This is a further entry regarding poetry I’ve been writing about Portsmouth’s second world war. Other blog posts on this topic can be found here
and here. This one, however, is about a specific incident. Reading the archive materials I realised there was a poetry already invested there – this informed the type of poem I chose to ‘write’.
On August 24th, 1940 , 40 enemy bombers dropped 67 bombs on the city killing 120 people, mostly civilians. 300 others were injured and at least 500 were made homeless. It was the third and, by far, most significant attack to that point. The shocked city was in no position to bury so many dead in single graves. Kingston cemetery became the site of a mass grave, over which a heartfelt ceremony was conducted. Hundreds bore witness, as the population came to terms with their loss and the ongoing horrors of the war.
To commemorate the event I’ve created a ‘found’ poem with phrases chosen from the published Council Records WWII, (accessed via The History Centre, 2nd Floor, Portsmouth Central Library), which includes an account of the funereal address. I’ve re-ordered the phrases to create a workable rhythm, at times truncating sentences to find rhyme. Found poems are restrictive in that you must work with what you have but, as I hope the following shows, they can recapture something that should not be forgotten: words of the time being an authentic record of what happened.
Mass Burial, Kingston Cemetery, August 1940
‘As the people stood silently by,
the Bishop of Portsmouth he said,
“We are a proud people today
as we pray for our happy dead.
The mark of their honour upon them,
and the sound of our southern sea,
our decencies they have won
with the thought of victory.
In the hour of the call to our duty,
in the name of humanity:
we hold our head high,
and are proud as we pray.
We’ve made sacrifice,
leave their bodies to lie.
In this hallowed place,
let them be.”
Poet in Residence (2019): PCC Library and Archive Service.
Part of Portsmouth’s City of Stories,
an Arts’ Council funded project.