East and West. 1941 to 1944 ……. a boy I never knew

By David Hill

In 1945 I was 10 years old and my Dad who had just returned from serving with the RAF in Northern Europe took me along to Kennards, a departmental store in Croydon. They were showing footage from Bergan-Belsen. ”We have to see this” my Dad said. I don’t know whether he had had personal experience of that place.

At the end of that film he said, ” How can we do such things?” It was some years later that I realized and reflected that he hadn’t said ” How can the Nazis or Germans do such things?”

Later I thought about youngsters like myself put through those awful experiences and wrote this poem about it:

 

When I was five and touching cowslips on the bank

Another five year old, a thousand miles away was touching fear.

 

When I was six and holding fast to mother’s hand

Another six year old, a thousand miles away, was torn from mother’s grasp.

 

When I was seven and picked an apple from a tree

Another seven year old , a thousand miles away, cried out in hungry pain.

 

When I was eight and sniffed the sweetness of a rose

Another eight year old, a thousand miles away, inhaled a dreadful gas.

 

A thousand miles along a line of latitude another boy lived out his life.

We started quits, a single cell of gratitude, the twisting strand of husband and of wife.

 

The chance affair of birthplace, east or west, upon him cast a shadow certain, dark, forlorn.

It chose for me life! brim-full with zest! he came to dread his early eastern dawn.

 

Yet men have always sort the hopeful ray, life giving star, our sun was ever started in the east.

We built our churches, turned that way to pray, the ancient hope of man, the very life of beast.

 

But then that other boy, a thousand miles from peace and rest, might well have said,

”I wish I could have started in the west”

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