|Paul Farnes by David Pritchard|
The following poem was written in the dispersal hut at Kenley in October 1940 by Wing Commander Paul Farnes, DFM, who was a sergeant pilot at the time with No. 501 Squadron during the Battle of Britain.
Readiness At Dawn
By Paul Farnes
Night has shed its heavy cloak
And the stars ‘ere put to flight.
The dawn is gently breaking
With a pale and misty light.
But we got up some time ago
To herald in the morn,
For our orders of the night before
Said ‘Readiness at Dawn’.
We go round to our aircraft
To see they’re in good state,
And then there’s nothing left to do
But settle down and wait.
When we’re sitting round dispersal
To do battle in the sky
I often stop to wonder
If today someone will die.
It may be Bob it may be Bill
It may be Morf or Mac
Because as like as not this day
Someone won’t come back.
Some types are reading letters
And some are playing crap
Some are sitting thinking
Some quietly take a nap.
Suddenly the ‘phone rings,
It’s the operations line
And every man is on his feet
And the same thought’s in each mind.
The order comes to ‘Scramble’
The engines start as one
We rush out to our aircraft
And the battle has begun.
The squadron soon is airborne
And straight away begins the climb,
For height’s the first and foremost thought
In every pilot’s mind.
Tail-end-Charlie starts his weaving
To guard our tails and watch the sun,
For she makes a natural cover
For every skulking Hun.
Ground station calls the Leader
And says “There’s ninety plus
And they’re heading straight for Dover,”
So they’re heading straight for us.
Someone switches on his set
And the thought’s in each chap’s mind
That a warnings going to follow
So each man looks behind.
It’s Harry who is calling
He’s having trouble with his hood,
He says “I’ll have to break away,
Is my message understood?”
We’re now at thirty thousand
And it won’t be very long
Before we start the battle
In which Mac won his ‘gong’.
The R/T crackles once again
And there’s a shout of “Tally-Ho,
They’re on our left at ten o’clock,
Come on chaps, lets go!”
The C.O. starts a gentle turn
To bring us on their beam,
But we’ve got to dive through Messerschmitts
That give the bombers fighter screen.
We dive down through the cover
But there are more up higher still
Just waiting till we turn our tails
Before they try to kill.
But the Spitfires up above us
The Hun has yet to face,
And soon there’ll be a battle royal
In this great barren space.
The fight is soon at fever pitch,
It’s each man on his own
And deeds of courage are performed
Of which nothing will be known.
On the ground down far below us
Our Mothers’ younger sons
Are watching us with envy
As they listen to the guns.
But if our prayers be answered
And God grant that they will,
When they’ve only just reached manhood
They won’t have to learn to kill.
The fight is nearly over now
The Hun has turned away
And those of us who’re lucky,
Live to fight another day.
The ground crews on the tarmac
Watch our return with anxious heart
And find that three have not come back
Who went up at the start.
It’s Hughie, Bob and Johnny
Who’re missing from the show,
But they may have baled out somewhere
And be trying to let us know.
Bob rings up sometime later
To tell us he’s O.K.
He baled out over Tunbridge
But that is all he’ll say.
The news of Hugh and Johnny
Came through to us next day,
They’d crashed in flames near Dover;
There’s not much one can say.
But someone takes a long drawn breath
And with unsteady voice
Says “If they’d known they had to go
It would have been their choice.
To die fighting for their country
Against the bloody Hun
In order that some other folk
May wander in the sun.
And when we sit around again
To go up and fight once more
My thoughts oft times stray far away
To my home before the war.
And when I think of peace in England
And all it means to me
Moisture dims my weary eyes
And I find it hard to see.
Copyright Paul Farnes (Used here with his permission)