I live in a part of South London that is full of trees. The other day I got hold of this.
It is hand drawn and shows the position of many unique and rare species of tree in my neighbourhood.
Since it was a pleasantly warm day, little wind and no sign of rain, Dog and I headed for the top of the woods alongside which a number of these trees sat.
It turned out some had gone – or maybe the map was inaccurate.
But a lot still remained.
Most of them were mature, massive constructions that had taken decades to reach the scale and size they are today.
Some were still compact, almost ground hogging.
But each held a beauty that only a tree can.
And each is its own tower block of life, a fecund febrile family of flora and fauna.
As I stood to take a picture, watched by work-people in white vans, carers in SUV tractors and schoolchildren released from their sweaty classrooms I wondered how many saw the trees rather than a silly man and his straining dog trying and often failing to find the best angle to capture even a scintilla of the specialness these giants invoke.
So I thought, to accompany these lovely pictures I’d offer one of dad’s poems. This one was written, commissioned if you like, for one of Mum’s WI plays, a pageant on Village life in past years and, well, if you’ve seen Dad’s Army it will resonate.
Broomsticks and Battledress
It was during 1940, that memorable year,
That on more than one occasion the pub ran out of beer,
And for lunch on Sundays, we frequently got by
With processed egg or whalemeat or a slice of Woolton Pie*.
But we kept smiling through, though times were rather hard,
And we were glad to do our bit when they mustered the Home Guard.
Chorus: There was Charlie, Fred and Harry, and George and Peter White,
And me and Albert Smith, all ready for the fight,
And though we drilled with broomsticks and only had one gun,
We knew that if Old Jerry came we’d have him on the run!
Every man among us had once been an ‘old sweat’
But during years of peace we had all learned to forget
The routines of the Army game that we had known before
When we’d been young footsloggers in Kaiser Willhem’s war.
But we were willing pupils – our keenness knew no bounds,
And soon the Village Hall was filled with military sounds.
Chorus: Made by Charlie, Fred and Harry, George and Peter White,
And me and Albert Smith, with our boots all shining bright,
Drilling with our broomsticks so hard we nearly burst,
Which exercise, of course, helped build up a mighty thirst!
It was extremely handy that the pub was quite close by,
For marching back and forth makes a man amazing dry,
And if the notice said ” No Beer’ we didn’t make a fuss
‘Cos the landlord, bless his heart, always found a drop for us!
Just medicinal, of course, to combat the dehydration,
And we hoped our loving wives would accept this explanation.
Chorus: Made by Charlie, Fred and Harry, and George and Peter White,
And me and Albert Smith when we stayed out late at night,
And so they did, God bless ’em, though they gave us looks old-fashioned,
And some were heard to voice the wish that beer was strictly rationed!
So the months went by and we got uniforms and guns
And reckoned we were ready to do battle with the Huns,
But nothing really happened to disturb our peace and calm
Till a German plane crash-landed in a field, near Manor Farm.
The pilot was unharmed – and for once we knew our duty
To capture and disarm him – for England, home and Beauty.
Chorus: That’s why Charlie, Fred, and Harry, and George, and Peter White,
And me and Albert Smith went to war that summer night,
But when we found the enemy, sitting near a tree,
He looked so lost and lonely that we took him home for tea.
Then in 1942 the Yanks came on the scene
And instead of English cricket they played baseball on the green,
A game just like our rounders, but with a lot more noise,
And it proved very popular with all the girls and boys.
But the landlord of the local at first thought it was queer
When voices like the ‘pictures’ demanded ice-cold beers!
Chorus: As for Charlie, Fred and Harry, and George, and Peter White,
And me, and Albert Smith – we knew they’d be alright,
And so indeed they were, for in 1944
They fought alongside our lads and helped us to win the war.
Now more than 50 years have passed and memories are fading
Of those gallant old Home Guard days, the marching and parading,
Of rationing and gas-masks, and tanks all down the street,
When ‘blackout’ meant pitch blackness and toffee was a treat,
When although the wireless news at six was often quite a shock
Still we laughed at ITMA** that same night at Eight o’clock.
Chorus: And Charlie, Fred and Harry? And George and Peter White?
They’ve been gone these many years but still their names stay bright
For me and Albert Smith who smile when folks make gentle fun
Of when we drilled with broomsticks and only had one gun.
*Woolton Pie: involved dicing and cooking potatoes (or parsnips), cauliflower, swede, carrots and, possibly, turnip. Rolled oats and chopped spring onions were added to the thickened vegetable water which was poured over the vegetables themselves. The dish was topped with potato pastry and grated cheese and served with vegetable gravy. The recipe could be adapted to reflect the availability and seasonality of ingredients.
**ITMA: A comedy radio show with the title an acronym of ‘It’s That Man Again’ a popular wartime catch phrase used after Hitler made some exaggerated claim, it ran from 1939 to 1948.