My Uncle Fred Flew

This poem is written based on a familiar family anecdote from my great uncle Fred, who was a pilot in the First World War (RFC) and absolutely hated flying, but tolerated it as the lesser of two evils.

My Uncle Fred said
There are few things as crazy
As teaching a man how to fly

But nevertheless
He felt fresh as a daisy
While soaring around in the sky

For he looked at the ground
Through the canvas and wood
And was sure that his way was the best

He insisted it sound
If not ethically proved
So the Flying Corps flew on his chest

For it’s better by far
He would whisper to Nan
To be perched in the lap of the Gods

And be laughed at and scorned
In each pub, club and bar
That be shot at and drowning in mud

So when given the choice
To be burned to a crisp
By a passing balloon and cigar

He had taken his chance
Floating up in the clouds
With the birds and the air and the fear

And he swore a strong oath
At the powers that were
Irresponsibly running the thing

For he must be a fool
To be choosing to trust
In a glorified tent, wheels and wings

Yet he couldn’t deny
While his faculties ruled
That it made far more sense to steer clear

Than be ‘trenched in a war
In a hole in the ground
With the other poor buggers down there

My great grandfather was also involved in the First World War. He joined the Canadian infantry under age and came home full of shrapnel, having been promoted very fast for a seventeen year old, twice left for dead on the battlefield, and stripped of his dog tags by mistake, so his family got quite a shock when he returned from war as they had been told he was among the fallen. He married a nurse as was relatively common (and sensible in his condition as he had to live with the shrapnel all his life). I never knew him personally, as by the time I came along he was no longer with us, but by all accounts, he was a man of relatively few words and infinite patience.

War

I do not want to go to war
He smiled at me through tears
I’ve seen what happened from before
I’m frightened for my peers

Together we’d a summer spent
Had known a bond grow fast
I knew his pride would not be bent
To sway him from this task

So off he went with regiment
All shining faces, banners bright
And banging drums, and good intent
My soldier boy, afraid to fight

But I did send to keep him sharp
A friend, brave dragon green of wing
To see his bullet missed its mark
That boy might yet know home again

Through battle fierce and strong he fought
My faithful dragon at his side
His comrades fell but no harm caught
The cloak of scales my boy did hide

With ragged charge he led the cry
Though enemies did gather round
To show that boys who fought must die
And dance upon his burial mound

Then dragon flew to meet the rows
That stood upon the field of blood
And raked their hearts and called to crows
To feast upon what men lay dead

Close-minded, mean and skilled at arm
The enemy held steady rank
But boy could come to little harm
While dragon-breath uncoiled and stank

The sulphurous and pungent depths
Of dragon lungs gave forth so vile
A stench of smells, a googolplex
Of odours creeping closer while

My boy stood safely from the wind
That wafted death along the line
It stole the breath from all who sinned
In thinking my boy less than mine

And thus the war was cheating, won
As dragon saw my boy safe home
To give a mother back her son
Not let his sweetheart lie alone

My dragon yet has other chores
To keep a creature from his cave
For well-equipped with fangs and claws
The dragon may pretend he’s brave