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A WWII Bomber and Poet is Laid to Rest

By Harriet Staff


According to BBC News, David Raikes, a WWII-pilot and aspiring poet, has finally been laid to rest. He and members of 18 Squadron went missing after their plane was shot down in Italy. An Italian group of amateur archeologists, Archeologi dell’Aria, recently found the wreckage of Raikes’s plane in an area of Italian farmland.

The organisation’s founder, Fabio Raimondi says a local man in his hometown of Copparo, near Ferrara, once told him a story about a plane coming down in nearby farmland at the end of the war.

The wreck had burned for two days, then the carcass was picked over for some of its more valuable metal.

But at some point it seems that either German or Italian forces covered much of the wreckage in the crater that the crash had caused.

“During the search, we found – in among the melted aluminium – a watch,” says Raimondi.

“To my amazement, I discovered that on its back there was a number.

“I went online, typed it in, and I got to the Australian National Archive. I found out who he was… and that he had been missing in action.”

Raimondi says that as he and his team dug down and worked to retrieve the remains of the crew, he thought of the relatives of the men who had never come home.

“It was very emotional, the work of several months for us volunteers,” he says.

“To find and identify the remains of four flyers is very important. With the funeral we close this circle.” The pilot, David Raikes, was an aspiring poet, and his family published some of his work posthumously.

Among the poems was a piece called “Let it be hushed,” in which he reflected on the loss of comrades – other crews that had failed to return from missions.

Raikes wrote:

These men knew moments you have never known,
Nor ever will; we knew those moments too,
And talked of them in whispers late at night;
Such confidence was born of danger shared.
We shared their targets, too; but we came back.

As the poem continues, it touches on the black humour that helped the crews cope with the continual danger of death, as in this joke about a dead flyer’s watch.

… Someone said
‘It was a pity that he wore his watch;
It was a good one, twenty pounds he said
He’d paid for it in Egypt. Now, let’s see,
Who’s on tonight. Ah, Taffy – you’ve a good one!
You’d better leave it with me.’ And we laughed.
Cold were we? Cold at heart. You get that way.

Towards the end of the poem, Raikes writes about the rituals that were followed when a crew failed to come back to base.

… At first just overdue,
Till minutes changed to hours, and still no news.
One went to bed; but roused by later crews,
Asked ‘were they back yet?’ And being answered ‘No’,
Went back to sleep
One’s waking eyes sought out the empty beds,
And ‘Damn’, you said, ‘another kit to pack.’
I never liked that part. You never knew
What privacies your sorting might lay bare.
I always tried to leave my kit arranged
In decent tidiness. You never knew.

Read more about David Raikes and Archeologi dell’Aria at BBC News.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, July 19th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.