Friday, 8 November 2013

War Cemetery, Ranville by Vernon Scannell

A still parade of stone tablets,
White as aspirin under the bland
Wash of an August sky, they stand
In exact battalions, their shoulders square.
I move slowly along the lines
Like a visiting Commander
Noting each rank, name and number
And that a few are without names.
All have been efficiently drilled,
They do not blink or shift beneath
My inspection; they do not breathe
Or sway in the hot summer air.
The warmth is sick with too much scent
And thick as ointment. Flowers hurt,
Their sweetness fed with dirt,
Breathing in the dark earth underneath.
Outside the cemetery walls
The children play; their shouts are thrown
High in the air, burst and come down
In shrapnel softer than summer rain.

Ranville was the first village to be liberated in France when the bridge over the Caen Canal was captured intact in the early hours of 6 June by troops of the 6th Airborne Division, who were landed nearby by parachute and glider. Many of the division's casualties are buried in Ranville War Cemetery and the adjoining churchyard.  My father was awarded the Military Cross for his part in the battle for the village, after his company came under unexpectedly heavy fire from German artillery.

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