November 11 - 17, 2012: Issue 84
JOhnson and Jago boatbuilders shed- Leigh on Sea 1939.
Anderson Shelter: Sidney Strube, Daily Express, November 1940.
Above: Dunkirk Flotilla - Minotaur Flotilla. 'Little Ships' being towed down the Thames at the start of Dunkirk. Below: Dunkirk evacuation/
Chuldren being evacuated - nametags, lunchboxes and gas masks.
D-Day - 6th of June, 1944
THE LOOM OF THE LIGHTS OF LONDON
By Martin Thorndycraft
A man stood alone on the cliff-tops at peace, in the quiet of the evening air
The familiar old sight brought a smile of delight at the fine panorama spread there.
To the East he could see beyond sleepy Old Leigh all the lights coming up on the pier,
To the South the Kent coast had, he thought, changed the most and he muttered "That’s progress, I fear."
But the West drew his eyes as the darkling skies over London grew brighter, it seemed.
Memories fifty years dead flooded into his head and he walked home to sleep. But he dreamed!
The little boy watched from his window one night as the last light leached out of the sky.
And he called to the man in the garden below "Hey, Dad, I was wondering why
The sky always seems to get brighter again just after the sun goes down".
“That’s the loom of the lights of London, old son, as they switch them all on in Town.
And I think we won’t see it too often again if this nonsense in Munich falls through
So I’ll need you to help me to do a few things, just in case----well, for Mummy and you."
The little boy listened as older men spoke and their voices held anger and grief
"Only twenty-one years since the last lot was done” and their heads shook in sheer disbelief
"What was it they told us when called to the ranks? `Volunteer, lads, and fight for the cause!`
"What justification when millions had died? Well, that was the war to end wars!
And now it must happen all over again, how many this time will survive?”
"I suppose it’s our fault, for we sat there and watched and allowed the fanatics to thrive.”
Old Leigh, the small Mecca of any boy’s dreams with its Creek and its boats and its mud.
Could anyone doubt, as he wandered about, the salt water that ran in his blood?
He rejoiced in the smells of the old cockleshells and the seaweed the ropes and the pitch
And he marvelled how wide was the Thames till the tide brought that mighty stream down to a ditch.
He watched the boat-builders work wonders in wood with just adzes and handsaws and planes
And the way they could make up a new garboard-strake with their hands and their grandfather’s brains.
He longed for a ride when each boat took the tide and begged them each time he felt bolder
And they smiled (not in fun) and said “Sorry, old son, but come back when you’re just a bit older”.
Then the war came to Leigh and the threat from the sea was as real as the heat from a fire,
So they built the tank-traps and they filled in the gaps with roll after roll of barbed wire
While all the kids knew they could worm their way through notwithstanding the threat of big fines,
Not one of them tried since a mate of theirs died - all the beaches were seeded with mines!
They all worked together for many a day in the warmth of that fine autumn’s sun
Making `blackouts` and digging a shelter next door and the little boy thought it was fun
To see neighbours all labour as one with a will and the spirit to grimly determine
They were British and not to be ground `neath the feet of some jackbooted maniac vermin!
And many a young man went bravely away dressed in khaki or light or dark blue
And those that came back had all aged twenty years by the horror of what they went through.
For many long days all the communiqués from the fighting in Europe were mournful.
The blitzkrieg was working too terribly well and the Fuhrer was boasting and scornful.
No country was ready, no nation well armed, no courage enough to withstand
As the Nazi steamroller smashed on and crushed out peace and freedom from land after land.
Lines of flags on the little boy’s wall-map remorselessly moved North and West to the coast
Till they shortened and formed a small arc round Dunkirk just a few miles across at the most.
Then the call had gone out all round England’s South Coast, every harbour and river and creek.
It was heard as from Nelson or Raleigh or Drake. The response wasn’t tepid or weak!
So the fishermen dumped all their gear on the docks and set off to be first in the line
The old paddle-wheel steamers chugged out through the locks, their green, white and gold looking fine!
There were tugboats and fireboats and tenders and hire-boats and wherries and ferries galore
And every small boat with pretensions to float and a skipper went off to the war!
The little boy watched with his pals all wide-eyed the Armada set off round the Nore
From the Thames and elsewhere there were nine hundred boats and they’d seen nothing like it before.
And the Navy would shepherd them over the Channel where, thank God, the weather was calm.
Some boats had not tasted salt water before and for some of the crews it lacked charm!
But they got to Dunkirk and they soon set to work and they ferried those men from the beaches
A miraculous third of a million got home and away from the enemy’s reaches.
The lady next door came round tearful and weak. "God, what shall I do?" she beseeches.
Brian took his wee boat to Dunkirk twice last week and came back full of lads from the beaches.
And he went off again in the old "Jenny Wren" disregarding the way that I pleaded.
He said "Just wish me luck and don’t worry, old duck, I’ve a feeling I still may be needed",
Now the telegram boy just brought this to the door but my eyes are too tearful to see".
So the little boy’s Mum took her into her arms for she knew what the message would be.
The boy’s Dad was looking quite grim in those days as he absently tousled his hair,
“Reprieve from the jaws of defeat” was the best he could say for the Dunkirk affair.
“So I think we’ll evacuate you and your Mum just to make sure you’re out of harms way
But I’d better stay here and get on with my work and keep old Adolph Hitler at bay”.
And his parents engendered a holiday mood as they packed him off up to his Aunts
Though both were aware how the Home Guard would fare if the Germans came over from France.
Then Churchill spoke out to a nation in doubt and in tones that demanded attention
He offered them nothing but blood, sweat and tears and didn’t neglect then to mention
That we’d fight on the beaches and fight in the streets but never, no never surrender!
Bull-doggedly bullying all to take heart and become a defiant defender.
And even the young boy could recognise that with a fellow like Winston in charge
If we all pulled together and fought to the end we’d do pretty well by and large!
Now the loom of the lights did come back many nights in a different and terrible guise
As the bluey-white fingers of searchlights felt round for the foe that lurked there in the skies.
And if they were lucky a cruciform moth would appear at the peak of a cone
And flutter and fight to escape from the light but it knew it faced death all alone
For an instant of silence the guns all swung round, in their hatred they took careful aim,
Here at last there was one they could see though they knew there were plenty more still in the game.
Then "POM-POM!" go the small guns, "KER-POW!"go the Bofors, "KERUMP!" go the 3.7`s
A chrysanthemum blooms at the apex of lights and five heroes die there in the heavens.
The little boy leaps with excitement and laughs "We got one! We got one!" he screams.
It’s just cowboys and Indians, one up to us! Not for years will he get the bad dreams.
The rest of the Dornier squadron throbs on undeterred by the death of those fliers
And they defecate death on the docks down below, taking aim at incendiary fires.
"Hey, Dad, the loom! The loom of the lights! Do you think that it means that we’ve won?"
"No, Son, they’ve set fire to the India Docks and the battle’s just hardly begun.
And many a Cockney and neighbouring family died in those merciless raids
But the worse they were harried the harder they got as they fashioned their ploughshares to blades,
Then tempered the steel in their own burning homes with a terrible light in their eyes
And from that moment on there was never a doubt that the phoenix of vengeance would rise.
The young lad would go to the cliff-tops each day, his gas mask slung over his shoulder,
His I.D. card stuffed in his pocket and prayed it would last till he grew a bit older,
For he desperately longed to sail out with those ships as they slipped from the Thames to the sea
Or to fly in a Spitfire and shoot down some Huns, Oh! What wonderful fun that would be!
He solemnly watched the Commandos that trained on their course on the slopes down below him
Then learned it himself and got bruised and all covered in mud till his Mum didn’t know him!
The army moved into the street late that year, commandeering the houses and flats
Of the folks that moved out when invasion was near leaving only their dust and some cats.
But the ones that remained made a fuss of the lads as they drilled and they trained every day.
For they certainly knew as the ammo dumps grew that a big `push` was not far away
And the Gunners were kind to the kids of the street; they reminded them of their own sons.
So the kids learned to swear and put cream on their hair and the way to fire anti-tank guns.
By now the young lad rarely saw his own Dad who was working an eighty-hour week
Plus he felt it his duty to join the Home Guard just to fill his spare time, so to speak!
And he cycled at night along four miles of coast behind tank-traps and mines and barbed wire
With his Webley and twenty-four bullets at most though uncertain how many would fire!
And they made him an Officer with a flat hat, to the pride and delight of his son.
He said “I’m not the best but compared to the rest I’m the only one there with a gun!
The women all worked with a will in those times making efforts as great as the men’s
And some joined the WAAFs or the A.T.S. though they envied the hats of the WRENS !
They joined the Land Army or went off to nurse or worked on production lines
Built planes and made parachutes, even built ships, painted tanks and filled bombs, shells and mines.
And some, of course, stayed home and brought up the kids, without husbands it wasn’t the best.
But they dug their allotments and stood a fire watch wearing tin hats along with the rest.
The sky above England was bright blue that day as the Messerschmitts breasted the coast
And the Focke-Wolfs too swiftly swung into view and the number that came was a boast.
The challenge they issued to Fighter Command was to fight or surrender the field
And the RAF knew the vital import of the day and there wasn’t an option to yield!
So the Merlins were hot and the Vickers full armed and the pilots knew their obligation
Was to fight tooth and claw till the battle was won for the prize was the life of the Nation.
Now the Luftwaffe by then were all battle-hard men, they’d conquered six countries already
So they flew against England with arrogant ease, their minds and their pulses quite steady.
But the bulk of the RAF boys were fresh to the fray, barely out of their Unis and schools.
Though their spirits were high and their brave hearts were light they had yet to learn some of the rules.
So the Spitfires and Hurricanes took to the fight with never a thought of defeat
And they clashed head to head over England’s green fields and a fiercer foe neither could meet.
Some young kids from the school broke the truancy rule and escaped when the siren had sounded,
Not a thought for the danger from shrapnel or bullet, away to the cliff-top they bounded
And they witnessed some glorious history writ on that high blue ethereal stage,
Unaware of the dreadful account to be rendered in blood at the end of the page.
And the scream of those engines and rattle of guns continued all day o`er the lea
Till the last black-crossed planes had all fled from the field and the small boys went home for their tea.
Then “The Few” turned their noses for home on the `drome and the maintenance crew’s tender care
To refuel, rearm and patch up best they could for at dawn they’d be back in the air.
And the pilots went off to the pub for some beer and to bask in the barmaid’s warm smile
And to play rowdy games and to sing bawdy songs for they had to forget for a while.
“Never mind if the bastards shoot off your left ball or they serve you the ultimate clanger,
Just be sure that your ghost flies the old crate back home as we’ve bugger all left in the hangar.”
And the battle raged on through those bright autumn days and “The Few” had become even less
But the Black Cross was smashed and the pieces fled home, there was no singing back in their mess.
Soon the youthful observers could notice a change as the bombers took over the fight
There were `ours going out ` not just `theirs coming in` and the people took heart from the sight.
So the “Wimpys” and “Lancasters” roared out at dusk and returned not far short of the dawn
And the loss of some crews would be terrible news but at least now the Nazis could mourn.
The young boy had pinned a huge map on his wall with small flags on to mark up the action
But there wasn’t much movement in Europe just then so North Africa was the attraction.
His Uncle was there with the `Rats of Tobruk` under `Monty` engaging in war
With Rommel, `The Fox`, a formidable foe and the whole of his `Afrika Korps`.
The fighting was bitter and raged to and fro till Rommel withdrew from the fray
And some men say gallantry lived through the war but chivalry died on that day.
Sometimes the boy queued with his Mother for food in the hope of some small tasty treat,
A smidgin of butter, a morsel of cheese, some dried milk or a sausage, sans meat.
But the British folk knew that apart from what grew on their Islands the rest of it made
Some hazardous trips with the men and the ships that fought through the U-boat blockade.
And the brave Merchant Men always signed on again for the convoys from Thames, Tees and Tyne
Protected, they prayed, on the voyage they made by the lads in the “Grey Funnel Line”.
And the boy saw a boat that was barely afloat come staggering in on its own
For the convoy can’t stop when one ship gets the chop so the lame ducks were always alone.
Tugs hurried out dowsing the fire in the housing and threw her some lines for a tow
And they nursed the old crock into Tilbury dock and they brought up the dead from below.
Then the dockers unshipped the six tanks from her decks and the crew hurried home to their wives.
Cargo raised from her hold was worth far more than gold for the freight cost was seventeen lives.
Now the people of Britain were feeling the pinch and the structure was starting to groan
As apart from the Commonwealth lads by their side they’d fought two bloody years on their own
Then the Yankees received a foul punch in the guts as the Japs bombed their Pearl Harbour fleet
So they learned from the start there’s no rules to this game and they jumped in to help with both feet.
Soon the G.I`s and Fly Boys were thick on the ground and the kids all soon learned to say “Mister,
Have you got any gum?” and they always had some and asked “Say, have you got a big sister?”
A certain resentment was there at the start with their clean uniforms and their money
For taking the girls out to dine and to dance (though they thought that they talked a bit funny)
And the lads in the Forces were not too impressed as the Yanks pinched the girls and the beer
And they soon wrote a song of the only things wrong “Overpaid, over-sexed, over here!”
But resentment gave way to respect very soon at the courage displayed by the Yanks
As the bombers flew out now by day and by night in two shifts with their “Forts” and our“Lancs”.
Now the kids thought they knew every aircraft that flew and some they could tell just by sound
And what they’d seen lately were nearly all `ours`, there weren’t many `bandits` around.
Then the Germans invented two new forms of death; the `V.1.s`were despatched for a start.
Just a Flying Bomb blast and they flew very fast and they sounded just like a long fart!
If they reached overhead when the motor cut dead you were safe for they’d glide some way yet,
But they hadn’t a crew so were not aimed at you, it was rather like Russian Roulette!
Next the `loom` came in flashes and terrible splashes of fiery yellow and red
And it would have been pretty except the poor City was mourning more Citizens dead
These were called the `V.2s` and the only good news was the `whoosh` chased the `bang` in a hurry
If you heard them arrive you were safe and alive and if not ….. well it’s too late to worry!
So the phlegmatic folk took these things as a joke and grimly worked on with teeth gritted
While the RAF knocked out launch-sites as fast as they could, they were causing more harm than admitted.
The South East of England was filling up fast with men and equipment and arms
Assembling in every space they could find from railway sidings to farms
And the seaports were filling with all kinds of ships and the rumour-mills busily humming
A wave of excitement pervaded the land; it was clear now that D-Day was coming!
Then the boys saw some very strange craft on the River towed down to a spot off the Nore.
They were parts of the `Mulberry Harbour' designed to be built on an enemy shore!
Came the dawn they were gone and the army moved on from the street with their guns and their tanks.
And the kids wondered why they had not said `Goodbye` with no chance to say `Good luck and thanks`.
But the whole of the South was one tightly closed mouth for they knew careless talk would cost lives.
So all leave had been stopped, mail and telephones chopped to the worry of sweethearts and wives.
A logistical miracle then was achieved as the armies embarked all together.
High Command had some nail-biting agonies waiting at least a day’s break in the weather.
Now the World held its breath as if frightened to death that the outcome should be a defeat.
The Air Forces chased every Hun from the sky over Europe protecting the fleet.
The Navies bombarded the coastal defence – every target but one were decoys!
Then the Armada pounced and the word was announced “Right, it’s Normandy – Go for it, Boys!
So the beaches were stormed and the beachheads were formed and the gallantry shown was inspiring
For despite the surprise and the sun in their eyes the German guns never stopped firing!
Now the flags on the young fellow’s wall map spread out from the Normandy beaches inland.
And they marched across Europe and brought liberation to people and land after land.
As the Germans fell back from each massive attack though the fighting was bloody and grim
With the Russians attacking them hard from the East now their chance of survival was slim.
But the horrors they found as they won back the ground made the Allies quite sickened with worry,
Concentration camps freed proved the desperate need was to finish the war in a hurry.
With maximum effort the Allies fought on till they smashed through the German’s own border
And the pincers closed in and crushed on to Berlin through a land bombed to total disorder.
In a mad Armageddon of chaos the Fuhrer then died like a rat in its nest,
And the Axis collapsed and surrender was signed and the last dead were laid to their rest.
Jubilation at Victory in Europe was rife, celebration was urgently planned
So parties and dances and bonfires were held in all neighbourhoods throughout the land.
The young chap had passed his exams and at last he was going to High School, so proud
To be wearing long pants like his Dad and a uniform just like the rest of his crowd.
He remembered the day that seemed so far away when they’d made blackout boards in the past
And they’d served very well, not a bomb or a shell had shattered a pane with its blast
But they went now to boost the huge pile that the neighbours had built on a block up the street
And they cheered, sang and laughed in relief as it burned and they toasted the German defeat.
But next day, as it does, the remorse had set in realising the job wasn’t done
For out East there remained one last beast to be slain in the guise of the rising sun.
And their Emperor swore they would still fight the war till the final Jap soldier was dead
While the Allies were tough they had just had enough and reluctant more blood should be shed.
So an awesome decision was made and an Atom Bomb fell on two towns in Japan
And a nuclear roar brought an end to the war but a stain on the conscience of Man.
So at last it was over! The man took his son up to Town for the Victory Parade.
It was plain although covered with bunting and flags what a sacrifice London had made.
Every street had bomb scars like a landscape from Mars but this wasn’t the day for a wake!
For this great celebration they hosted the nation with pride in the show they would make.
And London just took to the streets for a look at the finest parade ever seen,
And they cheered to the echo the Services marching and cheered for the King and the Queen!
It took the parade several hours to pass by, each contingent received an ovation
For everyone marching were heroes that day in the hearts of a gratified nation.
But the last of the brass bands was finally past with a blare and a thump on the drum
And the crowd drifted off, some in search of more fun, some to go home from whence they had come.
With their hands red from clapping, their throats raw from cheers, their heads full of wonderful sights,
And the young chap said “Dad, do you know that right now we’re a part of the loom of the lights!”.
The man woke next morning as daylight was dawning and precious few hours had he slept.
From the pain in his eyes he recalled with surprise that on several occasions he’d wept
Then he knew that those tears, overdue fifty years, had been shed for the folly of man.
Whereas youth saw excitement, adventure and fun the man saw, as only age can,
The mad decimations of people and nations, the murder the anguish the waste
For the people in power was it their finest hour or man’s nature completely debased?
He wondered if anything fine had emerged from that maelstrom of mayhem and madness.
Would the balance sheet have any goodness to show which could possibly counter the badness?
Well, the spirit of man to survive was apparent, ameliorated by time
And given the chance he preferred not to sink, had a strong inclination to climb!
Great things could be done without use of a gun if the shoulders were put to the wheel
But you first needed peace and some good elbow grease and to know where to find your next meal.
He smiled to himself in surprise at the deep philosophical thoughts in his mind
He was not one to ponder the meaning of life or the ultimate fate of mankind.
He was nearing the end of a long promised trip and was now heading back to the start
The wealth of the friendships he’d found on the journey were pleasant and warm in his heart
And he thought that “somewhere there’s a metaphor there, it’ll dawn on me one of these nights”.
Then he wandered off down for a last look at Town and that wonderful loom of the lights.