Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Poem for Liberation Day


After a cider reception at the Mairie

the Veterans don’t want to visit graves

prefer a sunny afternoon in Avranches

have their own stories to remember

 - their old friends, their ghosts.

So it’s a small party of us who visit

the Brittany American Cemetery at Saint James  

where the headstones are very white

fanning out in pristine rows

under chestnut trees

 - simple marble crosses

with some Jewish stars of David

dotted here and there.

Soldiers die ‘pro patria

and this ground is theirs

while their bodies are buried in it

 - unclaimed.

To leave them here is to lease small pockets

of this countryside to America

- and to Britain, and to Germany - for ever

a turfed resting place far from home.

The emphasis is on fallen troops

- not individuals, who loved and laughed -

men arranged in tidy ranks

unlike the local graveyard we passed en route

with its colour and clutter

its generous heaps of flowers.

And yet, in all the village cemeteries

headstones will weather and age

become forgotten

but these boys’ markers will remain

as timeless as the stories

of them sacrificed for our peace

in their prime, as if yesterday.

In the Memorial Chapel

I follow the arrows of war

painted on a map of Europe

and I stand here now in 1944

with these American liberators and comrades

as they advance on Brittany

to my mother sewing in occupied farms

and then towards Germany to free my father.

He is listening to a secret wireless

for BBC Radio Londres news of D-Day

writing coded postcards to his sister

about the 'heat' in Brittany

quoting Charles de Gaulle

on courage, faith and patience

wishing he could help with the 'harvest'

hoping to be back by Christmas

free and drinking a bowl of French cider

with his family and friends.

He’ll be caught with the radio

be imprisoned, hungry

forced to eat scraps off the floor

when the Americans reach him in April 45

then repatriated by the Red Cross

and back home to Lannebert

for the end of war celebrations.

I have a photo of my father on the boat

crossing the sea to Jersey in June 1946

travelling towards his new life

a wife, his children, grandchildren

a future all ahead

while I look back now and forward

in this habitual communion with the dead.

This poem was written during a visit to Avranches in 2014 with a group of Jersey's Normandy Veterans and about my father Albert who was a French forced labourer in Ruhla, Germany during WWII.

1 comment:

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