All posts in category Poems

Aug. 28. 44
The Black Pony.

All is the same as when first I beheld it,

Nothing is changed since those glad summer days.

The cool air still flows off Chevin,

Over the vale, to the meadow’s gate.

The deep green leaves of the spreading trees,

Dry last night’s shower in the sunlit breeze.

I sit outside the grey house of stone;

Only I am changed as I sit alone.

All I see of the moors and trees,

And the vale between, in the sun and breeze,

Is the meadow-gate and your figure there,

And the little black pony that came to your call,

And you fondle his nose and smooth his hair,

As you did before in that summer fair.

You are gone away but seem so near,

Nearer than all the trees and moors,

But you are away on the mountain’s height,

While I am here in the vale.

And the little black pony is gone away.

The Black Pony

‘The Black Pony’ – photographed near The Chevin
by © Brian R Hill (son of Ron Hill)

‘The Black Pony’ was written in memory of husband, Will, when May and Jean had visited Emmie’s family in Yeadon for the first time without Will after his death. It was in Yeadon where Will had met the black pony at the meadow gate near Emmie’s home. May had been somewhat apprehensive about the visit (see 7 August 1944). Her writings concerning it, both before and afterwards, showed that her thoughts were dominated by memories of happier times with Will. Ron, of course, was also constantly on her mind at this time.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

5 June [or January] 1944
“The Second Front”.

Oh! Ye who clamour for the start of other fronts:

Do you not know? These days, they are the last our sons shall see,

Before they face the foe, and pay

With precious blood, their lives and all that makes life dear,

The price of liberty for us, who wait in fear.

Yet, scarcely fear, we trust in God and them.

Tho’ erring still in many ways,

Our aim is true and God is Lord of life and death.

He shall direct our path.

But those whose men must go, cling to them still,

And count these last few precious days as jewels one by one,

That soon shall be a memory, until eternity.

They slip so fast between our fingers and elude our grasp,

As elvers in a stream slip thro’, bound for the far Sargasso Sea.

Then hurry not the swiftly moving days of fate,

Too soon for us we hear them at the gate.

Several references were made in the Diaries anticipating the launch of the Second Front. The first was in 1942:

Sun. July 5 10.10. pm. [1942]
“…Well, the days are shortening now instead of lengthening tho’ it is hardly perceptible yet. I fear the worst winter of the war is creeping towards us now, but we may make a lot of headway before then, but if we are having a “second front” why, why, don’t we start while the weather is good. The icy winter weather aggravates the evils of war more I think than the summer tho’ the heat too is terrible…”

Then, a year later:

Sat 3. July [1943]
… I wish the war was over and Ron was home. There seems to be a lull just now like the calm that comes when we say the wind gathers strength for a harder blow. These sunny summer days are the last that many a lad will ever see, let us not be too hasty in wishing the second front would start. I fear that before another June comes round many hundreds will have gone…”

In January 1944 a number of entries, as May bcame increasingly concerned with the implications:

Wed. Jan. 5 7.30. am. [1944]
… Montgomery is in England to take charge of British Invasion Army under General Eisenhower, U.S.A. Gen. People are wishing second front would be started, but when I think of it, I think of the hundreds of boys for whom these days are the last they will see, and every day is one more for them before they pay the price for our peace and safety. Some of them go with heavy hearts, the first excitement of war is over and the grim bare bones of all its wickedness show thro’…”

Thur Jan. 13 1944 9.15. PM.
“…Papers are full of second front and invasion lore. The many new air-bases in Britain are ready for use, and are to be the invasion bases. There are such a lot within a few miles of us that I fear we may see more of the war than we have so far done. I am not looking forward to the start of second front. It might mean moving off the coast too…”

Friday January 14. 1944
“…I wonder what will have happened in this grim struggle before these few pages are filled… The second front looms ever nearer, then we shall feel the effects in this country, more than we have done since the “Battle of Britain” and how very little we knew of that down here just sheltered behind the sand-hills, while the tide of war went over only a few stray bombs that only damaged property, not people, fell round us…”

Again, in May 1944:

Sun May 7 7.45 P.M. [1944]
“’…Talk, talk, talk of Second front goes on and on. There is a lull in Italian fighting. Terrible bombing goes on in Germany…”

The month of the poem date was unclear. If it was 5th June 1944 it could have been prompted by a premonition of D-Day – the very next day, 6th June,* which was supposed to have been a closely guarded secret until the actual day. However, the poem might have been written six months earlier, coinciding with the Diary entry on 5th January.

*This link will become active on 6th June 2014.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

June 1944
Council Houses.

I am the fly in the Amber,

The exception that proves the rule.

Tho’ I mayn’t knock nails in the Council’s walls,

I plug them with handy tool.

I am growing grass on the garden plot,

Where the others grow lettuce and peas.

The rest of them wash on Monday;

I wash when I please.

Oh! the neighbours are kind, and the house is good,

The rent is small and the garden large.

Apple trees stand in an ordered square,

The paths are smooth and the view is fair,

Surely there’s nothing to wish for there.

Well, I’d like a bath-room, however small,

But what I really want, most of all,

Is an evergreen hedge that is six feet tall,

Growing all round my garden plot,

That I can wander behind,

And dig, or laze in contented ease,

Sowing my seeds just when I please,

Breaking the rules at my own sweet will

With no one to give me advice.

M.H. June 1944

‘Council Houses’ was written in the month after May and daughter Jean had moved into ‘Council House No 3’ on Skegness Road on 10th May (see 3rd June 1944). The poem alludes to unwanted gardening advice from new neighbours (see 4th June 1944). The move from their home at ‘Lenton Lodge’ in Anderby Road was necessitated by the death of May’s husband Will on 29th March (see 15th April 1944).

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

Oct 3/ 43.
Friday’s Child.

She came at the end of a day of wind and rain,

Winter loth to loose her hold tho’ far on the wane.

Spring came with the child so richly dowered;

Friday’s giftings of Loving and Giving upon her were showered.

All thro’ her life she has loved and given all,

Each gift lighting another star in heaven,

Her love enfolding deep rooted and strong,

Living for others, the whole day long.

Rene with Bill and pet rabbit

Rene with Bill and pet rabbit

‘Friday’s Child’ almost certainly refers to Rene, May’s elder daughter, whose birthday was on a Friday in early spring. May, whose health was fragile, relied very much on Rene’s support including help with the weekly washday.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

Sep. 17th and 23rd 1943.
The Little Home.

I have a little home, my boyhoods home;

Not quaint, and old, and thatched with overhanging eaves;

Not timbered walls and tight-shut casements, low rooms and dark oak beams;

Nor yet so new and modern as the flat-roofed present style.

Just old enough to be familiar, homelike, edges worn a little smooth.

A tiny hall red-paved with polished tiles, that trip unwary feet,

And tempt the younger ones to steal a slide when mother’s back is turned.

A stairway that can’t quite make up its mind which way to go.

First it goes east, then takes a step towards the north,

No room to wander there so skirts the wall towards the west,

Then dawdles round the corner and ends due south upon a narrow landing.

Two doors are to the left with bedrooms facing early morn and setting sun.

A wee room to the right with bath and bowl, how many times

I’ve dried the bowl and pumped the water to the tank among the spars,

And fed the kitchen fire with wood to heat the water for the bath.

One door, the last one, leads to my little room beneath the sloping roof;

Warm in the winter with its tank, cool in summer with the western breeze.

The casement opens wide (I made those “blackouts” ere I came away).

The kitchen garden lies behind, with cabbages and bean-row,

I see the little square, now filled with wood, the salvage from the sea,

Just where my little tent, my “Innisfree”, was wont to stand in summer months
.
In there I slept while summer rain fell in the cool, dim, starlit nights, and “strafed” the beetles and the gnats

That on occasion joined me, and sometimes removed a cat,

That crept beneath the canvas and curled up upon my bed.

Beyond the garden a stretch of pasture, emerald green,

All gold in spring with buttercups and white with daisy and sheep;

Further afield the nodding corn and scattered farms.

A plume of smoke from our one chimney-stack, that marks the ‘modern dairy’,

Too far away to soil our clean sea breeze or fall in smuts, upon the washing day.

And then, beyond; the wolds the boundary of our view,

Far off they look to-day in mist of faintest blue

In the shimmering haze of memory’s summer heat.

At times they seem to travel nearer and we see

The fields, laid out in squares, like patch-work,

With feather-stitch of hedges bordered round.

Trees and little wood stand etched upon the crest,

A long white road winds up the slopes away into the west.

We know that rain is coming when the wolds are near,

And the clattering sound of the distant train we hear.

In front a little lawn, all daisies in the spring,

With diamond flower-bed where grows

Carnation and anemones and wee pink rose.

A little path leads from the door, past the wide bay window of “the room”.

The long dim room, with well-worn chairs,

Books and piano, games and shabby carpet on the floor.

Cool on summer afternoons, warm in winter with fires of drift-wood from the sea.

Thro’ the gates, (half doors), over the narrow road,

Sand-hills rise to part us from the sandy shore.

Down every path we scramble up cascades of sand, slide down

As on the top we turn and stand;

We view the miles of green and sunlit land,

And the little house that nestles ’neath the shadow of the hills,

In sound of the restless waves that the air with music fills.

'Lenton Lodge', Anderby Road, near Chapel Point

‘Lenton Lodge’, Anderby Road, near Chapel Point

'Sunny Side', the roadside part of a divided farmhouse in South Road

‘Sunny Side’, the roadside part of a divided farmhouse in South Road

May obviously wrote this poem for Ron who would often be thinking of home. Several drafts showed that the title changed from ‘My Old House’ to ‘The Little House’, which then became ‘The Little Home’. The house is clearly ‘Lenton Lodge’, the family home at the time of writing, although the poem relies upon a certain amount of ‘poetic licence’. Ron was already in his late teens when the family moved there from ‘Sunny Side’, a rented part of a farmhouse on the other side of the village centre, where Ron would have erected his tent in the garden at a younger age (see Village Map). ‘Innisfree’ is a reference to a private cabin depicted in the poem ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by WB Yeats.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

July 23/ 43.
The Captive.

All’s over then, the battle lost, and I

A “prisoner of war” in Alien hands.

My misery, and sorely wounded pride too deep for tears or words.

I sit and watch their reinforcements landing on my native soil.

My aching wounds and heavy heart,

In deep despair, await the order to embark,

And sail away in a prison ship to a prison camp.

Oh! Little home, I see thee now,

My wife and dark-eyed baby girl and little son,

Receding from my sight for many a day.

I leave thee now and I must wait,

In impotence, with idle hands,

While war’s deep waves roll ever nearer thee;

And haply may engulf thee in its tide.

I speak no word, I cannot. Deep despair

Has fallen on me, body and soul are one great mound of poignant misery.

Soon, I shall rise and lift my heavy load, to bear it like a man but now,

I watch the conquering foe come in.

My heart is bleeding inwardly, I see there go,

Lost hopes, lost battle and most bitter blow, lost liberty.

My cup of woe is full, I live not, but endure.

‘Italian, Captive and UNhappy’ in the Daily Mail, Friday July 23rd 1943.

‘Italian, Captive and UNhappy’ in the Daily Mail, Friday July 23rd 1943.

Following their victorious North African campaign, the Allies had turned their attention to Italy. May’s son Ron was  amongst many RAF and other military personnel who were transferred from North Africa to Italy.

‘The Captive’, an original draft, was inspired by an item ‘Italian, Captive and UNhappy’ in the Daily Mail, Friday July 23rd 1943.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

July. 14/ 43.
A Prayer for Peace.

Last night I lay upon my bed,

Hearing the ’planes pass overhead.

Some came in and some went out,

While others hovered round about.

Oh Lord, I started then to say,

But paused again, how could I pray

To God for life and safety when,

For every plane The Germans sent,

A score to them from Britain went.

It is a war for truth and right,

And we for justice hard must smite.

But oh! The little children’s tears,

The aged and the mothers’ fears,

They come between me and my prayers.

Of what more value is my life,

Than theirs in all the world’s great strife?

At last I pray if ’tis thy will,

Oh leave me with my loved ones still.

Or if the time has come to die,

Oh send death swiftly Lord I cry.

I thought [and there then] rose to mind,

The time when Herod tried to find

The Saviour Christ when he was born,

And slew between the dark and dawn,

All little children far and near,

Not knowing Jesus was not there.

These too were innocent of wrong,

But died the victims of the strong.

God saw it all and us he sees,

Fighting for right or on our knees.

Those children died and Christ was saved,

The way to life by them was paved.

Christ lived on earth his perfect life,

Then died to save the world from strife.

No one more innocent than He,

And yet He died upon the tree.

…………………………………………….
…………………………………………….

Oh send to us the knowledge Lord,

To live in peace and not by sword.

Let sacrifice be not in vain,

After this time of sin and pain.

Teach us to walk in righteousness,

And God the Trinity confess.

The poem as above appeared to be a draft and no re-written version has been found. The lower part of the double-sheet was damaged, so that the words shown in parentheses are a suggestion and two lines (……….) towards the end could not be deciphered.

At the time May wrote the poem (14th July 1943) she must have been feeling rather uneasy, having listened to news of new military action in Italy and having received Ron’s letters in which he could not reveal his own location after transferring to Malta from North Africa where the Allies had been victorious. May was unhappy that the war was taking a great toll in casualties, including civilians, on both sides, as well as spoiling the simple pleasures in life such as she expressed at times in her Diary (e.g. see 16 May 1943) “…Birds are singing, and it is so calm and quiet. War seems very far away, but that is a fallacy…”

More news of Ron’s whereabouts did emerge during August although May did not write in her Diary until the later part of the month.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

April 1943.
Easter Sunday.
Apr. 25. 43. K.H.

Never again in the dusky summer eve;

Never again in the starlit winter night;

Never again in the clear, sweet scented cold, of evenings in early spring;

Or in golden, autumn twilights, after-glow,

Will he rattle the latch of the garden-gate,

Or ever run down the garden path,

That divides the daisied lawn.

Never shake the dew from the spicy-scented stocks,

Or brush the golden dust from the tall Madonna lilies,

Pouring their incense over a summer eve,

Hasting to be within the lamp-lit circle round the hearth.

But, in the silence of the clear dark nights,

When we kneel to the God of Peace,

With no dark curtain ’twixt us and the silver moon and the radiant stars.

We shall commune with him, our spirits shall meet,

And on bended knees we shall give Thanks,

That for a while he dwelt with us and shared our love and life,

Then, gallantly died that we might continue to live.

Free from the fear of a foreign yoke or a dreadful prison camp.

May 5. 43.

Kenneth Hill

Kenneth Hill

The initials following the date of Easter Sunday 1943 appeared to be ‘K.H.’ although not entirely certain. This may have been written as a tribute to Kenneth (Ken) Hill who had been reported missing in action (see 1 Jan. 1943).The son of Will’s brother James (Jim) and widow Grace, he had been a sergeant wireless operator/air-gunner on a Wellington bomber (38 Squadron) lost between 14th and 15th December 1942, aged 19. His Squadron was the same as that of his cousin, Tony (see 28 Jan. 1943), who had been lost earlier (in 1940) before it was relocated to the Near East. Ken would have been remembered in the Easter Sunday service. He is named on memorials in Alamein (Egypt) and in Chapel St Leonards.

Some of the above information is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Register.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

 

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

March 1943.
Afterglow

Beautiful things I remember between sunset and dark.

These beautiful things I remember in the afterglow of twilight.

The spicy scent of white stocks after rain,

White tobacco flowers that droop and are drab all day, but at night

Open their starry flowers and pour forth their sweetness

Gathered and stored all day, then like the precious

Box of spikenard, broken and poured abroad in extravagant richness.

The orange fire of cherianthus that burns and glows in the gathering gloom,

The “sleep song” of a babe in its cot in a quiet darkened room.

The scent of lilac and newly mown hay,

Banks of white mist that presage tomorrow’s hot day.

The plaintive bleat after shearing day of lost little lambs,

Having to trust the call of this shingled, naked, dawn.

The quick-silver song of the blackbird as he serenades his mate.

The liquid voice of the thrush a spate golden,

Of notes that descend like a sun kissed waterfall.

 

Although this poem ‘Afterglow’ was undated it is probable that May wrote it very shortly after writing the poem ‘In a Foreign Land N.A [North Africa]‘.

She was perhaps inspired by the onset of the spring season, imagining the thoughts that she would be having if, like Ron, she was far from home.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

March 12. 1943.
In a Foreign Land N.A. [North Africa]

This is a foreign land,
The sun of brass burns down,
Out of a copper bowl,
With fierce exhausting heat.
When storm-clouds tarnish the copper bowl,
Sharp lightnings split the sky,
Batteries of thunder roll,
And the sluice-gates open wide.
Torrents of rain come hurtling down,
In rushing cascades, to the dusty earth,
Turning the sand and dust to mud,
Clogging our weary feet.
Everything deeply underlined,
Accented sun, and storm, and wind.

Oh! to be home, in England!
To feel the tempered sun
Shine thro’ a film of scattered clouds,
Or the cold sea-aar, that rolls
Over the sand-hills on hot June days.
Once, I grieved to see it spread
Over the sun-kissed earth,
But now, I long for its clammy breath
T’wixt me and this African sun.
I long to feel the rain descend
In a gentle April shower,
Refreshing the earth, with the sun gleaming thro’
Like smiles, thro’ childhood’s tears.

Yet, no matter how long the weary day,
Every night the sun must set,
And the cooling night sweep down.
I lift my eyes to the deep blue sky;
I am at home again.
The same bright stars, and silver moon
Shine over this foreign land.
The evening star and the morning star
Rise and set the same,
In the same blue heaven
With God above.
I fall asleep in quiet peace,
With the “long, long, thoughts” of home.

                                                            M.H.

 

When May wrote this poem Ron had been serving with the RAF in North Africa since his arrival there just before Christmas 1942. Several letters had been exchanged and mentioned in the Diaries. May’s thoughts obviously often turned to that region of the world and to how Ron would contrast it with home.

Sea-aar, or ‘haar’, in the poem, is a type of coastal mist.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?