Vera Bax poems for “The Fallen”, her WW2 sons

Vera Bax, poet and painter, lost two sons in WW2. Both were RAF pilots. She wrote a sequence of four poems on losing them. Some of the poems have been in various anthologies ever since.

I have told something of the story of Vera Bax, her sons and various husbands here and Vera Bax and family.

This sequence of poems begins with the death her youngest son, Richard aged 21. It is followed by a reflection at Christmas, 1943. Later, in 1945, it is followed by a poem commemorating her midde son, Billy, shot down aged 25, in Burma a week after VE Day and exactly three months before VJ Day.

Vera Bax’s son Pilot Officer Richard Filson-Young was killed during air operations over El Alamein.

To Richard
(Killed in action, 17th August, 1942)

I hide my grief throughout the weary days,
And gather up the threads of life again,
Remembering you ever gave your praise
To those for whom fate’s hardest thrust was vain.
Now, when I feel my courage flicker low,
Your spirit comes to breathe it into flame,
Until I lift my head, and smiling go,
Whispering softly your beloved name.
And yet to me it seems but yesterday
You were a child, and full of childish fears;
Then I would run to you and soothe away
The loneliness of night, and dry your tears;
But now you are the comforter, and keep,
From out the shadows, watch, lest I should weep.

Christmas 1943

Now Christmas comes again, to find my heart
Still as the frozen landscape: cold and still.
Like an automaton I play my part,
To noisy merriment must bend my will;
Yet how can I be glad, remembering,
Though all my tears so long ago were shed?
I would, in solitude, let fancy wing
Back through the past to that poor manger-bed,
Where gladness shone in such a night as this,
And holy peace descended for a while;
No laughter, loud and mirthless, marred its bliss,
No grief was there to hide behind a smile;
Only an innocence, a hope, a gleam:
A star that beckoned, and a woman’s dream.

A week after VE Day Vera Bax lost a second son serving in the Royal Air Force. Wing Commander William David Loraine Filson-Young, DFC and Bar, was killed in southern Burma, shot down by Japanese forces.

To Billy, my son
(Killed in action, May 15th, 1945)

Now comes, indeed, the end of all delight,
The end of forward-looking on life’s way,
The end of all desire to pierce the night
For gleam of hope, the end of all things gay;
The end of any promise Spring might hold,
The end of praying and, O God, the end
Of love that waited to be shared and told;
Now, evermore, shall life with sorrow blend;
That sorrow whose dark shape the months had fought,
And strictly kept in confines of the will;
Had held quiescent while each conscious thought
Searched far horizons where joy lingered still;
But, my beloved, fearless, gallant, true,
Here is fair end of sorrow, now, for you.

The Fallen
(VJ Day, August 17th, 1945)

Have no self-pity now for loneliness;
Permit no tear, no sad, recalling sigh
For these,the dead, who counted all things less
Than honour, and the courage so to die;
Remembering that age too seldom gives
What youth has dreamed: our hopes are mostly vain
And fortunate indeed is he who lives
Forever young, beyond the reach of pain.
Yours is the sorrow, heart that still must beat,
Yours is the heavy burden of the day,
Yours the long battle now against defeat,
Be not less steadfast in the fight than they;
Nor shun the throng: their spirits linger there,
Whose laughter rang so gaily on the air.

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Publication date

11 May 2015


Mind & body; RDN's poems