John Jarmain--British


John Jarmain was killed during the Normandy landings at the age of 33. He left behind a wife, a daughter and a small book of poetry. Educated at Queen’s College, Cambridge, Jarmain was trained as a mathematician. He fought at the Battle of Alamein, a battle that took place in the Egyptian desert, and has been viewed as a turning point for the British in the war, or as Churchill called it, “the end of the beginning.” Jarmain wrote his most important poem, simply titled, “Battle of Alamein,” less than six months after the event.

 

El Alamein

There are flowers now, they say, at El Alamein;
Yes, flowers in the minefields now.
So those that come to view that vacant scene,
Where death remains and agony has been
Will find the lilies grow –
Flowers, and nothing that we know.
So they rang the bells for us and Alamein,
Bells which we could not hear.
And to those that heard the bells what could it mean,
The name of loss and pride, El Alamein?
Not the murk and harm of war.
But their hope, their own warm prayer.
It will become a staid historic name,
That crazy sea of sand !
Like Troy or Agincourt its single fame
Will be the garland for our brow, our claim,
On us a fleck of glory to the end ;
And there our dead will keep their holy ground.
But this is not the place that we recall,
The crowded desert crossed with foaming tracks,
The one blotched building, lacking half a wall,
The grey-faced men, sand-powdered over all ;
The tanks, the guns, the trucks,
The black, dark-smoking wrecks.
So be it ; none but us has known that land :
El Alamein will still be only ours
And those ten days of chaos in the sand.
Others will come who cannot understand,
Will halt beside the rusty minefield wires
and find there, flowers.
 

 

At A War Grave

No grave is rich, the dust that herein lies

Beneath this white cross mixing with the sand

Was vital once, with skill of eye and hand

And speed of brain. These will not re-arise

These riches, nor will they be replaced;

They are lost and nothing now, and here is left

Only a worthless corpse of sense bereft,

Symbol of death, and sacrifice and waste.