All posts tagged Elvers

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’?

Thurs. a.m 8.30 Jan 6. [1944]

Father has gone to dig sand at the sea. The channel from tunnel is wandering too far round and has to be dug straight thro’ sand-link so that it runs swiftly. It is hardly light enough to see yet but he was to be there at 8.a.m. He has gone in uniform, new trousers and old tunic. They are warmer than civ[ilian] clothes and it is rough and cold. He put on a mac. under coat thinking he might do with it to work in.

Think Russians are really over old 1939 border at last, after being falsely reported to be for several days. Still there’s a good many more miles to go yet before Ger is reached. Our planes seem to be coming home, heard a few go out in the night. Gen[eral] Montgomery in Royal Box at theatre with 14 years old son, was cheered. He is getting around so quickly people can’t keep pace with him except the son and he seems to stick closely to him. I don’t remember if Gen. Mont. has a wife. I know he has a mother and 5 brothers.

Had a letter from Emmie yesterday. Her mother had an accident at work on Wed last week. A bobbin flew out and hit her leg and ankle and she is very badly bruised. It will be very painful. Emmie had a busy time when she got home Sat. She was vexed they had not sent for her. The next door neighbour had been very kind and helpful, cleaning and getting coals and doing everything for them. Mr. R sent Father an envelope addressed “from Dad to Dad” containing razor blades. Rene saw env. and wanted to know what it meant. Father said “Well I’ve had a very sharp letter from Mr Russell.” Rene’s face was so droll, we had to laugh and tell her. Of course she accused him then of having eaten one, he was so sharp.

Jean has just called for a “cup of tea”. Took it up and find she has a rusty voice. I sincerely hope that doesn’t mean she has another cold. She went to village yest. aft. and was quickly back saying there were soldiers everywhere and she had fled. By their talk in P.O. she gathered they had just arrived in Eng[land] from B.N.A.F. [British North Africa Force]. They were sending telegrams to let their people know but could not send an address as they only expected to be here a night or two. Betty El[ston] was besieged, a lot of them trying out their French on her, until she refused to answer in French. Expect they were a bit surprised at first when she answered their enquiry as to the cost of tel. in French, by telling them (in Eng[lish]) but when they asked her “Francais parlez-vous” she said “Non”. Mrs Stow went to the rescue and registered Jean’s letter and helped B[etty] generally and Jean, as she said, “fled”.

Had two letters from Emily L, one written Sun to say Jess had been taken to Hos[pital] with poisoned arm (it must have been delayed) and one written Tue to say he was home again. He had a spot or two on his elbow and she thinks his jersey-sleeve may have chafed them as he rolls his shirt-sleeves up. The poison ran up his arm in a pink streak and formed a lump under his arm, and was up to his head and in his back. He just missed septic pneumonia she says. It would be a great shock as little Tom [Lewis] died of that. However she was pleased to have got him home and expected he was on the way to recovery. There are plenty of them to look after him and she says the enforced rest may do him good, as he was working very hard and probably run down. She said she would write again.

I am afraid our blanket is warming somebody else as it has not turned up and it was posted Dec. 20th. Very vexing for the Russells and disappointing for us. I hope if it was stolen it went where it was really needed and is not carefully laid by, by someone who steals for the sake of stealing. Went in “The Rest” yesterday found I had exaggerated damage by mice (during my first cold and bronc[hitis]) by about 3 times. One more in trap in cupboard but trap in bedroom as left until I put my foot in it. I reset it and cleared up some papers after giving Sprogg the dead mouse, when the trap sprung again, I turned to go look why and Sp. was sheepishly walking out of the other room, he had evidently tried to sample the cheese. Set it again and went home as it was very cold, big icy frost tho’ tubs were not so frozen. Got all clothes dry and ironed. Rene washed at Bev[erley] and was hoping to find them dry.

The channel through the ‘sand-link’ was associated with the ‘outfall’ from ‘the basin’ from land to sea close to ‘The Point’. The clearance operation, involving teams of local men, was necessary every year or so. See ‘Elvers‘- A Reflection by May Hill’ and associated notes.

After his wife died suddenly around 1934 Bernard Montgomery totally immersed himself in military studies which probably led to him becoming an exceptional general. Their son’s name was David.

Jess, here, was Jesse Lewis [May’s sister Emily’s husband].

Tom Lewis, son of Emily and Jesse, had died, aged 9, in 1939. He had been stung on the ear, by a wasp, while resting at home after returning from Louth hospital following treatment for an eye problem. His tragic death had left Emily with one surviving son, Frank, and six daughters.

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