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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.