I am very into poetry at the moment… I always enjoy it, but just now I seem to have verses and lines springing into my head all the time.
As Remembrance Day approaches, or Poppy Day as we used to call it, war poets seem to keep reminding me of their work. We recently drove through a village one evening which looked empty and as I was reviewing that scene I was reminded of ‘The Deserted Village’ by Oliver Goldsmith, and from there to ‘Conquerors’ by Henry Treece.
Treece was born in 1911, and so was only a young child during the First World war, but he would have grown to adulthood through the 1920’s and seen the effects of the so called Great War on the men who had returned. He would have seen them, many broken and blind, he would have known them, uncles maybe, cousins, fathers of friends. Henry became a teacher and then in the Second World war he became an intelligence officer with the Royal Air Force Bomber Command. After the war he returned to teaching but sadly died in 1966 at the premature age of fifty-five.
I remember him as a favourite author of mine when I was a child and was delighted to come across a poem of his when I was teaching, an evocative and vivid descriptor of the other side of war.
By sundown we came to a hidden village
Where all the air was still
And no sound met our tired ears, save
For the sorry drip of rain from blackened trees
And the melancholy song of swinging gates.
Then through a broken pane some of us saw
A dead bird in a rusting cage, still
Pressing his thin tattered breast against the bars,
His beak wide open. And
As we hurried through the weed-grown street,
A gaunt dog started up from some dark place
And shambled off on legs as thin as sticks
Into the wood, to die at least in peace.
No one had told us victory was like this;
Not one amongst us would have eaten bread
Before he’d filled the mouth of the grey child
That sprawled, stiff as stone, before the shattered door.
There was not one who did not think of home.
by Henry Treece