E&K verse



This is a poem based on a diary written by two women, Kathleen Church-Bliss and Elsie Whiteman. The full manuscript is available in the Imperial War Museum, but the version I used was published in the book, Working for Victory, edited by Sue Bruley.


They think us sisters
because we speak alike,
“the toffee nosed pair”.
They guard their seats,
‘het up’ terse, with no
time for double-barreled
names. K saws hers off.
No more of the hotel
we gave up or past lives,
only life in lodgings,
factory work to help
the war effort.

After packing and tea,
the fall of Singapore,
clocking on, one of many
women beating all hell
out of Spitfire, bomber.

All into noise caskets
are clasped, wed to
crisis, resounding tattoo
of spanners, animal
cries from the men
and the boys. Howls
from the jockey who
traversed five weeks,
the Channel, and the
fall of France, now
sailing, on the night
shift. At dawn, the lathe
is at sea, rocking and listing.
The Czech boy is silent, head
bowed, chubby hands
barely up to the metal,
all fifteen years of him.

K bends her back,
spinster to the lathe,
crick in her bones. Feels
she’s bent double in the slips
at the Oval for the King.
In command, she straightens
her back, relaxing, turns
the lathe slowly, one of
many rude mechanicals.
Her only trial, boredom,
she recalls five acts of
memory, A Midsummer
Night’s Dream, she learnt
when 16. Repeats scene
after scene. Sound
engineering practice
as looking around one
sees everyone’s mouth
is moving. E is in talks
with the bosses, talks
from which she always
emerges triumphant.

K intones lines aloud
to the lathe. ‘Now,
fair Hippolyta’. No
moonlight to be ill
met by but neon that
bathes each soul in
ghastly green, bleeds
all blue a violet hue.
No magic but the Lord
of Misrule at Yuletide,
mistletoe, kissing pecks,
lubadubs and bear hugs,
up behind the machines,
a swig of cocktail out
of a medicine bottle
to lay the love juice
on some worker’s sight.
Not a scrap of work done.

We got on with it,
rationing, browned
off, the smallest
double bed in our
second cell, composed
of bumps, a lumpy duvet
and a nice little fire
that toasts the legs,
a withering Geranium,
a portable wireless,
coffee in a flask.
Give me your hand
and Robin shall
restore amends.

One thought on “E&K verse

  1. Lovely well crafted verses, I particularly liked the reference to Midsummer Night’s Dream from K. This illustrates the hard conditions the munitions workers worked under. They clearly had to be possessed of strength and resiliance to survive. All of this makes for an inspiring poem. A well chosen poem and picture.

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