Peter Lloyd-Jones, ‘Christmas 1942’
Eighty years ago, another lonely Christmas in Cornwall went by. I was not yet ten, an evacuee sent to live in Wadebridge. I’d been away two years and with no end in sight. Did my parent’s come? I don’t recall. My birthday was in December so perhaps they came for that. One present that I got stays in my mind: my first grown-up jacket. I knew it was grown up because of its secret inside pocket. I could put things in it and no one would know they were there! In that town, then unimaginably remote from London, I knew little of the war or even where we were. Launceston was a railway station that we’d passed through on the journey down. I’d never heard of Plymouth, that had been so savagely bombed, just thirty-odd miles away. But there were uniforms in the Platt and from my back door I watched men converting old cars into makeshift ambulances. Oddly, the war gave me the first paid employment of my life. I was to act as an injured victim of some atrocity while volunteers for the St. Johns ambulance teams practiced mending various fractures and bleeding wounds. They gave me a sixpence for my work. Some went on the chance to sit in the cockpit of a shot-down Messerschmidt 109.
We went to school in a church hall in Egloshayle though our education was meagre. One or two teachers we thought mad, although they were probably merely too old to fight. One I remember with a hatred that lasts to this day. We had to do a play by someone I’d never heard of. Our desks moved back to make a space and we were in the Forest of Arden. Our teacher played half a dozen parts at once, quite caught up in stage-struck fantasy. I had to play Orlando – daft name, or so I thought – and at a certain point I had to walk into the middle and say ‘Forbear and eat no more!’ I’d no idea what it meant and I was shy, so it did it badly. This seemed to interrupt our teacher’s flow for he was suddenly furious and dragged me by the ear. ‘Come back worm and say it properly!’ The others sniggered at my shame. My ear hurt and I shut out his declamation of Jacques speech at the end of the act. We were just children! Thus my first encounter with poetry passed me by, at least consciously. But now at ninety, those words rise again in memory, prompted maybe, by Christmas in another war:
‘Sans eyes, sans teeth, sans taste, sans everything.’ Fortunately none of these is true for me, although my knees have gone! And poetry only came came to me after a long lifetime. That gap gave me the title of my first volume: ‘Late-onset Poems’.
For an audiobook of my evacuee years see: www.comebackthatboy.org
For an audiobook of Late-onset Poems, see: www.peterlloydjonespoems.co.uk