The radio program, A War Less Ordinary, featuring the poetry of those left behind during World War I and World War II, aired on 10th November, 2007 as part of Remembrance Day celebrations. The program was developed and presented by Sarah Lancashire and aired on BBC 2. These are transcripts of the poems read by Richard Armitage. You can listen to A Code Poem for the French Resistance HERE and download it and all the other poems Richard read, from our Media – Narration page.
Reading poems with Richard were Susan Jameson and Charlie Brooks.
Just a note, we’ve done our best finding dates so if you have any information on the ones that are missing we’d be very happy to hear from you.
Thanks to Suzi for her work transcribing these poems.
A Wife in London, Thomas Hardy (December, 1899)
I – The Tragedy
She sits in the tawny vapour
That the Thames-side lanes have uprolled,
Behind whose webby fold on fold
Like a waning taper
The street-lamp glimmers cold.
A messenger’s knock cracks smartly,
Flashed news is in her hand
Of meaning it dazes to understand
Though shaped so shortly:
He – has fallen – in the far South Land…
II – The Irony
‘Tis the morrow; the fog hangs thicker,
The postman nears and goes:
A letter is brought whose lines disclose
By the firelight flicker
His hand, whom the worm now knows:
Fresh – firm-penned in highest feather –
Page-full of his hoped return,
And of home-planned jaunts by brake and burn
In the summer weather,
And of new love that they would learn.
Back to the Land, ‘ALGOL’
The wintry days are with us still;
The roads are deep in liquid dirt;
The rain is wet, the wind is chill,
And both are coming through my shirt;
And yet my heart is light and gay;
I shout aloud, I hum a snatch;
Why am I full of mirth? To-day
I’m planting my potato patch.
The Kaiser sits and bites his nails
In Pots- (or some adjoining) dam;
He wonders why his peace talk fails
And how to cope with Uncle Sam;
The General Staff has got the hump;
In vain each wicked scheme they hatch;
I’ve handed them the final thump
By planting my potato patch.
And later, when the War is won
And each man murmurs, “Well, that’s that,”
And reckons up what he has done
To put the Germans on the mat,
I’ll say, “It took ten myriad guns
And fighting vessels by the batch;
But we too served, we ancient ones,
Who dug in our potato patch.”
The Welder, Wilfred Gibson
Grotesque in grey asbestos hood, blue glasses and great gauntlet gloves
That shield her from the heat and glare and sprinkling sparks,
She welds the parts of tempered steel and finds it good to toil unceasing
While somewhere far over sea, her anxious heart’s adventuring with him she loves.
On wings of steel in furious flight into a foe-invested night of perilous thin air,
Her heart to his in the despair and exultation of the fight, wedded by danger and delight.
Dad, a Home Guard, when in liquor,
Missed his target – killed the Vicar;
With more practice, like as not,
Dad may be a better shot.
Dad’s Army, Frank Seddon
Roused from their sleep and half awake
The guard, another watch to make.
Squinting in the storm-lamp’s light
The old guard enters from the night.
A bunch of England’s fighting men
And that’s including Loony Len.
Billeted at a barn of Shaws,
With Sparrow laying down the laws,
While shells were bursting overhead,
Young Griffiths talked about the dead.
Snoring, Clare was on the floor
As Private Charnock slammed the door.
Into a chair, Ab Seddon flopped,
He thought a bl**dy bomb had dropped.
But still more noise was yet to come,
As Loony Len sat on a drum.
The killer look still in his eye
With the feeling, Kill or die.
He faced young Albert’s brother Frank,
The bravest Guard in any rank,
Lying there in sweet repose,
With big thick glasses on his nose.
Young Len had loaded up his gun,
He’d had the ‘Jerries’ on the run,
And, like a hero, he uncocked,
Making Mosley Common rock.
And Sergeant Seddon, good gracious me,
Had brick dust in his cup of tea.
Now every body groped about,
‘Cause with the shot the lights went out.
Then with a match above his head,
Walt Sparrow tried to count the dead.
No bodies lay upon the ground,
So they searched outside, but none were found.
Then, Young Len Charnock, looking glum,
Roared: “Will the Germans never come?”
The Night Watch for England, Edward Shanks (1942)
The crescent moon is down, I am alone,
Alone with this dim hilltop and the stars,
Alone as I have never been till now.
Huge is the night that lies on England, pricked
With all the trembling manifold of stars.
Small is the land we guard.
Small is the house I left an hour ago
To keep my watch for it and all the rest,
Small, small am I in this prodigious night.
There is no silence for the nightly watcher.
I feel no wind, yet leaf stirs after leaf and thin airs
Whimper through the grass, die and revive.
And as my ears are tuned to the night’s music
I hear far off gentle waves that fall softly on an unseen beach.
I hear the gentle susurration of the pebbles
Dragged half an inch by a weak undertow.
There is no silence in my night, for now small beasts I cannot see are on the move,
Each on its business scuffles in the gorse, cautious but audible.
And now a scream, sharp, harsh and quickly stifled.
There they are my fellow countrymen,
All on four feet as proper denizens as I.
That shadow slipping across the now grown clearer skyline,
That was a badger,
One that I saw playing outside the earth last time I rode this way,
Just after dawn, last time.
Last time it was the day we knew that war was toppling on us.
I loved you then, my fellow countrymen.
The night goes on, the stars wheel by,
And this is the dead center of the lonely watch.
Nothing for me to do.
The sky is empty of all, save those remote unpitying lights.
Still I can feel no wind, and yet a chill soaks through my flesh.
The night is long, so long.
But I am not alone.
My out-stretched palm rubs on the short rough grass.
My fingers crush a scabious flower,
I can prick myself with the gorse.
Or bring the wild thyme fragrant from ground to nostril.
All these I love.
For these I watch tonight.
For these and for the village in the valley, and my own house in it
Memories of the Mine, Roger Woddis
The call of England, home and beauty
Led him to labour underground;
Young as he was, he did his duty,
Unsung, unhonoured and uncrowned.
No bugle summoned him to glory,
Nor did he hear the cannon’s roar;
The hero of a different story,
He fought another kind of war.
Today the memory still lingers
Of fortune lying on the mat,
The day that fate put forth her fingers
And drew his number from the hat.
And then, beyond the weeks of training,
The pit-cage dropping like a stone,
The ache, with nerve and muscle straining,
That penetrated to the bone.
Though forty years have left him older,
There’s no forgetting even now
When danger hovered at his shoulder
And there was sweat upon his brow.
Wormwood Scrubs, Alan M Lang
I lived a year in London, but I never saw Saint Paul’s,
All famous stunts left undone, nor visited the halls.
I lodged in royal quarters, at majesty’s expense,
All round the walls of Wormwood’s halls were reared for my defence.
Oh, the palace of Wormwood Scrubs, the snarling, the sneers, the snubs,
And the long dreary days spent in learning the ways of the palace at Wormwood Scrubs.
In shoddy grey they dressed me, I didn’t dare refuse,
Though shape and fit distressed me, I wasn’t asked to choose.
My out-spread ears supported the largest size in caps,
My feet did cruise in ship-like shoes while a breeze blew through the gaps.
Oh, that court suit of Wormwood Scrubs with its skin chaffing irksome rubs,
And the blush raising shocks from its open work socks as we wore ‘em in Wormwood Scrubs.
In dignified retirement, I ate three meals a day,
My very small requirement was brought in on a tray.
But though I grieve to say it, no gold nor silver plate,
But vulgar tin my food came in and I often had to wait.
Oh, the dinner at Wormwood Scrubs, you people who dine at clubs,
Try just once for a treat, with a spoon to eat meat.
And you’ll fight shy of Wormwood Scrubs.
Each morn with others banded, I walked the palace ground as etiquette demanded,
We circled round and round.
At time my dizzy senses were soothed by slumberous spell,
But when I woke, I savage spoke and I wished I were in…well,
It’s no matter at Wormwood Scrubs, the snarling and sneers and snubs,
But if ‘t’werent so bad, one would not be so glad,
To bid farewell to Wormwood Scrubs
Code Poem For The French Resistance, Leo Marks (1943)
The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.