If the man in the moon
Gazing at the waning earth, watches
How the frayed edge of the sunset catches
Thimbles and nodules of rock,
Hachuring distinct with threads of shadow
All that is hammered flat in the earth’s brass noon;
And if he sees,
New in the level light, like pock-
marks on a face, dark craters,
The size of acorn cups, or scars
Vast as his own dried oceans, then
He’ll know that soon
The living world of men
Will take a lunar look, as dead as slag,
And moon and earth will stare at one another
Like the cold, yellow skulls of child and mother.
Passing through Lime Street station just before 11am yesterday I noticed a group of people, passengers, railway personnel, passersby and service men and women standing in a loose circle at one corner of the station. In front of a plaque I must have walked past and never noticed a hundred times stood a lone bugler.
Thetraditional prayers and poems were recited, wreaths were laid and the last post was played before the two minutes silence.
Echoes of the last post are now being played in the background as I write this. I am listening to Vaughan Williams’ “Pastoral” Symphony. Not a cow-pat depiction of idyllic rural England, but a work RVW started in 1916, music that rose from the horror of the trenches. RVW served in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
But standing at the station in silence yesterday I had a half recollection of reading about a train disaster in Britain early on in the war so came home to research it.
In Edinburgh, on May 22nd 1915, 500 men from the 1/7th Battalion of the Royal Scots boarded a train bound for Liverpool. They were heading for Gallipoli. The train carriages were old and ramshackled, totally unfit to travel at high speed. They were built of wood and lit by gas, which was stored in containers underneath the carriage floors.
The troop train sped southward.
Their were four lines which were operated by the signalmen at Quintinshill signal box, two main tracks and two loop lines for passing trains.
On this day, both of the loop lines were occupied by freight trains.
Meanwhile, a local train and two express trains were heading north towards Quintinshill as well as the train with the soldiers heading south.
The troop train steamed into Quintinshill at high speed and smashed into the stationary local train. The train was derailed and the wreckage from the trains spread across the main lines. Some men were killed instantly, others were trapped in the wreckage.
But worse was to come.
Travellig at around 80mph, the second northbound express ploughed straight into the wreckage.
The gas tanks on the troop train ignited. The fire spread rapidly to the other trains on the loop lines. Many soldiers were trapped in the train with fire raging around them. There were reports at the time that some of the trapped soldiers were shot to spare them the agony.
A total 230 people died and another 246 were injured. Of the 500 soldiers on the troop train, only 58 men and seven officers escaped the Quintinshill train disaster alive and uninjured.
Those who survived were sent on initially to Liverpool to be dispatched to the doomed Gallipoli campaign, but they were declared unfit and returned to Edinburgh.
South Cumberland, 16 May 1943
The sun has set
Behind Black Combe and the lower hills,
But northward in the sky the fells
Like gilded galleons on a sea of shadow
Float sunlit yet.
The liquid light
Soaks into the dry motes of the air,
Bright and moist until the flood of dawn;
Shoals of swifts round the market tower
Swim with fish-like flight.
Six days ago
The fells were limed with snow; the starlings on the chimney pots
Shook the falling flakes off their tin feathers.
May gives a sample of four seasons’ weathers
For a week on show.
A cold, wet, windy weekend in store so what better excuse to settle down with some yarn, a good book, radio on one side, shelties on the other. The lentil Hashis Parmentier in the slow cooker.
One of the programmes I am looking forward to this weekend is Poetry Extra on radio 4 extra tomorrow afternoon. I don’t read much poetry but there are 5 poets who I do read and re-read constantly – John Clare, Edward Thomas, Adam Thorpe, Ivor Gurney and Norman Nicholson. If you know these poets you can probably see a common theme.
Here is Coastal Journey, taken from Norman Nicholson’s Collected Poems.
Poetry Extra – Provincial Pleasures – Norman Nicholson – @BBCRadio4Extra http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09b6qt1