Tag Archives: Anthony Richardson

Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (3)

Anthony Richardson wrote three books of verse during his lifetime, all of them during World War Two. The first was called “Because of these: Verses of the Royal Air Force” (1942). Then there was “These – Our Children” (1943) and finally “Full Cycle: Verses of the Royal Air Force” (1946). Last time, we were looking at the first one:

Richardson joined the RAF at the beginning of the war and his career was related in the official records in the following fashion. It may give you an idea of the difficulties which may be encountered when you are trying to follow somebody’s military career:

Firstly he was a “T/2nd Lt. 05.09.1918 (reld 01.09.1921)”.

Then he was “P/O (prob) 18.06.1940 [80934]”.

Next he was “(WS) F/O (prob) 20.01.1941”

and then “(WS) F/O 18.06.1941”

He finished as a “(T) F/Lt. 01.09.1942”.

And like my father he was “demobilized 1946”

The numbers are either his RAF service number or the date he assumed his rank. Other abbreviations are “T” (Temporary), “P/O” (Pilot Officer) and then “F/O” is Flying Officer, “F/Lt.” is Flight Lieutenant and “WS” is War Service. “Prob” is “on probation”.

As far as I know, Richardson was an Intelligence Officer on a Bomber Base, which means that he would listen to the tales the bomber crews told when they returned and then write them all down, so that they could be passed on for others to correlate and thereby produce some kind of general overview:

I’ve found one or two more of the best poems from Richardson’s book “Because of these”, and I’ll be showing them to you in the rest of this blog post.

The first poem I selected is called “There is a Land”. It has an almost jokey tone to it. The poet envisages a land, he doesn’t know where, but everything is perfect. Weather forecasts are always accurate, everybody is a member of RAF aircrew, there are no sudden calls to take off, no hours spent on stand by and everything is beautiful. The third verse mentions the three types of light on a wartime RAF airbase, namely the boundary lights, the glim-lamps (glim is short for “glimmer”), and the Chance-lights, made by Chance’s, a factory in Birmingham just half a mile from where my wife lived as a child. In real life, these lights were all deliberately kept very dim so as not to help German night fighters, so in a perfect land, they all shine brightly:

When you go out in your Blenheim light bomber, everything is perfect:

Verse four speaks of “golden clouds” and a “free and boundless sky”. But, alas, in the fifth verse, they’ll all be flying near Horley Ness, where the weather is so bad that there are bound to be crashes. That will in turn create vacancies in the canteen (the “Mess”) so that the people who get back will be able to eat the extra sausages:

These next two poems are both epitaphs. Both of them rhyme, and do so without becoming ridiculous doggerel. Epitaph 1 makes the point of how a man’s body can be destroyed in an instant and leave just a burnt patch on the ground. But once winter is past, Mother Nature makes the flowers and the grass grow and they soon cover up all traces of charred earth. The poet, though, wonders how the plants can grow heedless of the remains of a hero among their roots. Every RAF man knew that he might finish up that way. Like Guy Gibson, just a single foot in a single sock. Or one of the Old Nottinghamians I have written about. He and his six companions became just five bones, some of them fingers, and not even enough for one per coffin:

The second epitaph paints an even more gaunt picture of the life of RAF aircrew. A sergeant pilot lies in his grave, having at last taken to wife the dark maiden Death. He had encountered her several times before, but on this occasion, he looks too deeply into her eyes and “she enfolded him in her embrace. Again a rhyming poem, although this time with a different pattern of rhyme:

I hope you enjoyed them. More next time.

12 Comments

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

Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (2)

Anthony Richardson was educated first at Marlborough College and then at Manchester University. Before the war he would publish a good few books, all of them detective novels, historical novels,  fantasy thrillers or what were then called  “bodice rippers”. They were almost what Quentin Tarantino would call “Pulp Fiction”, but without the sexual content. During his lifetime, Richardson probably made more money from his thrillers and detective stories rather than from his books of poetry, but that’s just a guess.

Nowadays the pulp fiction books are quite rare but they are still obtainable, sometimes at a considerable price. Here is “Ransom” (1925). The plot is that a bad boy returns as a success to the school that expelled him and marries the daughter of his former teacher. Note the UFO hovering over the book:

And ”High Silver” (1926):And “The Barbury Witch” (1927):Other books from before the war were “The Transgressor” (1928) “Milord and I “(1930), “City of the Rose” (1933) and “Golden Empire” (1938).

During the war years, Richardson turned to poetry. After the war, though, he went back to popular prose. His books included “Wingless Victory” (1951), “The Rose of Kantara” (1951):

“Crash Kavanagh” (1953):

“Rommel’s Birthday Party” (1956):

“No place to lay my Head” (1957), the tale of a Byelorussian soldier in the German army in WW2:

“One Man and his Dog” (1962):

Richardson must have made quite a bit of money too from two very successful non-fiction books. One was “Nick of Notting Hill: The bearded policeman. The story of Police Constable J. Nixon of the Metropolitan Police”:

The other was “Wingless Victory”, a World War Two prisoner of war escape story:

During the war years, Richardson wrote three books of verse. The first was called “Because of these: Verses of the Royal Air Force” (1942). I bought a copy about a year ago for two or three pounds. My book has the date April 4th 1942 written inside the front cover, presumably the date of purchase. On this date the Luftwaffe attacked the Soviet fleet at Kronstadt but without success. The book itself was bought at Goulden’s of Canterbury for 1/6d or 7½ pence in today’s money. Goulden’s, an important shop in the area, seems to have ceased trading in 1947. Their shop was on the High Street:

Here is what they sold:

I initially selected two poems to look at from this book. You have already met one of them in my first post, “W/OP–A/G Blenheim Mk IV”, and here is the second of the two entitled “There was an air gunner”.

The first four verses describe a man who lives in Devon, a particularly beautiful agricultural county in the south west of England. There are two verses which list “all that yields beauty and blessedness” in his life, which is, at that moment, completely and totally perfect. So much so that he begins to sing in sheer happiness. He sings the traditional Devon folk song “Uncle Tom Cobleigh”, which every child in England learnt until the Rolling Stones arrived in the 1960s to put a stop to all that kind of innocent childishness:

Here are the lyrics.  of Uncle Tom Cobleigh”.  And here is somebody singing them:

The man’s “lusty voice” echoes down the steep Devon valley, but there is also a supernatural note introduced because “There they echo still.” The supernatural idea is developed in the last verse by the fact that the man has had his voice cut short by violent death on a bombing mission to Cologne. Nevertheless, when the sun in spring is bright, the Devon valley now has, in ghostly fashion, “a voice its own”:

Since I picked out the first two, I’ve discovered a few more little gems in “Because of these: Verses of the Royal Air Force” and I will show you them next time.

11 Comments

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

Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (1)

It is often said that there are no great poets from the Second World War, but I’m not always so sure about that.

True, there are perhaps none as good as Wilfrid Owen or Siegfried Sassoon from the First World War, but, armed only with a computer and a credit card, I’ve still managed without too much difficulty to buy around half a dozen books of decent quality World War Two poetry, all of them the original editions published in the early 1940s.

And if I do inspire you to buy any poetry books from this period, please be aware that after more than seventy years, the dust jackets can be very tatty and may even have changed colour. And if you can find a copy where the dust jacket has been covered by “Mylar”, buy that one!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What I intend to do is to show you some examples of what I think are the best poems, with my own explanations of the difficult bits if I feel that they are necessary.

DO NOT PANIC

None of this RAF poetry is in “ye funnie lankuage” spoken by Shakspere or Geoffrey Chaucer.

There’s nothing from King Lear:

“Thou changed and self-cover’d thing, for shame,
Be-monster not thy feature. Were’t my fitness
To let these hands obey my blood,
They are apt enough to dislocate and tear
Thy flesh and bones: howe’er thou art a fiend,
A woman’s shape doth shield thee.”

It’s not from Chaucer:

“And, whan he rood, men mighte his brydel here

Ginglen in a whistling wynd as clere,

And eek as loude as dooth the chapel-belle”

The RAF poetry is all easy to understand and you might even enjoy it.

First up to the plate is Anthony Richardson, (1899-1964). His full name was Anthony Thomas Stewart Currie Richardson and he would one day marry a lady with an equally impressive name. She was Marion de Mouchet Baynham.

Richardson’s first book of poetry was entitled “Because of these: Verses of the Royal Air Force” (1942). You can even get a nice dust jacket if you are patient:

This poem is called “W/OP–A/G Blenheim Mk IV” and it was included in what is actually a rather slim volume.  A Blenheim is an RAF light bomber and a “W/OP–A/G” is a “wireless operator-air gunner”.  Read this easy bit first. Balham is a district of London:

Richardson draws the parallels between the inoffensive man at home in the first eight lines above, and then the air gunner in the extract below, sitting in his gun turret, holding his guns, ready to fight. And at eventide he wonders if he will be alive to see the rising sun greet the morning. And in the last two lines, he watches the sky for German fighters, just as once he used to watch his beautiful daughter with the firelight on her hair creating a halo around her beautiful face. And finally,  “this most strange, impersonal affair”, I think, refers to the fact that any quarrel between himself and the fighter pilot is not personal, it’s just the way things are:

All that, and it rhymes too! And the syllables have a regular pattern.

That’s why it’s poetry and not prose.

Next time, I’ll tell you about Anthony Richardson in more depth and we’ll look at one more of his poems. Poetry is like spicy food for the brain. You have to take it slowly at first.

19 Comments

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