Tessa Ransford OBE, Hon.DUniv (Paisley), MA, Dip Ed
Poetry Practitioner and Adviser
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to my parents, Alistair and Torfrida (née Walford) Ransford, in Bombay, India, written in spring and summer 1940

Tessa Ransford (written summer 2009)

Three of my aunts, my father's sisters, Ella, Isabel and Winnie Ransford, lived in Sussex, Ella in Arundel, Belle and Winnie (also known as Jane) in a village near Worthing. Belle and Winnie moved in together to share expenses and because Winnie had to move from Kent. They were unmarried, in their fifties and sixties. Ella was newly retired from being headmistress of Croydon High School for Girls. Another aunt, my mother's sister, Phoebe, unmarried and in her forties, was stationed in and around London in the ATS. The poem is composed from a compendium of letters from each of these aunts to my parents, who were in Bombay where my father was a Royal Engineer and Master of the Mint.

Life is very grim indeed
planes drone over us day and night
roar like thunder din sans end
dodge between roofs in dogfights
siren blared
another raid
crash the roof, not a pleasant thought

180 downed on the Downs today
Nazis dropping out of parachutes
one fell half a mile away
Polish airmen, heroes of those fights
sudden a crowd
gathered; who need
such excitements to keep up spirits

Winnie has come to save and share
on food, house, car and daily costs.
She brought her pekes and 50 budgerigars
plus hens and pigeons, her gardening gloves.
Ella runs first aid,
canteens, is head
of local voluntary efforts

Your parcel welcome of chocs and tea;
hard to write when we can't tell
if letter will reach you, or by sea
will take three months or more; church bells
will chime invasion
till then forbidden;
nightlong we pray it may not befall

Hard the silence all these weeks
Who is alive? Who disappeared?
You wear your heart out in war work
for troops and families displaced
who is prisoner and who escaped?

We doze on stretchers on night duty
ready to organise a rescue -
bombs are destructive and dirty
the soot penetrates and overflow
from broken pipes and hinges -
the heart wrenches
a baby blasted through the window

We have made our wills, the evacuees
want us as guardians for their kids:
who knows if we'll survive? The veges
wither in heat these summer weeks;
we stand in queues
exchange news
the courage of folk, got what it takes

Whether Hitler comes our way or not
whether the yanks stop dithering and help
the Dunkirk epic gave us heart
how many saved in boat and ship
how many lost
the wounded cast
to die on the beaches without hope

How wonderful when you come on leave
when this is all over, one day soon - ? -
perhaps to picnic or even bathe
go out to concerts, films again -
Winnie is ill
so what does kill?
We live in constant tension

Tessa Ransford

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