Missing Presumed Dead – a Poem written on D-Day

This moving poem was written by Dennis Hawes, of the 1st Battalion on 6th June 1944 and added to on 6th June 1984.

 

Missing presumed dead

 

I searched for you my friend,

The morning after the invasion,

As I listed the dead and wounded

Of our depleted battalion, for the adjutant.

Searching in first aid stations, bunkers,

Field ambulances, makeshift mortuaries,

Temporary graves, but you were not there.

 

Then I could not search the sea

Which entombed so many beneath its choppy swell

And only with capricious arrogance,

Deigned to deposit back some sodden, waxen corpses,

Among the detritus of the wreck littered shoreline.

 

We faced the dawn of D-Day together

For after all it was our third seaborne assault

Wakeful as the steely light, broke over the slate coloured sea,

Picking out the straining shapes of the vast invasion fleet

Moving relentlessly towards the flaming shoreline.

Orange, black belching tongues of the battleships,

Awesome sight and sound of the drenching rocket ships,

Tanks blasting from the bellies of their flat craft.

All drawn inexorably to the fiery vortex of the beaches

Overhead aircraft weaved, criss cross in ceaseless motion.

 

Then we climbed about our tank to storm ashore,

But the Churchill only trundled forward a few yards,

Before being drowned by the incoming tide,

Swept over by the cold and greedy waves,

Dashing and foaming over the slippery hull,

Clawing and clutching at its overladen victims,

Now clinging fearfully with a tenuous hold.

 

In range shells hit out parent craft,

Fountained the water, as it drew back.

My friend I did not see you go,

As I went into the icy waves,

Nor think of you in my frenzied swimming

And the dangers before my final beaching.

In my panic to survive the sea,

The call of friendship went unheeded.

 

Then on the beach, all thoughts were lost,

In the savage whine of bullets,

The whistle and thud of mortars and shells.

Sights of incoming craft shattered on stakes and mines,

Ships nearing the short, exploding with direct hits,

The mutilated, eyeless, shocked and dying,

The dramatic and pathetic dead.

 

I finally got back to the battalion,

Was reprimanded to taking so long to reach them,

But the MO calmed down, when I said,

I believed you were all lost.

 

No 40 years later, I stand in the Bayeux cemetery,

Close to where we marched, the day after the invasion

Now listening to the poignancy of the last post

And after searching for you, in the beach head cemeteries,

But of course you were not there.

Only a name among those missing presumed dead.

 

As the last notes of the bugle died away,

I tried to comfort myself, you were spared,

The horrors of the bridgehead battles,

Or later, life’s inevitable disappointments.

In vain, I stand tearful as the sound fades.

So, I went to Bayeux Cathedral, with a French family,

Lit a candle for you and the mothers of the fallen,

On their suggestion

And felt at last, I had found some part of you.