Then and Now

By Ann Parker

Did they sing in air raid shelters?
ARP between the raids? Civil Defence,
Home Guard? The many ladies
of the WI and others,
‘making tea for the troops’?
Those bombed out, the injured
and the frightened. All gratefully
drinking it by candle light or
hurricane lamps. No solar torches.
No quartz. Lighting,
if electric, it was through black cables
hurriedly hoisted over
roofs of corrugated iron.
Many churches had been bombed.
Photographs of choirs and clergy
making do among the ruins.
Temporary altars
as brick dust floated round them.
But the priests were still robed up,
doing it all properly.
Never show defeat.
The enemy, invisible
but all too audible, droned
overhead. Sirens wailed. Ambulance
and fire bells rang. Bombs fell. And hens
ran wild in city gardens

Today the enemy is still
invisible. But silent, small.
We don’t know where it’s lurking.
There seems no way of tracking it
to mark its progress. It is hard
to be defiant. And why
shake fists at a tiny virus?

People died in ‘human’ wars; in
their thousands. But then it seemed a
noble death against an evil
adversary. We can’t feel serious
about a germ!

Worse – we can’t each keep our peckers up,
share cups of tea, biscuits from Red Cross
parcels. Talk. Give little gifts, a bunch
of home grown peas perhaps. A photograph.
A precious letter from the forces.
Maybe the last? Some still around
Today, belonging to their grandchildren.
Evacuations, transfers, postings.
Prisoners of war. Memorial services
for the dead – but so much about
communication, nattering across
the fence, work parties knitting and
preserving, sharing talents
offering support and company.
Never leaving anyone alone
and calling that a virtue.

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