Monday, October 25, 2021

LONGSTOP HILL

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And still more readers writing about poetry . . . this time an email received yesterday from Steve M:
G’day Your Lordship,

I am enjoying your Bytes poetry segments very much. Thought I would send you a piece of Spike Milligan magic. Most people think of Spike as the genius behind The Goon Show, which he was, but there was considerably more depth to him than his classic and at times ground-breaking comedy. He was a beautiful poet, and again people remember his children’s poems – the Ning Nang Nong, I’m Walking Backwards For Christmas and so on.

His poetry for adults is possible part of his legacy that is often forgotten, and I would certainly recommend Byters who enjoy poetry to hunt around for his work on-line – it is all there. He wrote some beautiful poems about love and also some very soul searching poetry when he was deep in one of his depressions.

I saw him once read the poem below, and it brought him to tears. It is based upon a true event from his army days. It is simple in its structure yet it still portrays a tragic event that is very easy to relate to.

22nd April 1943.

LONGSTOP HILL

That April day
seems far away
The day they decided to kill
Lt., Tony Goldsmith R.A.
On the slopes of Longstop Hill

At Toukabeur
The dawn lights stir
Who's blood today will spill?
Today it's Tony Goldsmith's
Seeping out on Longstop Hill

One can't complain
Nor ease the pain
Or find someone to fill
The place of Tony Goldsmith
Lying dead on Longstop Hill

In Germany
There still might be
A Joachem, Fritz or Will
who did for Tony Goldsmith
That day on Longstop Hill

Steve m
Thanks Steve.

Certainly very moving, concise and short but mraningful
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Some comments and background:

Spike fought in the Battle of Longstop Hill, where his artillery unit played a part in victory. Along the way Spike lost his first close friend to enemy fire.
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According to Wikipedia:
The 2nd Battle of Longstop Hill or the Capture of Longstop Hill took place in Tunisia during the Tunisia Campaign of World War II from 21 to 23 April 1943. The battle was fought for control over the heights of Djebel el Ahmera and Djebel Rhar, together known as Longstop Hill and vicinity, between the British forces of the First Army and German units of the 5th Panzer Army.The infantry of the 78th Battleaxe Division and Churchill tanks of the North Irish Horse captured Longstop Hill after bitter fighting, in which the tanks created a measure of tactical surprise by driving up the hill, a manoeuvre that only Churchill tanks could achieve. The attackers broke through the German defences, which were the last great natural barrier on the road to Tunis. Roughly 400 were killed and wounded.
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Spike’s involvement in the Battle of Longstop Hill is described in Volume 2 of his autobiography, "Rommel?" "Gunner Who?": A Confrontation in the Desert.

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Ernest Sewell, 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, remembers the ferocity of the fighting around Longstop Hill, Tunisia, in April 1943.

I knew Spike had lived with depression, a binary persona like many comic greats from Lear to Fry. What this book reminds me, with its shrapnel of war poems, is that Milligan’s selves weren’t merely split between the public and personal. Here too is a meditative and human voice sounding clear, the same that lurks within the ‘nonsense’. Farnes’s editing is deft: a page-turn between the death at dawn of a lieutenant on ‘Longstop Hill’ and a limerick,
‘One morning at one
They fired the gun
And Edser,
in bed sir,
was dead sir.’

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Shocking. They had these airbursts and this shrapnel come right the way down on you with these airbursts just above your head and we went into an attack, what they call a creeping barrage. The troops had to stop about 100 yards behind our artillery. Of course some pitched short because they were about 18 to 20 miles back. A lot of them pitched short among their own troops. Got through that and one thing and another. We went to Longstop Hill where that Harry Secombe [was] and Spike Milligan, he was there but He was in the artillery and we were in the East Surreys. And on that Longstop Hill they [the Germans] drove the Americans off. It was horrific. Anyway, we had to go up there, they turned us up there. It was absolutely shocking. Anyway, they drove us back only to the bottom of the hill, and the Churchill and Sherman tanks were waiting at the bottom of the hill to mow us down in cold blood. That is true, they was there lined up. They said we had got to go back so we had to go back there, or we would have been shot down with those. And when the night time came - there was a Lieutenant, he was only with us a week. He was in the middle, this was at night, pitch black, and a Sergeant [was] there, and I - I was a Corporal at that particular time - I was on the other side, and no more [distance] than to that gentleman there [points to cameraman] this machine gun went off. We never had time to spread. This Lieutenant caught the lot and of course we skidded about a hundred yards, I took turf and everything, I did, going along that ground, and the Sergeant went off somewhere else. Well whatever happened to the Lieutenant, I don't know, he was killed because he got the whole burst you see. He never had time to spread, it was so near. So I found my way back in the morning, I laid there all night, I found my unit. Got back and this Sergeant found his way back, but he went off his rocker, he stood there like that, he took his hat off, his Army hat, threw it into the sand, swivelled with his foot, picked it up, dusted it off like that, put it on his head as if he was looking into a mirror like that. Then all of a sudden he run and jumped over the washing which he had tied up between the trees. Jumped over. Anyway they took him away and we don't know whatever happened.

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