Back to John Ottewell introduction


(The Chateau - Maltot - Normandy 1944).

How brightly shines the halo
On he who sits beneath the bough
And writes his letter home.
Now closely he fills ‘the glass’
He with the tousled flaxen head
And eyes of Mediterranean blue,
Humming his childhood lieder
Oblivious of impending doom.
Now the ‘cross’ rises to sternum tip,
The second pressure’s gently squeezed
To the firm shoulder nudge
As a ‘black gnat’ wings to his oblivion.
There is no outcry just that sudden stiffening
As blue eyes widen and a claret ‘poppy’ blooms
From open mouth to ‘blush’ his homeward screed.

Now he lies silent - gazing heavenwards
Through sightless jellied eyes -
The Horst Wessel still ringing in closed ears.
Far away in some Bavarian village, I see his doting dam
Lighting candles in a mountain church
And praying for his safe return.
Quietly I move away - off to another ‘killing’ niche,
Leaving him to the swarming flies and ants
And an unfinished letter home.
Yes .... How easy it is to snuff a candle.

I was in “I” Section along with Battalion Snipers (August). The above is a lurid description of a ‘Kill’ made by one of the snipers [John told it was himself - PB].


(Normandy, Grimbosq, August 1944)

He sits beneath the apple bough,
head rocking, consoling his child of grief,
cossetted against further rebuff,
locked within a ‘wild encephalic cage’,
detached from reality, wherein
the Kaleidoscope moves incessantly -
the field within that grey mass of
writhing cerebral matter .... sprouts, cabbages,
heartless brassicas, mindless in origin
and yet, he knows them not,
for he, in one crashing fulmination of heat,
blast and shuddering inferno
became one of them as the tank erupted
and left him sere to the last innate shred
of realistic existence.
Now, infinity, beyond the endless blue
of diverse horizons, is his sole escape.
We leave him conversing with his cindered crew
the comforting ‘red cross arm bands’
and an army of ants marching his arms and face.
And as we look back, we realise that outwardly,
he is a picture of vibrant youth and health
tanned by the glowing Normandy sun.
‘Mens sana in Corpore Sano”, mutters our ‘one pipper’
or something like that.

A surviving Tank-man from a Sherman tank that had gone up in flames. Shocked out of his mind, but outwardly he looked the picture of health.