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Dunkirk

Dunkirk

A Poem by David Lewis Paget
"

A hatred of war does not necessarily make you a coward.

"

They came from a line of fishermen,

Way back, two hundred years,
The sons of a dour old Kentish man,
Who'd braved the First World War;
When Joe went off to the Army, then,
The old man's face was grim,
'You go and fight for the country, lad,
We can't rely on him!'
 
He scowled on down at the eldest lad
Who sat there, mending nets,
For all he knew was the salt, the sea
And a life of cheap regrets.
The black sheep of the family
Was all that his father saw,
For Jack had refused the Army call:
'I don't believe in war!'
 
A feather came in the post next day,
As white as a cotton sheet,
The father turned his back on him
For shame, and refused to speak.
While Joe went off with the B.E.F.
To help the beleaguered French,
Jack was mending his fishing nets,
And sat with his fingers clenched.
 
Their fishing boat, the Pelican,
Lay stranded in Sandwich Bay,
Just twenty feet, and clinker built,
With the deckhouse cut away.
When the Panzers swept down to the coast,
Reaching the channel first,
The B.E.F. had retreated back
To the beaches at Dunkirk.
 
The Navy sent destroyers then,
Their frigates and corvettes,
But couldn't get close to the beaches there
Because of the shallow depths,
The Navy's own small vessel pool
Then called for the help of those
Whose boats were a certain shallow draught
To ferry the soldiers home.
 
When Jack came in, the news was out,
His mother sat, dismayed,
The Army was stranded along the beach
Where Joe lay low, and prayed.
The Stuka's screamed, and dropped their bombs
And the lines of men were strafed,
Three hundred thousand men despaired
As the Panzers lay in wait.
 
'So much for you,' the father said,
As the tears poured down his cheek,
'So much for the lunacy of war,'
Said Jack, when he could speak.
'Your brother's out there, risking all,
My son, my shining light!'
But Jack stalked out with a bitter laugh,
And cried, when out of sight.
 
He strode on out to the Pelican,
The tide was coming in,
He dragged and pushed it to meet the sea
As he floated it again,
He kicked the inboard into life
And he sailed for Ramsgate then,
The boats were gathering by the score
To save their countrymen.
 
They sailed that night in convoys, groups,
And lines of little boats,
While Jack prayed long at the tiller
That the Pelican stayed afloat,
She'd never been out as far as this,
She was just a coastal craft…
But Joe stood out in the water, then,
And thought of his brother, Jack.
 
The Stuka's bombed the Naval ships,
They strafed the lines of men,
Joe didn't know if he'd ever get back
To his homeland, once again.
The Foudroyant was bombed and sank,
A destroyer ran aground,
Then a hundred boats, with the Pelican,
Finally sighted land.
 
Jack took the Pelican close inshore
And he loaded his twenty men,
He ferried them out to a waiting ship
Then turned to the shore again,
He plucked the men from the waters there
And he looked for his brother Joe,
But Joe was safe on a steamer, then,
Though his brother didn't know.
 
For hours he turned, and turned about,
He saved five hundred lives,
He worked himself to exhaustion there
Like a man who the devil drives,
Eight hundred ships and boats were there
In the smoke and the swirling murk,
To bring those thousands of soldiers home
From the beaches of Dunkirk.
 
Joe walked unsteadily through the door
To the cries of his folks, alone,
They couldn't speak for the pure relief
Of seeing him safe at home,
But his father suddenly pulled away,
And wept, while turning his back,
'We've just been told by the foot patrol…
We've lost your brother, Jack!'
 
'They said the Pelican's hull was holed
With a burst of cannon rounds,
The men on board were saved, I heard,
But three of them were drowned.
They left the bodies to float out there;
Oh God; now, what have I done?'
He shook his head as he cried, and said,
'I've lost my eldest son!'
 
They placed a plaque on the Harbour wall
For Jack and the Pelican,
While the father stared most days to sea
As he cried there, off and on,
Then he took a match and some tinder wood
For a pledge he'd made before,
To burn a pure white feather there
For a son who hated war.
 
David Lewis Paget

© 2012 David Lewis Paget


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Featured Review

The lesson is refined by the delivery within your art form.
The reader knows what will happen intuitively, yet the unfolding of the story is spooned out on perfect proportions to stir the appetite while feeding the mind.
A great story!
Would there were more white feathers in this world.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

I have always stayed away from history! But this poem is totally awesome! great flow and storline. It is so you:)
thanks for sharing:)

Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This is one of your best poems, more tears were shed. You are so brilliant, such a great heart you show us, both strong and tender. The white feather? Symbolizes peace and love?... sad that the father wasn't able to love both of his son's without judging each one's convictions...death was the result ...and a broken heart. Heavy, with all kinds of emotions...I was caught in the magic of your imagination, I felt connected to these characters, you made them come to life for us...Thank you...

Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I am so choked up now David. This was incredible poetry and a touching heart-rending story.

'Your brother's out there, risking all,
My son, my shining light!'
But Jack stalked out with a bitter laugh,
And cried, when out of sight."

Oh, how bloody cruel men seemed to be back then, pitting one son against another. Just so tragic. Well, the father got his comeuppence in spades but in a devastating way indeed. How many others were brought to their knees with regret with their misguided ideas of 'glorifying war' and taking pride in their sons matching off to their certain death. What damn egotistical messed up men they were!!!

This poem will stay with me for a long, long time. Thank you David, the best writer here on Writer's Cafe without a doubt! A legend my dear friend!

Kindest regards,

Helena


Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I'm no different than the others. this poem moved me to tears, David. pure perfection with a clear message.

Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Wow! I have a lump in my throat!

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

so sad but beautiful at the same time ....i loved it in each and every way

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

can't review well with a lump in my throat. Finest.

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Oh how sad that a man so loved war that he choked out the love of his other son.How often this sort of thing plays out.then the driving shame causes the other child to rise to great things

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This is so sad and touching.

Linda Marie Van Tassell

Posted 11 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

You painted a fine picture in the penmanship of this poem
I felt like I was on the Pelican with Jack
This was a pleasure to read as always
Take your bow
Ray


Posted 12 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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2614 Views
39 Reviews
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Shelved in 5 Libraries
Added on June 14, 2008
Last Updated on June 27, 2012
Tags: war, army, retreat, B.E.F.

Author

David Lewis Paget
David Lewis Paget

Moonta, South Australia, Australia



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