The English establishment with its style and ignorance, education and indifference, charm and brutality can be criticised. But public school and Oxbridge sure knows how to turn out poets. And heroes. Its also a bit of a dab hand at creating stuffed shirts and bores.
My generation’s fathers fought in WW2, and we were taught by their brothers. The idea that one day we too would face the enemy and would without question state, “How can man die better,than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his Gods” was implicit in our education. It was one of the many things the sixties changed.
Yesterday the media celebrated a star of that lesser canon, Second World War Poets. David Raikes. His bomber was recently found in Italy where he died two weeks before the end of the war(April 21 1945) aged twenty, the same age as his other crew members.. Yesterday he was buried.
Radley and Oxford. Those two words make every Englishman think of Henley. But young David never enjoyed the endless Pimms,the flashing blades , the pretty dresses and the gorgeous blazers. He became one of Bomber Harris’s death squads. It was the first I had heard of him this morning. No regiment suffered higher casualties.And here are the first two verses his most famous poem.
Let It Be Hushed,
Let it be hushed; let the deep ocean close
Upon these dead. Others may laud their parts,
Raise monuments of marble in their names.
But we who flew with them and laughed with them,
We other crews who, living side by side,
In outward contacts slowly came to know
Their inmost parts, would rather leave untouched
The wound we healed, the love we buried there.
These men knew moments you have never known,
Nor ever will; we knew those moments too,
And talked of them in whispers late at night;
Such confidence was born of danger shared.
We shared their targets, too; but we came back.
Lightly we talked of it. We packed their kit,
Divided up such common useful things
As cigarettes and chocolate, rations stored
Against a rainy day that never came.
We used to have a neighbour named also David Raikes who was very City establishment-his wife had an affair with an ambassador and his ancestor has a major statue on Victoria Embankment celebrating his contribution to Sunday Schools. Their estate in Brecon has its own chapel. Must have been related. We really are the lucky generation.