Archive for the ‘world war 2’ Category

Saboteurs (Repost)

July 28, 2018

Eye to Eye With Their Ally


In the milky light of the bleak dawn
Agents and saboteurs awake
Preparing to assassinate
Some dark lieutenant
Of the occupying power

They will not be acclaimed
They will not even be named
They will remain
Unknown, a footnote
They dislocate our fate

We wait. Where are they now?
Missing, presumed dead,
He said. Martyred
Wanton devastation
The butchery of me.

They took lessons
In the art of destruction
Sabotage is a craft
They were taught
How to kill
With their bare hands

A veil was drawn
Over their future
They did not know
What their mission was
Until the final moment

When they were despatched
By air and by sea
Smuggled in by gunboat
And parachute
Eye to eye with their ally,
With their enemy
Upstart amateurs
Armed only with cyanide
Inside a suicide pill.

Dedicated to member of SOE
(see soon to be established on Drowning In Academia)

The Toe of Italy, September 1943

January 30, 2013


The camp they were staying in was called ‘Hell 1’.

Nobby was laid out with the dead.  He was suffering from infectious hepatitus.  He lay, for three days, unconscious on a miliatry aircraft.  A passing American soldier saw a limb twitch and alerted the medical authorities.  Nobby had been saved from being buried alive. He was transferred to a miitary hospital.  Nobby was in a coma for two more days.  When he came round the other patients on the ward were gathered around his bed.  ‘We’ve been taking bets on your chances of recovery,’ one of them said.  ‘Every man who has occupied that bed has ended up dead.’

They chatted and played cards but the food was bland and in short supply.

The days passed by.

To be continued…

Nobby in Siciliy

Nobby in Siciliy

Farmer's Daughter

Farmer’s Daughter

Sicilian Family

Sicilian Family



First Movie Recommendation of the Year

January 2, 2013

female agents

March Past

June 18, 2010

I took Nobby to see the march past of the Royal Anglian Regiment.  They were a remarkable looking group of young men (and, yes, some women too).  Nobby was ‘all gonged up’. (i.e: he was draped in medals and wore his Commando beret.) They let us through the barrier to take a closer look.  Nobby is 93 by the way so this quite an adventure.  The crowd was appreciative of them and they made that clear.  They act on our behalf.  They do what they do so that we don’t have to.  Nobby was the centre of attention.  As always but then he deserves it.

Back Home – A Survivor’s Tainted Luck

October 11, 2009


A sense of loss floods through him.  Nobby lost the majority of his comrades.  Thanks to a diagnosis of infectious hepatitis he was sent home early.  This was his tainted good fortune.  He returned intact and free of wounds.  Or so it seemed.  But there was a storm raging within him.  ‘You wouldn’t have liked me back then,’ he said.  He was wounded in a way that others could not see.  Nowadays they would stuff him up with pills and slap a medical label on him.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, probably.  And then they’d have left him to rot.  Little has changed then.

But back then you just got on with and maybe that was the best thing to do.  As Nobby said, ‘You rode out the storm.’  At least they were honest then.  At least they didn’t pretend to care.

When Nobby left his unit he sailed back home in a ship suffused with the stench of men’s underarm sweat.  ‘There was no where to wash’.  When the vessel finally docked at Liverpool he was about to disembark when a senior officer approached him.  He made him stand to attention.  ‘What kind of a corporal are you? Look at the state of you.  You’re a disgrace to your uniform.’

It was then that Nobby unleashed the rage that had been gathering up inside him.  ‘No,’ he said.  ‘You are the one who is a disgrace to your uniform.  I’ve been overseas for four years.  And you see this mud clinging to my boots, my uniform.  That’s Italian mud.  Now tell me how many years did you say you’ve served overseas?’

The officer’s face was flushed with a mixture of embarrassment and anger.  ‘None,’ he said.

‘Now,’ said Nobby.  ‘I’m going to leave this ship and you’re not going to say another word because if you do you’ll be over the side and in the drink.’

The officer turned and walked away without saying another word.

‘A victory for the common man,’ Nobby said later.

But his ferocity disturbed his senior officers and they sent him to see a psychiatrist.  Other ex commandos who had not been in Nobby’s unit were sent to see him too.  Nobby tried to explain to the doctor what he was going through.  ‘It was like winding up a stopwatch – that was the training.  And it takes you a long time to wind down again.’  But that pompous, puffed-up little psychiatrist didn’t get it.  In the end I think Nobby and his fellow ex-commandos drove him to the brink of insanity

Fading II

September 24, 2009
Cat on the Edge

Cat on the Edge

It was I who had been fading. Not Nobby. Nobby is courageous and upright and resilient. I am none of those things. Nobby went through a war and its aftermath. He saw comrades blown to pieces, burn to death, drown in their own blood.  I have seen none of these things.  And after the war he contributed even more.  He stayed in the army.  He reached the Rank of Regimental Sergeant Major.  He spent two decades as what we would now call a ‘paramedic’.  Then he was just a plain old ‘ambulance man’.  After that he worked as a college porter (although they liked to call themselves ‘college disciplinarians’.) He spent the last couple of decades of his working life running a student hostel.  When his wife became too ill to manage her hostel duties the council (to their credit surprisingly quickly) found him a council flat.  Five weeks after they moved in his wife died in hospital.  She had fallen from a high bed and had never recovered.  Nobby has been living alone ever since but what he lacked for in human companionship he made up for in animal companionship.  He had Freddi, the West Highland dog until she died in 2008.  And now he has Ginger, a plump Tom cat who has slipped comfortably into Freddi’s place.  His is truly a life lived as fully as a life could ever be.

And he is strong.  Much stronger than I will ever be.

Pictures are more eloquent that my words could ever be.

At the Beginning

At the Beginning

On Morality

May 15, 2008


2424167936_d36f2d88ec_oInterrogator: ‘Do you really think for a moment that your  friends would do as much for you as you seem to be ready to do for them?’
Odette: ‘Yes, I do but the point is unimportant.  I do not barter loyalty against loyalty.  I am no shopkeeper, Monsieur, and I sell nothing by the pound.  If they were prepared to betray me that would not influence my decision in any way.  I am only responsible to my own conscience.’

Jerrard Tickell (p.257)
I will not permit the coherence of my moral universe to be affected by the incoherence of somebody else’s.

Reality Bites

March 16, 2008

Most people adopt children. I had to be different. I adopted a grandfather. It seems like he will be here forever. Like Bella. I am standing on the beach and this wave is coming towards me. A great grey wall. Unstoppable. I have become complacent. I forgot, for a moment, that time marches on. I could sit in his living room, eating his toasted hot-cross buns, listening to him recount his war stories for the rest of my days. Those afternoons are precious to me. They are essential to me. The reality is, however, that Nobby (not Nobbie) is ninety one and that wave is inching ever closer. And I turn back to Nobby and we resume talking and I am wondering what I should do to blast that image out of my brain

I don’t know whether I’ll be able to survive this one.

Nobby Clarke

February 25, 2008

(91 year old war veteran) upon seeing this man’s infamous face on his TV screen:

‘I shot better men than him when I was in Sicily.’

This Week I Be Mostly Reading…

February 23, 2008

‘England is, above all, the country of the amateur, and the wireless operators, couriers and saboteurs who went to France, were therefore amateurs, officers working behind enemy lines. They had a fine contempt for the professional spy. They were ordinary men and women in that they sprang from ordinary walks of life. The don, the stock-broker, the bird-watcher, the doctor, the insurance agent, the shorthand typist, the widow, the anthropologist and the head-waiter…’

Jerrard Tickell. (p.44)

See Saboteurs.

No Real Job

Nocturnal bride
Wears black tonight
Grainy pictures
Of a faded wedding
I am naked, draped in leaves
My hand clasping my heart
All foliage suffocates

A fragment of my mirror (broken)
A shard of my heart
Books line the walls
Who lives in those leather-bound volumes
Even they are soon to be forgotten
So I devoured you
And I relished every morsel
Torn and bleeding
The grey sky in my head
From some ancient tale
Pale ghosts hovered over me.

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