My mother had an older brother –
by Tony Jolley
Name of Charles: ‘Chuck’.
Think she must have adored him all the more
As her feckless father had upped-sticks
Before she’d even entered the world.
Not sure how much older than her he was,
A fair bit, I think,
But anyway it was more than enough
To have him ‘called up’ in the ‘Last Lot’
When she was barely in her teens.
He became a well-named:
‘Tail-end Charlie, from Lancs on Lancs’
Who, with the luck of the Irish (tho’ he wasn’t) ,
Managed to run the gauntlet of the ever-increasing
Regulation number of ‘Tours’
'Til he was ‘stood down’:
The ‘Old Man’ still well shy of his mid-twenties,
Talisman to the Squadron:
A living, breathing proof
That survival in a battle of attrition,
Outnumbered by shrapnel shells and lead-spitting Messerschmitts
Was at least a statistical possibility –
Well at least you knew it had happened to somebody.
So the second-hand story goes,
Some wet-behind-the-ears ‘Charlie’
Wanted to bunk-off base to propose to his sweetheart,
So he needed or pleaded a one-off swap
In which, somewhere over Essen, Düsseldorf, Hamburg or Dresden
Chuck’s luck finally fled the fuselage at fifteen thousand feet
Leaving him to fend for himself
Against conflagration, airframe failure, panic and explosion.
His spirit never touched down,
His body never was found.
One Charlie got wed,
My only, never-met uncle, sadly, dead.