A city waits, the traffic slows,
toddlers are held in arms in London parks;
look child and learn as from the past
a small, insistent form takes shape:
a rounded wing, familiar silhouette,
the Merlin’s steady note, bold lettering,
a hint of weapons in the leading-edge…
a single Spitfire speaks for all that follow,
filling with wonder, memory and tears
the eyes of youth and age in different measure.
Far from the pomp and circumstance
but minutes flying from The Mall,
I stand half-hidden by a line of trees
beside the Thames, in Oxfordshire.
I hear a distant drone, a mounting chord,
leaves quiver and a wing’s brief shadow
reaches down and touches me,
a message from a new armada
flying to salute the young
who died for Britain.
I thought I had escaped the flags and cheers,
I thought I had escaped my heritage.
At home, I’ll read again a tear-stained page
– you planned to see a newborn child
who cannot thank you now, it is too late,
but I am grateful for your life,
whether you died for duty or for love
or lack of choice. You wrote of Mozart
and a woman’s scent – you were a gentle
and a loving man who fought and won
a name and number carved into a stone.
Sergeant John Hodgkins RAFVR, wireless operator and air gunner, died along with five colleagues during a raid over Germany on 3 October 1943. The following February the Red Cross wrote to his parents saying that John was laid to rest in the cemetery of Burguffoln in the district of Hofgeismar Nord, 13 miles north-west of Cassel. His body was later moved to Hanover War Cemetery, at grave Number 11.C.1.