(Porthminster Beach, St Ives, Cornwall Aug 1943)
August 1943 –
the heat has driven us
down to the shore…
sky is a cloth of endless blue,
a heat haze shimmers above a sea
alive with people laughing and squealing
as waves lap their bodies.
Around the edges of the beach
green and orange canvas huts
lazily flap their skirts in a sudden breeze.
In the lee of the cliffs the Tea Shop
plies its trade in beakers of orange squash
and cups of strong brown tea.
Busy bee children “dig for victory”
in the sticky sand with castles rising
in wobbly profusion, adorned
with shells, sea weed and today –
a patriotic Union Jack on top.
Mums sit on faded rugs with
skirts pushed up to get a bit of sun
on pallid winter legs, they chat and
knit or spread the marge on curling bread.
Lulled by warmth we pay
little heed to a fast increasing hum
above us, until the playful screams
of the children takes on another
tone – of terror – as two enemy planes –
bellies skimming the water-
spray the laughing crowd
with bullets as they pass,
people scatter in all directions,
mothers yell for their children,
grab them and run – others hide in
the useless refuge of the canvas huts.
My mother stumbles with me in her arms
in my still wet bathing suit, towards
the cleft between the café and the cliff,
already it is full of frightened folk
who squeeze along to make room for us,
no-one speaks. It seems as if we are all
holding our breath. I can feel my mother’s heart
banging against the wall of her chest.
In the distance we hear thuds and explosions.
At last the “All Clear” sounds and
it is safe to come out,
people, panic-stricken, search for
family and friends.
Hurrying down the path,
his face white as the collar of his shirt,
we see my father with my pushchair,
my mother waves frantically to him,
with tears running down his face he grabs me,
holding me so tightly I can hardly breathe,
and from the far side of the beach
my brother and sister run sobbing
with relief that they’ve found us.
To-day there’s a heat haze hovering
above a sea alive with people playing
in the turquoise water, the beach is
golden in the sun.
A faint hum from the engine of
a passing plane scarcely registers,
a small boy points at the vapour trail
it leaves in the cloudless sky:
“Look daddy, plane!” he says,
then goes happily back to his digging.
(Nobody knows how may died that day – it warrants only a
passing reference in the Archives for “morale must be maintained
at all costs)