Dover Castle. Headquarters, Flag Officer Dover.

 

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Dover Castle. Headquarters, Flag Officer Dover. 

‘Operate toward the coast forthwith’

You can see the
brand of cigarette
they’re smoking
at Cap Griz-Nes
from here.

When war was declared we started
with nothing:
but we made a new map
of the world, with
these Napoleonic tunnels
at the centre, and
carried the British Expeditionary Force
to France on the lines we’d drawn.

And back – my Dynamo turned
by a National Day of Prayer.
On a Sunday in May 1940 – the
people of Britain and her Empire
committed their cause to
God. The King and Cabinet
at Westminster Abbey –
as we were on our knees
the Wehrmacht stopped.

A storm over Flanders fields,
the Luftwaffe
was grounded

‘if the Lord had
not been on our side
when people attacked us,

they would have swallowed us alive

when their anger flared against us;

the flood would have engulfed us,

the torrent’

I counted them all in,
nine days, 63 watches, 216 hours,
dire straits – the straits I patrolled
in a destroyer, in the last lot.

We started with
passenger ferries, destroyers, skoots,
corvettes and trawlers – my fleet was
English, French, Belgian, Dutch
and Polish. Then from Ramsgate –
added motor lifeboats, barges
with brown sails, tugboats, steamers –
The Brighton Belle and The Medway Queen,
the hospital ship Worthing, Leigh-on-Sea cockle boats
pleasure craft, a fire float –

we brought enough home
to carry on in faith, undefeated: Gort’s
Expeditionary Force,
Indian mule handlers,
French Senegalese soldiers
and Moroccans,
Gamelin’s troops –
brought them from hell to English heaven.

– but as Winston said
“Wars are not won by evacuations.”

So after four years of measuring the tides,
>watching convoys, always an eye on Calais,
we turned back –
no ragtag fleet, but
the greatest armada ever seen.

We took the men the long way across,
to Normandy – just shy of a million men
across the channel in a month.

This iron-railed balcony was my quarterdeck.
Here was both the frontier, and the last fortress:
both the stop and the start line.

*****

For Your England, I’m writing 100 poems about 100 places in England.

The work from Your England will form an exhibition at Lombard Street Gallery, Margate from 28th September-8th October, as part of an exhibition called Quartet.

Your England is supported by a project grant from Arts Council England.

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