Normandy to Hampshire
I’m writing from this cliff top
above a blackened beach and shore
the guns have fallen silent now
June, nineteen forty four
oh Kathy I just can’t believe
it’s been only four shorts weeks
that we rowed along the river Arun
and picnicked by the Castle reach
the last five days of bloody hell
the first assault when good friends fell
drowning in bullets, mines and shells
just as many drowned by the swell
I know that day you begged me
as we watched Kingfishers dive
but my father went in nineteen fourteen
so I had to do my duty, do or die
I never thought within thirty years
we’d have to do it all once more
and leave green glades of the Meon
spill our blood on this French shore
but I’m one of the lucky ones
I made it ‘cross the beach
now looking back across the channel
knowing England lies within my reach
I don’t know what the future holds
but I’ll do my duty to the last
until I’m back with you by the Arun
lying with you in long grass
Continuing Lauren Sherry’s interview with Poet & Writer Tom Gorman
Lauren: In ‘Normandy to Hampshire’, do you have a favourite line or a favourite part?
Tom: There is a bit towards the end that I really like when he’s looking back across the ocean, the final part of the poem where it ties together 1945 and 1914 and he can almost see home across the channel. It’s that longing for home that I was trying to capture, I think it links with the First World War poems. I quite like the bit about the Meon Valley as well, with the picnic by the water.
Lauren: Do you have another favourite poem that you have written?
Tom: It is hard, I have written many, but ‘Normandy to Hampshire’ is definitely one of my favourite poems. I also wrote a poem in my second poetry collection ‘Seaside Boogie’ called Frozen Romance – “I was trying to decide between store bought and birds eye when I saw you standing there in the frozen aisle” – it’s about meeting a girl in the supermarket and the shopping trolleys clash.
Lauren: Oh! I like that – it has a nice feeling to it.
Tom: Yes, a lot of the ones in Seaside Boogie are like that, light-hearted and I used to do this thing called the ‘Friday Poem’ where I published a poem every Friday on Facebook – some of them old ones, some new. I had read something somewhere that 4,000 weeks is the average life span, so I wrote a poem about it – I was basically saying that I don’t want to waste those 4,000 weeks, live life to the full, that kind of thing.
Lauren: Do you have a book or poem that has had a big impact on you?
Tom: Yeah, I think there are a lot of poems, but in particular the one by Robert Frost – ‘The Road Not Taken’. It resonates with me because I like the metaphor about making choices in life. About how you can take the easier safer path or the more difficult, wilder path. I think I aspire to take the path less travelled by, but in most cases I will take the safe route. It is quite nice to keep that in mind – like a mantra – and I was really interested in the link between Robert Frost and Edward Thomas.
Lauren: What do you think makes poetry stand out from other kinds of writing?
Tom: That is a really difficult one – poetry is much more like a snapshot of emotion that you don’t get in the same way from books. I love books, you can’t beat a well written novel or a story that grips you, but poetry is more immediate. I suppose that is why I like it – you can get a lot from a poem and you can probably find a poem to suit every mood and feeling.
Lauren: Of all the war poets who is your favourite and why?
Tom: I have to say Isaac Rosenberg, there is one poem he wrote which is a particular favourite of mine, ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ – there is so much emotion in his writing. It is quite dark and has something that I feel is different from the other war poets that makes him stand out. There are poets you gravitate to because of their writing style and the way that they convey emotion in their writing.
Lauren: But the poems in England Remembered, perhaps because of the nature themes, like ‘Normandy to Hampshire’ seem more hopeful.
Tom: Perhaps it’s because it has a feeling that he is going to get back – he has survived the landing and you kind of hope that he will survive the rest. It’s like a mini story and I suppose you want to know the rest –it would be interesting to write the sequel ‘Coming Home’.
Lauren: What were the main reasons you decided to get involved with England Remembered?
Tom: War poetry is not something I had written before, it was the timing being 100 years from the start of the First World War and it was a challenge to write about something darker than my usual subjects. I usually write about love and romance and lighter subjects, although I do write observational poetry. When I heard about the England Remembered Project I had just written ‘Nineteen Fourteen’ and felt I wanted to write more.
Lauren: What was your inspiration for ‘Normandy to Hampshire’?
Tom: I was trying to find something to link not just the 1st World War, but the 2nd World War. In the 2nd World War there were guys going into a conflict where their parents probably died. When they were small children, their Dad could have been in the same situation, imagine how terrifying that must have been knowing that? I wanted to make that connection, that for a second time in a lifetime, people were going off to war. They could have lost a brother or an uncle or father and probably did lose a member of their family. I don’t think there is enough attention paid to that. Nobody has written poetry linking the two Wars together in this way, as far as I am aware, it just seemed to me that the courage displayed was immense.
Lauren: Is there any connection in this poem to your earlier work, perhaps ‘Transition Island Songs’?
Tom: Yes, I guess there is a link to ‘Transition Island Songs’ as the poetry is about Ports and the transition of coming and goings. The movement of the tide and being by the sea as a constantly changing thing, so there is a nature theme there, but the strongest connection being with people belonging to places and the land and the same with ‘Normandy to Hampshire’. It’s something I would hope people could recognise as my style using the names of places to connect people to localities. It’s also about people missing home and that is something I have used in my poetry about Portsmouth before, living in Portsmouth and looking over the City, the Spinnaker Tower and concrete tower blocks.
Lauren: Also perhaps a link to the ‘Frozen Romance’ poem with a sense of longing and the passing of time?
Tom: Yes, the fantasy, the wish of something that might be….. the same longing that he has reminiscing about being there and wishing he was back there.
Lauren: Both Nowell Oxland’s ‘Outward Bound’ and your own ‘Normandy to Hampshire’ look closely at nature.
Tom: It is not something that I usually write about as a main theme, but if I can I use snippets in my poems like the changing seasons, winter, summer or autumn for example. Nowell Oxland’s poem is full of imagery and you can see it in your mind. Being a city boy to a great extent, mine are more about the dynamic of buildings and structures. So it was really interesting for me to write something with a focus on the countryside. I really loved it when Jacky said she was pairing me with Oxland and could I write a piece that connected with his poem. I like the way that he writes about the Border Countryside and really wanted to mirror that by making direct references to places here, like the River Arun; the winding river, grass, meadows, birds and trees.
Lauren: Did Oxland inspire you as a writer?
Tom: Yes, I find that when I am editing my work I usually have too many words and I have to think about how to pare that down to the absolute minimum. Oxland has that as a writer, he has clearly thought about every word and I guess that in the situation he was in each word becomes even more important, more precious. It’s that treatment of words that not only Oxland, but all the First World War Poets had showing each word is carefully chosen – it is just wonderful the way they do that.
Tom has contributed three poems to the England Remembered Book; ‘Normandy to Hampshire’, ‘Dorothy and David’ and ‘Nineteen Fourteen’.
Read the first part of Lauren’s interview with Tom here
To see archive images and poem extracts follow us on Instagram @englandremembered
Header image © Jacky Dillon (Waggoners Wells NT, Grayshott)