town of Beaumont-Hamel. In less than half an hour, the fighting was over. That one day remains the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. 57,470 British soldiers were killed or wounded. For the next 3 months the Beaumont-Hamel front remained relatively quiet; while the great battles of the Somme raged to the South. Then, on November 13, 1916, Beaumont-Hamel was assaulted by the 51st (Highland) Division in what was to be the final act of the Somme battles. Within a day, all the 29th Division objectives of July 1 had been taken; along with a great many German prisoners. - John

Beaumont Hamel, Somme 1916 - Alan Marquis

We buried him there beside a track, in a shallow grave of mud,
where we found him lying obscenely, stained by his own dark blood.
Just another bloated corpse, yet another shell without soul,
not worthy of special mention, nor effort of making a hole.

No noble act of compassion, we barely stopped to think,
only needing to cover him over, to curtail an awful stink.
Yet we felt compelled for some reason, to search him for a name,
perhaps in hope for ourselves, that someone might do the same.

We found a silver pocket-watch and wedding-band of gold,
both inscribed with a single word, in Gothic letters clear and bold.
`Elona.` Such a pretty name, and then we found her smiles,
in battered, faded photographs he’d carried along his miles.

Our hearts returned to us, in sorrow for a lady and a foe,
he’d never see her face again, his fate she’d never know.
For we found no name nor number, nothing to give a clue,
though across one crumpled image, she’d written, `Ich Liebe Du.`

In sombre mood we laid him down, in shell-torn wilderness, by a track,
his treasured things of course, all of them were given back.
A burial brief and without fuss,
little enough for the journey, of a man after all, like us.

Alan Marquis

The Charcoal Fire - Rod Ferbrache

The night was dark and ugly
The crowd calling for blood.
Out in the garden of Gethsemane
Walked Jesus the Son of God.
There too were His disciples,
Frightened, confused, bereft.
Till finally all had fled away,
And only Peter was left.

He followed at a distance
Till the high priests house they reached
Stood alone in the courtyard,
While Caiaphas shouts and screeched.
Accusing Jesus of blasphemy,
For the Messiah he claimed to be.
Peter, by a charcoal fire
Strained forward so he could see.

"You're one of them the young girl said,
It's plain as plain can be."
"I’ve never seen this man before
One of those? Oh no, not me!"
But yet the girl persisted,
"I know you're one of his men."
Peter cursed and swore at her,
Then denied The Lord again.

He moved out to the entrance,
But the crowd were far from nice.
"I know him not!" poor Peter cried,
Then the cock bird crowed - just twice.
The memory then of Jesus words
Came flooding back to him.
"Three times you will disown me,
Three times that you will sin."

The days went by as though a blur,
Yet filled with such regret.
That night around the charcoal fire
He never could forget.
One morning on the fishing boat,
A little out to sea,
He smelt the smell of charcoal.
Not, it couldn't be.

Looking out towards the shore
He saw a figure hunched and low.
A voice rang out, a voice so clear,
That instantly they know.
"It is The Lord", John shouted out,
Peter leapt straight from the ship.
It mattered not if clothed or wet,
He ended this fishing trip!

Breakfast of fish on red hot coals
Were eaten on shore that day,
And when the meal was over
The Master had His say.
No blame, no shame, just one question
Was asked to Peter thrice.
“Peter do you love Me?”
Three times, not once, not twice.

“Oh Lord, you who knows everything,
You see inside my heart.
You know how much I love you,
Regret tears me apart.”
“Then feed my sheep dear Peter,
Care for my lambs as well.
On you I'll build my church one day,
And in My presence dwell.”

So as we look at Peter,
And how from grace he fell.
The lesson that he teaches us
Is good news, so I'll tell.
We fall, and fail, deny, and curse,
In fact we've done the same
As Peter's done,
And hang our heads in shame.

The charcoal fire is waiting,
I can smell the fish from here.
The Master too is beckoning,
He wants us to draw near.
For there is full forgiveness,
For those who know they've fell.
Come now and seek that cleansing,
The charcoal I can smell.

Rod Ferbrache

The Angel From Hell Came Driving. (with his dog) - Alan Marquis

The wind a force of darkness, running its endless race,
the moon a huge silver rocket, soaring supreme through space,
as neon light bathed tarmac, at the last-stop petrol point,
when the Angel from hell came driving, to Charlie’s Hamburger Joint.

He’d a baseball cap on his head, a beard filled with boils at his chin,
a jacket of smooth black leather and Levi’s worn pretty thin.
His T-shirt glistened and glimmered, in that light it seemed like new,
but that was just reflection, from oil-stains, more than a few.

Wheels kicked-up dust in the car park, headlights cut night like a knife,
as he leaned on his horn for a moment, to call for the love of his life.
Skidding through a cloud, spilling beer from an ill-balanced bottle,
throaty engine roaring as he revved impatiently at his throttle.

Then a vision in shadowed light, she appeared from around the back,
Charlie’s black-eyed daughter, Conchita, munching on a snack.
Twenty stone of blubber, her bum almost four feet wide,
but the Angel from Hell adored her, `My Babe, My Babe,` he cried.

She hurried across the parking lot, her progress not with ease,
unfamiliar with any exercise, and her face filled with triple-cheese.
The Angel wrapped arms around her, or as much as he could reach,
in desperate effort to move her, like pushing a whale on a beach.

Struggling for breath the Angel, tried to lift her to the truck’s floor,
there wasn’t a moment to waste, and she’d never fit through the door.
Heaving one leg in a panic, he couldn’t manage both together,
and time was not on their side, if they wanted to live forever.

To the Angel’s mangy, cross-bred dog, this excitement lacked any fizz,
since he knew if arses got shot tonight, the first one would likely be his.
So leaping from the truck, he stole a triple cheese then bit Conchita’s butt,
and she cleared the tail-board in a mighty jump, thanks to a wise old mutt.

Then Charlie came screaming from the joint, greasy scarf around his head,
waving a twelve-gauge shotgun, he aimed to fill the Angel with lead.
But swirling dust in the driveway, spinning wheels, he was just too late,
as Angel hit pedal to metal, and in the back rolled his black-eyed mate.
(and a dog eating a burger)

Away along desert highway, seeking life they could live by their wits,
a forty burgers a day fat chick, and an Angel with a beard full of zits.
And whatever you may make of this tale, one thing is sure alone,
the Angel and his big Conchita, both owed the dog a bone.

Alan Marquis

The Drowning - Andrew Barham

Part I

It wasn't until they saw him lying
On the bottom of the pool that they knew
My brother was in the process of drowning –
He was so slight and frail, face freckled through,
As slender as the Willow's branch that weeps;
I was nine the day my brother was found
Face down on the pool's floor as though asleep.
When children drown, they barely make a sound –
No frantic struggling a la Hollywood;
Instead, they become silent, nose up high,
Head back, barely moving, on tiptoe stood –
Small children letting go with a sigh …

A woman, unknowing, watched him drowning,
Though he cried out for help in his distress,
Mistaking his frantic cries for clowning:
One more silly six-year-old's childishness.
I remember seeing him by the pool-side
After they fished him out, on the deck lying
Deadly pale and drawn, his face fish-belly white.
At the time, I was too numbed for crying
As frantic lifeguards fought to restore life
To that small shape on the deck lying still:
In those desperate moments beyond strife,
We reckon neither with good nor with ill.

To the rescue, the police roared in
Astonishing my parents with their speed!
Resuscitating life to his lifeless limbs;
Once again, my brother lived and breathed.
To the hospital, he was moved straight away
Where they kept him for an hour or so,
Releasing him home when he seemed okay:
"Do not let him fall asleep!" We were told;
And so, we spent the remaining daytime
Watching over my exhausted brother
Who kept stealing away and lying down,
Alarming my father and my mother
Until my father took him by the hand
And led him outside for a walk to go
Though my weary brother could barely stand –
On that sultry sun-burned Saturday so long ago …

Part II

The beach had been closed all morning
Because of a drowning some time past;
And only a few days ago, almost without warning
A man floating on a mattress gasped;
Called for help and slipped below the water –
He was a tall man in his youthful prime,
His friend so slight she was mistook for his daughter –
It happened rapidly, though, for her, time
Passed slowly, as though stalled as she tried,
Vainly, to pull her friend to the surface
Less than 15 metres from the shore where he died,
And, to Vancouver's lasting disgrace
Not one bather on the crowded beach
Responded to her frantic cries for aid,
Though they were all well within reach:
Everyone enjoying the sun, on their patch of sand stayed.

Perhaps they failed to apprehend the situation,
For film and television, with their need
For heightening drama have given a false imitation,
Heedless in their haste to entertain as they mislead:
We now expect when someone drowns to see and hear
Frantic struggling with desperate cries –
The final panic before the approaching death we all fear,
The vain screaming and struggling as the victim tries
To stay afloat, keeping their head above the waves,
Crying for help, thrashing in desperation
Hoping to attract the notice of the rescuer who saves
Them from this untimely and deadly situation;

But, it is not at all as seen on the tv screen –
The person about to drown makes scarce a sound
Beyond that one call of distress before dark green
Water seals the victim's fate as he goes down,
His strength exhausted, his energy spent.
Initially, the victim's body assumes command
As it tries to conserve energy – all effort bent
Towards making a final, desperate stand
As the victim goes silent and grows still
In an effort to keep his head high enough
To maintain the ability to fill
His lungs with the airy, life-giving stuff.

As he loses energy and his strength fails,
He ceases his efforts to stay afloat.
At no time did he wail or desperately flail,
For, to do so would have filled his throat
With deadly water, so now, exhausted, he sinks
Momentarily, his strength diminished.
But before that deadly water he drinks –
For our victim is not yet finished –
He pushes himself to the surface once more,
Gasping in a panic to fill his lungs with air,
Again sinking down, about to drown, his energy store
All but gone as he pushes himself up that watery stair,
With each frantic breath, sinking a little deeper,
The water surrounding him pulling him down
And the energy requirements grow steeper
Until he fails, sucks down water, and drowns.

Time slowed for the young woman, she said,
To the interviewer on the radio;
Yet, in no time at all, her friend was dead
So rapidly does a drowning go
From that first moment when one knows
He's in trouble, to the very last;
For, outside our moment, Time never truly slows,
Those frantic seconds ever rushing past
As those portending events with unending horror filled
Unfold as inexorably as the rising storm which grows
Until our world with violent energy is filled
And all calm and tranquility about us goes.

Part III

On that frightful day my brother was found
Lying still on the bottom of the swimming pool;
On that day my brother nearly drowned,
Time unravelled like the unwinding spool
Of an old news reel from the cinema
We once went to for the Children's Matinee –
Space Opera serials ending each week in an enigma,
The hero about to die every Saturday.

After the police took my brother away
I walked, numb, too shocked for the idle talk of boys,
With the old friends we'd come to visit that day.
It was a burning hot day; the shimmering noise
Of cicadas whirring loudly in the trees
In response to the sultry heat as through the park we walked
While my companions attempted to comfort me,
For we knew not whether mournful Death, who'd stalked
My little brother by the crowded pool-side
Had taken His tiny prize from the land of the quick
And carried it to His lair in the place for those who've died,
Playing upon us all His cruelest trick.

I don't remember who brought my brother to our friend's home
From the hospital where the police took him
After they'd pulled him back from the brink of that watery tomb
Vigourously restoring life to his water-cooled limbs;
It was the policeman who told my father and mother
That it might be fatal for him to lie down and fall asleep;
Thus, we followed wherever went my exhausted brother,
For he was weary after his sojourn in the darker deeps,
Longing only to crawl away and lay down his sleepy head
In any cubby corner or concealĂ©d nook –
As though he longed to return to the Land of the Dead
Depart this land of the quick he nearly foresook.

The more our efforts he vainly sought to evade,
The greater we redoubled our vigilance
Following him into every place he sought to fade
Into that endless sleep, for Life returns with reluctance,
Though it resists its exit with titanic ferocity –
Rarely do we go meekly into that endless night,
Life holding on with an imperious tenacity
No matter how grim and drear seems out plight.
At length, our father took my brother by the hand
And led him outside into the brilliant sunlight
Taking him for a long walk in order to withstand
That creeping somnolence he alone could no longer fight.

My brother tells me, the sun was so strong that afternoon
That both he and our father soon were burned
But at least our father kept him from that fatal swoon
And a second chance for my brother was earned
To remain in the quickness of the living world.
But dire Death had not done with my brother yet!
A day later, dark Death once more about him swirled,
For the grim destroyer of all hopes could not let
His tiny prize escape so easily his clutching –
Thus, when all seemed well, on the following Sunday
My brother's recovery was disturbed by violent retching:
Once more Montreal's police were called to take him away.

My brother's recovery from that fateful Saturday
Was long and slow, and many years would pass
When he, on the margins of pool or lake-shore, would stay
Afraid to break those watery sheets of glass;
But, all things, given time enough, will fade away
Even memories of such frightful import:
Eventually, there would come a day
When yet again my brother would to the water resort
As a soothing balm on a scorching summer Saturday

Andrew Barham

Competition Winner - July 2013
Don't Go On - Adrian Osborne

"What's that in your hand?" she said,
I told her, "it's a gnome",
"an ugly lookin thing" she said,
"you can't keep that at home"
I told her "He's an armless thing"
She said "you liar", "he's got two"
I told her, "your not hearin right",
she said "oh shut up you".
She asked me, "what's that in "his" hand"
I told her, "that's his mate"
She told me "they can't come in doors",
"just leave them by the gate"
I told her " we should keep em luv"
"I think they're very rare",
She shouted "just get rid of them"
"and how?" "I do not care",
she looked once more towards my hand,
and then pondered what she'd seen,
Myself? by now, I'd had enough ,
of the way she'd been so mean!!

"What's that in his mates hand then?"
"is that a smaller one?"
I looked at her with angered eyes
and said "don't you - go on and on !!"

Adrian Osborne

Sunburn - Jenny Hamon

I think that when the sun comes out
We all would like a tan
And so we expose our pale skin
Soaking up the rays we can

The people who have studied it
Say we must protect our skin
Just use a high protection cream
Slap it on and rub it in

Years ago it was the fashion
To slather on olive oil
With just a touch of lemon juice
And then lay out and boil

This caused you to be slippery
Just like a fresh caught fish
I think it would be more useful
To toss a salad in a dish

But if we over-do it
We moisturise with “After Sun”
We never had these posh creams
When we had burnt our bum!

Mum used to put on vinegar
To take the heat from my skin
Apart from smelling like a chip
Oh boy did it make it sting!

So cover up and be sensible
When the sun comes out to play
We really want to keep safe
Or in the end we’ll pay

Jenny Hamon

The First Year - Diane Scantlebury

I wrote this poem in honour of my mum who died almost a year ago. We repatriated her ashes to be buried with my dad in Barbados.


The First Year - Diane Scantlebury

The first year is the hardest
So they all say,
The first year is the longest
When the pain won’t go away,
Thoughts of you are strongest
At the closing of each day,

It is almost the anniversary
Of the time you passed,
Trying hard not to be sad
But the tears are flowing fast,
My head sinks low towards my chest
Don’t want this sorrow to last,

Just think of all the good times
Let the sun shine into the room,
God help us through this first year
And lift us out of the gloom,
But you’re back in your tropical home
Reunited with the man you loved best,
In a final safe harbour for your troubled soul,
Your beautiful heart can now rest.

Diane Scantlebury

A Tribute - Let It Be Hushed - David Raikes

Sixty eight years after they died, the crew of an RAF bomber have been buried with military honours at a ceremony in Italy. One was a young poet who had himself written poignantly about the pain of losing air force comrades.

The four served in 18 Squadron, based near Rimini, in the last days of World War ll.

One evening in April 1945, they took off in their Boston bomber on a mission to attack a bridge on the River Po and then carry out a wider reconnaissance. They never returned.

Just 10 days later came the Allies secured victory in Italy.

The crew have been laid to rest at a Commonwealth war cemetery in the city of Padua.

Three of the flyers were British - the pilot, Sergeant David Raikes, the navigator, Flight Sergeant David Perkins, and the wireless operator and gunner, Flight Sergeant Alexander Bostock. They were all aged 20. The crew's other gunner was an Australian - Warrant Officer John Hunt, of the Royal Australian Air Force - He was a year older.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

Let It Be Hushed - David Raikes

Let it be hushed; let the deep ocean close
Upon these dead. Others may laud the parts they played,
Raise monuments of marble in their names.
But we who flew with them and laughed with them,
We other crews who, living side by side,
In outward contacts slowly came to know
Their inmost parts, would rather leave untouched
The wound we healed, the love we buried there.
These men knew moments you have never known,
Nor ever will; we knew those moments too,
And talked of them in whispers late at night;
Such confidence was born of danger shared.
We shared their targets, too; but we came back.
Lightly we talked of it. We packed their kit,
Divided up such common useful things
As cigarettes and chocolate, rations stored
Against a rainy day that never came.
'And they cast lots among them!' Someone said,
'It was a pity that he wore his watch;
It was a good one, twenty pounds he said
He paid for it in Egypt. Now, let's see,
Who's on tonight. Ah, Taffy - you've a good one!
You'd better leave it with me.' And we laughed.
Cold were we? Cold at heart. You get that way.
Sometimes we knew what happened; how they crashed.
It was not always on the other side.
One pranged upon the runway, dipped a wing,
The navigator bought it, and the gunner.
The other two got out, a little shaken.
Bob crashed when doing an air test, just low flying
- At least they think it was, they couldn't say.
The plane was burning fiercely when they found it;
One man thrown clear, still living, but he died
On way to hospital. The loss was ours, -
Because I shared an aeroplane with Bob.
We had to get another D for dog.
And some did not come back. We never knew
Whether they lived - at first just overdue,
Till minutes changed to hours, and still no news.
One went to bed; but roused by later crews,
Asked 'Were they back yet?' and being answered 'No',
Went back to sleep.
One's waking eyes sought out the empty beds,
And 'Damn', you said, 'another kit to pack';
I never liked that part, you never knew
What privacies your sorting might lay bare.
I always tried to leave my kit arranged
In decent tidiness. You never knew.
But that is past. The healing river flows
And washes clean the wound with passing years.
We grieve not now. There was a time for tears,
When Death stood by us, and we dared not weep.
Let the seas close above them, and the dissolving deep.

David Raikes

Sea Mist - Diane Scantlebury

You creep up
Silently towards us,
Your cold, clammy dampness
Engulfing us
In a transparent cloud of mist,
You appear noiselessly,
Like smoke
Without a fire,
Wrapping your moist cloak
About us,
You obscure the sky
In an eerie white out,
And the naked trees
Stand as silhouettes
Against you,
Your odourless, tasteless breath
Caresses and wets our faces,
Makes our hair go limp,
You bring all that flies
To a standstill,
Almost as quietly as you came,
You retreat and disappear
And life resumes.

Diane Scantlebury

Old Marrieds - Diane Scantlebury

Soft candle lights flicker
Romantic ballads play,
Old marrieds dine in silence
No words left to say,
Eyes cast down and heads bowed
Almost as if in prayer,
No visible communication
They quietly consume their fare.

In the corner a young man
Falls to his knees,
Grasping the hand
Of the love he’s chosen,
While the rest of the room
Erupts in applause,
The old marrieds sit
Not acknowledging, their bodies frozen.

When did the magic
Die for them?
Did their passion
Ever reach its pinnacle?
Would they now pour scorn
On the happy couple’s hopes?
Or have they of youthful dreams
Become cynical?

Diane Scantlebury

Competition Winner - June 2013
Memories - Jenny Hamon

Image by; John Buchanan

The image above is called 'Baby Steps'. It was taken by John Buchanan.

Competition - June 2013 - Memories - Jenny Hamon

Pictures in my baby books
Are such a joy to me
They hold so many memories
Of all my family

Those happy baby days
The milestones achieved
Recorded here on the page
Happy memories indeed

The tiny hands and feet
Imprinted in the book
So perfect but so small
I must take another look

Those days have passed so quickly
And now that they have grown
Soon they will have their babies
And memories of their own.

Jenny Hamon

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