Back to John Ottewell introduction


(Maltot- August 1944)

“They lie side by side beneath the apple bough,
sharing the same cigarette,
waiting with ashen faces for the ‘red-crossed’ green canvas truck
that will take them to the Regimental Aid Post
where clean dressings, morphine and hot sweet tea
will alleviate the cold sweat nausea of traumatic shock.
The younger one retches, and suddenly bubbles at the mouth
as the red sogged cigarette comes apart at the seam
to cling in clotted shreds between his trembling fingers,
the older one reaches across and grips the young ones’ hand,
No words are spoken - just that firm steady pressure.
The younger one looks across, and in white pain,
manages a faint smile.
“Gut mein kleiner. Alles gut” whispers the older one;
Feldwebel Schultz of the Panzer Grenadiers
His 3rd time wounded, has seen it all,
from Alamein to the Eastern front, and now he lies in Normandy,
beside this young Welsh infantryman
soothing him like his only soldier son,
long since dead beneath the hell-bound snows of STALINGRAD”.

(To witness this makes you wonder what wars are all about).


(Falaise, August 18th, 1944).

Infantryman with ‘yellow bandanas’ masking nose and mouth
Inching their way along this sticken route;
The sight and stench turns mind and gut into vomiting, pulsating jelly.
There are no words in human tongue
to convey to cossetted humanity this sudden impact.
Putrefaction ‘ad nauseam’ in the sweltering August sun ?
Bloated and flecked with ‘writhing white saliva’,
Between their shattered tenders and splintered shafts.
Horses and men alike, blacken and grin
to the ‘song incessant’ of a million swarming ‘meat’ flies.
Overhead, another drone of ‘deadlier flies’
is battening on the closing ‘Gap’s’ pathetic remnants;
Diving with piercing rockets, blasting the heaving earth
relentlessly into pulverised submission.
Cows, horses, dogs, and blue-grey uniforms
‘minced and shredded’ into a trembling mass of gouted flesh.
Such is this ‘goulash’ hot-pot in the noon-day sun;
Amid the carnage, children are gaily scavenging.
“Bonjour Tommie” - “Vivent les Anglais”.
“Souvenirs” from “Les Sals Boches”, they cry.
“Cigarettes pour Papa - chocolat pour Mama.”
Normandie patter from the ‘waifs of War’
“Bon chance Tommie, voila” - a blood stained jack-boot’s held aloft.
An ‘army of babes’ are robbing the dead.
The yellow bandanas move on -
Now, past a twisted mass of blackened ‘cans’
Once Hitler’s pride - the dreaded ‘S.S Panzers’
Reduced to crematory ash in the wake of the Typhoon’s ‘FIRE BALL’.
Scant life breathes here today in this foul, pestilential place,
Save for the children, flies, and obscene plodding crows
Amidst this shambling stench, ‘The Falaise Gap’.

A sight and stench never to be forgotten by those who had to ‘wade’ through it.