Some Fathers by Peter Gruffydd

They borrowed ten bob, sloped off
to the pub or club, grew potatoes,
caulis, leeks in dead-straight lines,
remembered, I mean, were in, the Second
World War, cracked jokes, jokes about Hitler,
Goebbels, Stalin, even Churchill,
did odd things, odd things, look after
old ladies in their rich incontinence,
or drew cartoons, sketched for small mags,
cartoons, sketched, drew, small mags.

They seemed to have lots of patience,
except when opening time loomed
over some petty duty, like work.
Mine had a second childhood, a red
scooter which he regularly came off,
half-pissed back from a country pub,
mistook a bush for a turning home.
He carried on until Mother nagged
him into giving-up his latecome
burn-ups, so went sketching no more.

I’m a father now, think my sons could
sometime achieve this state, make tea
like tar, maybe keep allotments, worry
about their kids, trudge to some bloody
boring jobs to feed the family’s faces,
swear with cronies, be hurt when kids
call them old fart, stupid sod, or worse,
wonder where they too went wrong,

Pray there’s no war to haunt their nights,
make them keep graveyard horrors at bay,
with favourite ales, quips and long tales,
Nuclear families, bowed with labels, stagger
on, sperm-count falling day by day,
Still I remember those fathers, leaning on
sticks, pint in hand, know they had a sense
of what it’s all about, a cod-code to keep
and a smile for outrageous stupidity
because it was to be expected.

by Peter Gruffydd

Further information: There is a PDF help-sheet discussing the poem line by line produced by Dr Jamie Harris (Aberystwyth University, August 2019) for CREW. The following is the biography provided at the start of that document.

Peter Gruffydd was born in Liverpool in 1935. He first moved to Wales at the age of five, following his evacuation in early 1941 (due to the Second World War). Having already learned Welsh, he then began studying English at Bangor University. His time living in Wales was brief, and he has spent most of his life in England, living in Liverpool, the West Midlands, and Bristol. Gruffydd was a member of Plaid Cymru and a Welsh nationalist (his movement into Welsh politics mirrors that of the Welsh intellectual Saunders Lewis, an ardent nationalist who was born in Liverpool). Gruffydd’s nationalist politics is evident in some of his poetry, such as ‘The Small Nation’, which Matthew Jarvis suggests ‘is substantially a lament for a Wales that the poem’s speaker sees as having lost courage’, and which foresees ‘The slow funeral of a small nation’.

Before he became known by the surname with which he appears in the Poetry 1900-2000 anthology, Gruffydd published under the name Peter M. Griffith (the English-spelling, but pronounced in a similar same way). In 1993, Gruffydd became a founder member of the Welsh Branch of PEN International (now Wales PEN Cymru), an organisation which advocates on behalf of writers across the world.

Although his poems have appeared in several poetry magazines, Gruffydd has one solitary collection to his name, 1972’s The Shivering Seed. His earliest significant poetry publication was in Triad, with two other notable Welsh ‘Second Flowering’ poets, Harri Webb and Meic Stephens.

Dr Jamie Harris (Aberystwyth University, August 2019) for CREW

Hero of his village by Nigel Heseltine

Though you are missing from the shelf
where your family coffins rot in the vault,
your cross is on the church wall
decorated with a button or two from your coat.

So the children coming with the hymn-
books in their hands see that you died
for liberty or some cause and hang
above where the parish magazine is displayed.

Though there is nothing of you but the buttons,
those in the cricket-team you taught to bowl
remember you; the girls you looked aside from
lest you become entangled, married now
look beyond their solid husbands, remember you well.

Though you left no child, nor a wife
nor ploughed land save once on leave
as relaxation; though the parson leaving
his church in a hurry now never sees
your cross, yet given a proper occasion the man
could preach a sermon on your dying that would make
futile in comparison the longest life.

by Nigel Heseltine

Additional Information: Nigel Heseltine (3 July 1916 – 1995) was an English author of travel books, short storiesplays, and poetry, as well as an agronomist for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Heseltine was born in London in 1916, the son of composer Philip Heseltine, better known as Peter Warlock, and Minnie Lucy Channing, an occasional model for Augustus John, nicknamed “Puma”. In his memoir Capriol for Mother, however, Heseltine claims that his mother was a Swiss woman, a friend of Juliette Huxley.

He spent most of his childhood in Wales with Warlock’s mother and Welsh stepfather at Cefyn Bryntalch and attended Shrewsbury School. This led to the misconception that Heseltine himself was Welsh. (I found this poem in a Welsh poetry anthology on the theme of war so, apparently, that misconception was alive and well in 2002).

In 1937 he travelled on foot across Albania and wrote of his experience in Scarred Background. In 1938 he married Natalia Borisovna Galitzine or Galitzina, an aristocrat in Budapest. He married four more times. During World War II he was in Dublin, working as a playwright for the Olympia Theatre company of Shelagh Richards (1903–1985).

He has nothing to do with Lord Michael Heseltine, who ironically is of Welsh heritage and was born in Swansea, as far as I’m aware.

Among Those Killed In The Dawn Raid Was A Man Aged A Hundred by Dylan Thomas

When the morning was waking over the war
He put on his clothes and stepped out and he died,
The locks yawned loose and a blast blew them wide,
He dropped where he loved on the burst pavement stone
And the funeral grains of the slaughtered floor.
Tell his street on its back he stopped a sun
And the craters of his eyes grew springshoots and fire
When all the keys shot from the locks, and rang.
Dig no more for the chains of his grey-haired heart.
The heavenly ambulance drawn by a wound
Assembling waits for the spade’s ring on the cage.
O keep his bones away from the common cart,
The morning is flying on the wings of his age
And a hundred storks perch on the sun’s right hand.

By Dylan Thomas
(July 1941)

A recording of Dylan Thomas reciting his poem.

Additional information: I have seen online a number of sources have ‘springshots’ instead of ‘springshoots’. The book I reference, and the above clip where you can hear the poet himself reciting the poem, confirms it is ‘springshoot’ . I can only imagine those sources copied each other or there is some alternate ‘American English’ version I am unfamiliar with.

Characteristically, the sonnet refuses to let the natural triumph of the centenarian’s death be obscured by piety, officialese or propaganda. Instead, it records the events with a quiet irony – that such an old man should need to be killed by a bomb. The flat title was an actual headline in a newspaper. With an even crueller irony. Thomas considered, as a title for the second part of ‘Ceremony After a Fire Raid’ known as ‘Among Those Burned to Death was a Child Aged a Few Hours’.

War Photographs by Phil Carradice

The classic view, shot quickly between raids –
Long lines of waiting men snake back to shore.
Behind them, framed by smoke and shell, France fades
And steels itself to rule of gangster law.

Perhaps one day I’ll spot my father there
Amongst that crowd of salt-stung men, flesh raw,
Exhaustion and defeat in each blank stare –
I need him now to leap to me once more.

Remember how the waiting warlord loomed
By chance out of a crowded Munich street?
Crazed eyes exultant as the camera zoomed,
That summer of fourteen, his world complete.

Bizarre how evil lasts, caught there on film
While goodness dies, a falling, fading rhyme.
I search for just the faintest hint of him;
And, oh, if I could see him one more time.

By Phil Carradice

Additional information: Phil Carradice (born 1947), is a Welsh writer and broadcaster. Carradice was born in Pembroke Dock. He was educated at Cardiff College of Education and Cardiff University, and became a teacher and social worker. After several years as head of Headlands Special School in Penarth, near Cardiff, he retired from the teaching profession to become a full-time writer. He hosts a history series on BBC Radio Wales entitled The Past Master. Carradice is a prolific public speaker and travels extensively in the course of his work.

A Time of War by Sally Roberts Jones

We sit and talk, over coffee in the open-plan lounge.
Admire the stones in that hearth –
Pebbles from Morfa Beach gathered out of ship-wreck and
On a family outing.
Imperceptibly stories move round to the ancient subject.
‘When I had my third…’
‘I told them the pains had started…’
‘I was left by myself in the ward with the visitors coming
And there was the baby, popped out in a sea of flowers,
Launched on an ocean of chocolates.

Our membership’s fully paid up, our initiation
Long past in that sisterhood
Of undignified sweat. Now we pattern our legend,
The folklore of generations renews on our tongues.
‘They decided to break my waters…’
‘I couldn’t sit down except on a pillow…’
What echo?
What voice can I hear behind us,
We four placid matrons
Who speak in such measured remembrance
Of passion and blood?
‘We heaped up the bodies to burn them…
I gave them whiskey, they laughed as they did it.’
‘The Sergeant
Was a bastard.’
‘We painted the coal for their visit – painted it black!’

That too I remember.
Dark hours of smoke and hard bar stools,
And the long-gone soldiers
Rehearsing their stories of pain, of ridiculous order,
The names like a litany:
St. Nazaire, Salerno, Nicosia
Abu Dhabi, Seoul, Londonderry.

Civilian veterans, brought face to face
With possible death, with fear, with absurdity rampant –
We will never swap tales, exchange a still-birth for an ambush
Our weird sisters for wartime’s fell serjeant.
But the echo is there –
We are all of us conscripts
In this campaign that is staying alive.

By Sally Roberts Jones

Additional information: The book I referenced referred to the poem both as ‘A Time of War’, on the contents and acknowledgement pages but as ‘A time at war’ where the poem itself is shown. I assume ‘A Time of War’ is the correct title but will mention the other in case anyone knows it by the alternative.

Sally Roberts Jones (born 30 November 1935) is an English-born Welsh poet, publisher and critic. She is a founding member of the English Language Section of Yr Academi Gymreig, she was its Secretary / Treasurer from 1968 to 1975 and its Chair from 1993 to 1997.

She founded the Alun Books imprint and is on the editorial board of the poetry journal Roundyhouse. She has also written and lectured on the cultural and industrial history of Wales and contributed to the Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales, the Dictionary of Welsh Biography and the New Dictionary of National Biography.

Two particular field of interest she has are the development of the Arthurian legend and research into the field of Welsh Writing in English, though she has also written about Essex, where she was initially raised. In 2019 she was elected a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.

.

Morfa beach is known locally as “The Morfa” (in Welsh as Y Morfa meaning ‘the sea marsh’), it shapes the south side of the estuary of the River Conwy. Today it is a large sandy bay, which at low tide forms part of the extensive sandy beaches and mussel banks of Conwy Bay, Morfa Conwy has many developments on its land including a beach, gold club, marina and an industrial estate.

St Nazaire is a commune in the Loire-Atlantique department in western France, in traditional Brittany. The poem refers to the St Nazaire Raid or Operation Chariot was a British amphibious attack on the heavily defended Normandie dry dock at St Nazaire in German-occupied France during the Second World War.

Salerno is is an ancient city and commune in Campania (southwestern Italy) and is the capital of the namesake province. It is located on the Gulf of Salerno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The city hosted Victor Emmanuel III, the King of Italy, who moved from Rome in 1943 after Italy negotiated a peace with the Allies in World War II, making Salerno the capital of the “Government of the South” (Regno del Sud) and therefore provisional government seat for six months. Some of the Allied landings during Operation Avalanche (the invasion of Italy) occurred near Salerno.

Nicosia is the largest city, capital, and seat of government of Cyprus. It is located near the centre of the Mesaoria plain, on the banks of the River Pedieos. I am assuming the poem is referring to the armed struggle, in 1955, against British rule which aimed to unite the island with Greece, Enosis. The struggle was led by EOKA, a Greek Cypriot nationalist military resistance organisation, and supported by the vast majority of Greek Cypriots. The unification with Greece failed and instead the independence of Cyprus was declared in 1960. During the period of the struggle, Nicosia was the scene of violent protests against British rule.

Abu Dhabi is the capital and the second-most populous city of the United Arab Emirates (after Dubai), it is also the capital of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The city of Abu Dhabi is located on an island in the Persian Gulf, off the Central West Coast. Most of the city and the Emirate reside on the mainland connected to the rest of the country.

Seoul, officially the Seoul Special City, is the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea. In 1945, the city was officially named Seoul, and was designated as a special city in 1949. During the Korean War, Seoul changed hands between the Soviet/Chinese-backed North Korean forces and the American-backed South Korean forces several times, leaving the city heavily damaged after the war. The capital was temporarily relocated to Busan. One estimate of the extensive damage states that after the war, at least 191,000 buildings, 55,000 houses, and 1,000 factories lay in ruins. In addition, a flood of refugees had entered Seoul during the war, swelling the population of the city and its metropolitan area to an estimated 1.5 million by 1955. Following the war, Seoul began to focus on reconstruction and modernization.

Derry, officially Londonderry, is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland and the fifth-largest city on the island of Ireland.[8] The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Old Irish name Daire (in modern Irish ‘Doire’) meaning “oak grove”. The old walled city lies on the west bank of the River Foyle, which is spanned by two road bridges and one footbridge. The city now covers both banks (Cityside on the west and Waterside on the east). During the Irish War of Independence, the area was rocked by sectarian violence, partly prompted by the guerilla war raging between the Irish Republican Army and British forces, but also influenced by economic and social pressures. The conflict which became known as the Troubles is widely regarded as having started in Derry with the Battle of the Bogside. The Civil Rights Movement had also been very active in the city. In the early 1970s the city was heavily militarised and there was widespread civil unrest. Several districts in the city constructed barricades to control access and prevent the forces of the state from entering.