11 November 12 noon at Sladers Yard
Tickets: £8/£16 with light lunch after performance.
James Crowden: Flowers in the Minefields
James Crowden explores the life, letters and poetry of the WWII poet, John Jarmain, who fought as an anti-tank gunner with the 51st Highland Division from El Alamein through North Africa and Sicily into Normandy.
Jarmain was killed by a German mortar bomb on 26th June 1944 at the village of St Honorine la Chardonorette. His war poems were published posthumously.
From Capt. J. Jarmain. 242/61 A/TK Bty.,
Mar 16 1943
There are flowers now, they say, at Alemein;
Yes, flowers in the minefields now.
So those that come to view that vacant scene,
Where death remains and agony has been
Will find the lilies grow –
Flowers, and nothing that we knew.
So they rang the bells for us at Alemein,
The bells we could not hear;
And to those that heard the bells what could it mean,
This name of tears and pride, this Alemein?
Not the sand and smoke of war,
But their hope,their own warm prayer.
They will make of it a high memorial name,
– That crazy sea of sand.
Like Troy or Agincourt its single fame
Will be the garland for our brow, our claim,
On us a mark of glory to the end;
And by our dead it will be hallowed ground.
But we will not find the place that we recall,
The crowded desert crossed with dusty tracks,
The sand that rolled dense dust clouds over all,
The grey-faced men, like clowns of music-hall;
The tanks, the guns, the trucks,
The bleak, dark-smoking wrecks.
Let it be: none but ourselves can know that land;
El Alemein will still be only ours
And those ten days amid the raving sand.
Others will come who cannot understand,
Will halt beside the rusty minefield wires
And find there – flowers.
We have seen sand frothing like the sea
About our wheels, and in our wake
Clouds rolling yellow and opaque,
Thick-smoking from the ground;
Wrapped in the dust from sun and sky
Without a mark to guide them by
Men drove alone unseeing in the cloud,
Peering to find a track, to find a way,
With eyes stung red, clown-faces coated grey.
Then with sore lips we cursed the sand,
Cursed this sullen gritty land
– Cursed and dragged on our blind and clogging way.
We have felt the fevered Khamsin blow
Which whips the desert into sting and spite
Of dry-sand driving rain (the only rain
The parched and dusty sand-lands know,
The hot dry driven sand): the desert floor
Whipped by the wind drives needles in the air
Which pricked our eyelids blind; and in a night,
Sifting the drifted sandhills grain by grain,
Covers our shallow tracks, our laboured road,
Makes false the maps we made with such slow care.
And we have seen wonders, spinning towers of sand
– Moving pillars of cloud by day –
Which passed and twitched our tents away;
Lakes where no water was, and in the sky
Grey shimmering palms. We have learned the sun and stars
And new simplicities, living by our cars
In wastes without one tree or living thing,
Where the flat horizon’s level ring
Is equal everywhere without a change.
Yet sand has been kind for us to lie at ease,
Its soft-dug walls have sheltered and made a shield
From fear and danger, and the chilly night.
And as we quit this bare unlovely land,
Strangely again see houses, hills, and trees,
We will remember older things than these,
Indigo skies pricked out with brilliant light,
This smooth unshadowed candour of the sand.