D-Day 78 : poem 'AS I LOOK BACK' by Veteran Ken Hay
Normandy Veteran Ken Hay was just 14 when war broke out in 1939. When he turned 17, he volunteered for service in the same unit as his older brother.
Ken fought in Normandy as a Private in the 43rd Essex Regiment for just a few days before being captured by the Nazis.
Now aged 97, he has written a poem ‘As I Look Back’, a reflection on his experiences in Normandy and a tribute to his lost comrades. It is to be read at the commemorative service at Bayeux War Cemetery on the 78th anniversary of D-Day. With permission from Ken, the Trust is delighted to share his poignant words.
AS I LOOK BACK
I was not here on D-Day, but safe on England’s shore
I hadn’t faced the horror of those that went before.
But soon the order issued “to Normandy you go”
So 43rd Div crossed channel to face the German foe.
With trouble from their snipers in church towers and in trees
We quickly learned that warfare wasn’t such a breeze.
Those booming Minenwerfer and dreaded Tiger tanks
We lost some friends and we were left to offer God our thanks.
Then came the night we left our lines to wreck a post of observation
But Gen was wrong, they let us through, thus mastering situation.
As battle raged, it seemed like hours, then died to eerie quiet
But single noise brought guns again, grenades joined in the riot.
Laid out in fields with enemy, barring our getting back
Only two prayers to offer up – as faith I did not lack.
Lord, keep me safe, I’m just 18 and still a life to live
Or, if ’tis end, please make it quick, I’ve nothing more to give.
Were Mum and Dad tucked up in bed, completely unaware
That their two sons were facing death in Norman fields o’er there.
Alas, came time when ‘Hande Hoch’ fell on our ears in dread
Thirty went out, sixteen returned, five captured, and nine dead.
Two wagon journeys followed then, of six days and of five
Transported off to Polish mine, forced labour to survive.
The work was hard, so little food, it was a mournful time
In darkest depths, but hope prevailed down amid the grime.
In January the camp was closed and we were marched away
To other camp, or so they said, but we marched day-on-day.
For three long months in ice and snow till Springtime brought relief
Dead bodies left at side of road, no time, or kin, for grief.
1,000 miles in all we trod, and slept in barns at night
Flea-bitten, dirty and unkempt, we were a sorry sight.
When would it end, we didn’t know for news we did not hear
Until one night gunfire from West told our release was near.
With memories I come each year, and often shed a tear
To understand that I came home to live another year.
I still can see, each passing day, the friends I left behind
The price they paid, I nearly paid, is clearly brought to mind.
Stand with me and give your thanks for those who paid the price
For, had they not, the life we live would not be very nice.
They cannot make their voices heard as they lie ‘neath the grass
Honour them for all they gave, brave soldiers to the last.
Some folk praise me for service or similarly applaud
Or compliment my medals but I am not a fraud
I am not a world War hero, I’m no-one of renown
If you are seeking heroes, just cast your eyes around.