Reg Hannaford

Start Bay, Slapton, Chivelstone

From : Graham Searle

This fine man was a young lad when the American troops needed South Hams land to practice for the Normandy landings. It was a privilege to listen to him; this is his story.

 

Where the shingle rolls and tumbles to the ever grieving sea,

Where the waves caress the cliff edge, the village ever lives in me.

Beneath the fields that gently beckon, reaching down to wind kissed reeds…

There my home, my mind, my history; there my hopes, my life, my needs.

Yet even in this peaceful haven, my heart can ever twist and ache:

For sixty years and more the memories might cause a country soul to break.

In 43 there came the message - a sacrifice of sorts it seems…

Each family to leave its home to meet the need of fighting schemes.

 

The Yankee troops came to our meadows to practice for the foreign sands

Where the raging of the bullets would leap from ever youthful hands.

There beside the empty houses the boys fought down the chilling fears;

In the coming of the battle came the turning of the years…

For they were taught of all the madness that means the taking of a life

When a man is snatched by pleas and dreams of mother, child and wife.

We Devon folk could only wonder from the borders that they made;

Our deed to keep a country living, theirs to try the killing trade.

 

Six weeks we had to leave our houses but friends and families saved the day,

We found some rooms at Chivelstone, a family farm down Kingsbridge way.

Yet from the hills above the sea we watched the battle take its shape

And wondered if the covering fire would mar and maim our sweet landscape.

The truth came swift when young John Lethbridge found the unexploded  shell,

A cry of panic tore the air - a death a bitter tale to tell.

From those camps came hands of friendship, words were whispered in the night

When aching bodies held a girl and love staved off the coming fright.

 

Then April brought the dreadful news, the fishermen gave us their tale

Of how torpedoes in the night brought horror on an unknown scale.

The landing craft were seized and shattered, the blood and oil was swiftly spilt,

The bodies swept up to Lyme Regis along the waves of ghastly guilt.

For two months more the trials continued, for two months more they fired and fought,

For only with their fearsome forfeit would a future then be bought.

Came the June and distant thunder of fighting on a foreign shore,

When we heard and knew at last what the sacrifice was for.

 

Now here I stand beside the sea wall and memories surge upon the tide

Of how we saw our homes again and children smiled and women cried;

For sweet relief and thanks were mingled with the sadness at the waste

Of all the lads who shunned old age and the dark despair that they had faced.

My friends and I had crept in early, no birdsong in the silent street…

Just old food cans and such remains as make a young heart skip a beat.

But life came rushing back so sweetly through the precious Devon air…

Now who will listen to my memories, who will hear an old man's prayer?

 

© Copyright Graham Searle

 

 

 

 

 

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Reg Hannaford

Above - Graham presents a framed copy of this poem to a surprsed and delighted Mr Hannaford at the AONB 50th Anniversary birthday party, Kinsgbridge Show, 2010

Read more of Graham Searle's poetry here: Man of the West and The Evening Grace

Graham has recorded a selection of his poetry on CD and produced an accompanying booklet. For details of CD and book & ordering please contact him directly by e-mail: graham.c.searle@btinternet.com

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