For my mate


We had two holiday trips in my youth.
Highcliffe-on-sea and Ryde, Isle of Wight.
GWR West country holidays, straying into Southern Region, Hardy country.
Buses were a different colour and named Hants & Dorset
We sniggered at the difference "Pants & Corset".


I remember Ryde with happy memories
Lights on the promenade
A floral clock
Fish and chips in a café, not paper!
My sister still holidays there every year.


My mate lived on the Isle of Wight
But he was born in 1933.
Aged six, he saw a vastly different Holiday Haunt.
His parents had eloped from Mountain Ash
Where his grandfather kept the Napiers Arms.


His father was drafted into Poole shipyards
12 hour shifts plus one night in the Home Guard.
They had flea infested evacuees posted on them
(He didn't like them) became an evacuee himself
But a six-year old’s memory is a patchwork
Not a timeline.


A return ticket to Bournemouth, Isle of Wight, Mountain Ash, Cardiff
Becomes a confusing collage:
A red Oxo van that sold faggots and peas,
Helping his father on with black leather gaiters and belt,
His father wanting to be “On QE”.


Wearing his father’s long-johns to bed
To be warm when the raids began
Huddled in shuddering shelters,
Dust falling, fear rising
He saw the little ships from Dunkirk.


Then remembers that they didn’t go to school
As French soldiers were billeted there
And they took all the decorations
Kids had salt and pepper sandwiches for school dinners
And bitter chocolate worm tablets


Seeing planes in formation attacked by two fighters
Cheering when one spiralled down
Only to find it was “one of ours”
In long-johned bed long before
Alvar Lidell said “One of our aircraft is missing”


A clip round the ear for asking Oliver Twist like
“Is that all?”
Looking through his bedroom window
To see girls fearlessly dancing on the shelter
That would be their bedroom at nightfall


1943, Bournemouth, 26 Focke-Wulf 190s
Dropped high explosive bombs and strafed the Pleasure Gardens
Killed 100s, some newly arrived Canadian airmen,
Destroyed Beales and Bobby’s department stores
He ran to the pub where his father was, but the road was blocked


His father sent to the Isle of Wight
Lodging in Ryde and Gurnard
An ack-ack gun on the village green
A soldier with machine gun
On the esplanade


Whilst wearing boots with thirteen studs, he caught crabs
With bacon rind and string
Played marbles in the gutter
Steered his four wheeled cart
Through the streets, collecting shrapnel.


His father now working at Whites shipyard in Cowes
Repairing a ship from the Battle of North Cape
That helped to sink the Scharnhorst
Used to the nightly pulse of aircraft overhead
Following Knickebein to bomb Portsmouth and Southampton


An early spring night and two air raids on Cowes
Feeling terrified
Even when the Polish destroyer Blyskawica
Maintained constant anti-aircraft fire.
Ironically, Laurel & Hardy’s “Great Guns” showed at the cinema.


A cacophony of sounds, smells and sounds
The whine of bombs,counting, explosions
The mingled smells of explosive and brick dust
The sounds of women praying and singing hymns
The flashing light of leaping flames from incendiary bombs


He was sent on a holiday
Loving the Merchant Navy class loco
Named after the shipping lines
That formed North Atlantic convoys
He was heading for Cardiff


Out of smouldering Southampton, via Bath, Bristol into Cardiff
Met by his grandfather, now Foreman in Mount Stuart dry dock
Cathedral Road, a gallon of milk on the stove to make cream
Eggs in a barrel of water in the cellar, no shortages here
But the holiday was evacuation


Up the valleys to school in Mountain Ash
An unwanted Englishman in Wales
Disliked, disoriented and dyslexic
Frequently fighting not knowing why
Years before Pink Floyd: “Teacher, leave that kid alone”


Back to Bournemouth
10:08 from Cardiff
Merchant Navy loco
A drive through shattered streets
The Red funnel ferry to Cowes


D Day. Ships all up and down the Solent
Leaving next day by the only ferry to Lymington
Seeing a hospital ship from Normandy
White painted and red cross on the funnel
Heading for Southampton


12 homes in 6 years

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