Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (5)

Last time, we were looking at some poems from the book “These – Our Children”, by Anthony Richardson, published in 1943:

“At a party” and “Grounded” are a pair of poems that go together.

In “At a party”, an heroic airman is in attendance, complete with his braid and his medal ribbon. But it was just fate, just luck, that saved his life. It was certainly not his own courage. Somehow Death fumbled and failed to pull him through the door.

The airman, though, does not have the appearance of anybody who has been so close to death that his past life has flashed past his eyes. But his companion knows nevertheless, that fear eats at his heart, that he has not yet managed to kill “those groping, grey cold thoughts” that would “paralyse his stubborn will” to do any more flying. Was she the only one to notice? Was she the only one to know that his cup was full, that he’d had enough, and that his lips were not laughing but anguished ?

“Grounded” is the poem where the airman, completely unable to carry on, has had to be taken off flying. Despite this, he does not have to stand aside. He has been forgiven by “these captains”, other heroes who understand that it is “no disgrace that boldly one confessed he was afraid!”

Members of Bomber Command, my own father included, were absolutely terrified of being thought a coward. This meant that they would have “LMF” stamped on their record. LMF stood for “Lack of Moral Fibre”, and it meant that you would be extracted from your airbase as quickly as was humanly possible, lest other pe0ple catch your infection. You might be sent to a psychiatric establishment, such as used to be at Rauceby Warren in Lincolnshire, for example. Nowadays, it’s a long abandoned building:

You might be posted to somewhere like the freezing cold rain- and sleet- lashed grey boring Outer Hebrides, Orkneys or Shetlands. Somewhere where you could be rained on, somewhere where you could experience cold, boredom and perpetual darkness:

In contrast, in the poem, “these captains”, are completely willing to have the frightened airman among their company because they know their own torments, and that “thus, but for God’s grace, goes any man?”

In actual fact, of the officers who survived the Bomber War, apparently 3% had been removed from flying because of LMF. That must have been quite a number of men. Being classified LMF signed a death warrant to any officers’ subsequent career in the RAF. And the RAF for their part took away the flying badge of any man with LMF “to prevent his getting a lucrative job as a pilot in civil life”.

“Black Marketeer” is self-evident. I know from my own father that the cowards who ran away from the war, and those who invented spurious health reasons not to be where the bullets were flying, were hated beyond belief by those who did their fighting for them. Even more hated were those who traded in forbidden goods such as whisky, cigarettes, petrol and so on. Most men in the RAF would not have hesitated in the slightest to have shot them, given half a chance. At the very least, they would have wanted their prison spell to have been twenty years in hell:

“Kites”, incidentally, is the RAF slang for aircraft, and “flak” is anti-aircraft fire, or, as the Germans so beautifully put it, “Flugzeugabwehrkanone”.

“Ground Crew” is another self-evident poem. The ground crew were the men who looked after the bombers and made sure that they would fly properly. Many of their duties are listed in the poem. In the second verse, the last two lines mean the occasions when the member of ground crew has to adjust the engines that make the aircraft fly:

Ground crew were normally called “erks” which was supposedly the Cockney shortened form of “aircraftman”. “Wings” are the badge of the pilot, and traditionally have a silver threepenny bit sewn behind them. A “gong” is a medal.

The member of ground crew, the “erk”, was the “ordinary man” whose contribution to the war was absolutely indispensable:

And finally, his hearing is so finely tuned that he can hear the first of the bombers to come back from the previous night’s raid:

10 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Literature, Politics, Writing

10 responses to “Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (5)

  1. When you last mentioned Richardson, I put him on my list with my book supplier – now you have reassured me that I want his books.
    Thank you.

    • I’m glad to be of help. I really thought that Richardson’s poems were head and shoulders above the rest of the RAF poetry that I have come across so far.

      • I did just receive “War Poems” edited by: Brian Busby. I haven’t gotten into it yet to say yea or nae to to its contents.

  2. Where any of them got their courage from amazes me

    • I asked my Dad the very same question and he said that it was a question of being in a team inside a Lancaster, for example, and not wanting to let anybody down because you didn’t do your job properly. Each one of the team had his own life and the life of his colleagues in his hands.
      There was also the disgrace of being branded a coward which was a very strong motivating force. All of the men on the airbase would know that you had been taken away with LMF and then afterwards you would have your family to face.

  3. Off topic I’m afraid. I received this article and of course I thought of you.
    https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/2020/05/01/veterans-remember-the-disaster-at-dunkirk/

    • Thanks very much for that link. Dunkirk really left the British on their own in their island fortress. Apparently a lot of French soldiers came back to England to continue the fight, but when given a chance to return to France, 130,000 of them went back home to the wife.
      I read somewhere that after Dunkirk the British Army had only two or three tanks left to defend England south of London. These statistics will appear in one of my new books:
      “Dunkirk was a disaster of almost unbelievable magnitude. 68,111 soldiers were killed or captured. One hundred and twenty six merchant seamen were killed. Two hundred and thirty six ships were sunk. The Germans were gifted all the heavy equipment of the British Army, 2,472 artillery guns, 20,548 motorcycles, 63,879 other vehicles, 416,940 tons of stores, 162,000 tons of fuel, 76,097 tons of ammunition, four hundred and forty five tanks and enough Player’s Cigarettes to last them until certainly until the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, if not the Battle of Stalingrad.”
      True enough, but we had radar, the Spitfire….. and then the Americans and the Russians !

  4. How those brave souls who suffered ‘LMF’ were treated is a disgrace. I can understand that morale must be kept up and that anyone who is unable to perform their duties in the air is a liability, but to do that to them was just shocking. I hope one day soon, they can all be pardoned and forgiven.

    • Ironically enough, the American Eighth Air Force allowed all of their men the option of saying that they had had enough, that they couldn’t do it any more, and that they wanted to leave and do something different. The number of men who did leave was not significantly different from the numbers of RAF aircrew who had LMF and were kicked out.
      The problem was very similar to that of the men who had shell shock in WW1. You need to have some knowledge of mental illness and how the mind works, before you can start labelling people as cowards in such a simplistic way.
      For me, the final clue is that the men who were disgraced as having LMF would have had their case decided in all probability, by somebody who had never tried to bomb Berlin. The poem takes the opposite view (last line). The men still involved in combat flying know very well that “….thus, but for God’s grace, goes any man.”

      • Indeed John, a far to simple blanket decision made by those who know little of the traumas experienced. In the poem the crews are much more accepting and understanding of those who suffer, for they too could go down that route!

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