His spool tape measure is imperial only,
Palm-sized, nut-brown. He died at fifty-two
But is unfolded from a box of letters
Sent to his daughter Joyce, my mother, who
Was safe in Scotland, far from bombed West Wickham.
This one, in bashed-out type, gives at the top
Of bright blue paper, crisply edged as ever,
The home address as: “Daddy, the wood shop.”
Ironic notes my mother trained me in
Reveal their sources; her sardonic wit
Had roots in days when Beckenham resembled
“The ruins Cromwell knocked about a bit.”
My grandfather worked in rescue parties: here
They’ve tunnelled in, “but we need not have hurried,
The man and woman were both finished.” Calm,
He says he’s used to it, not to be worried,
And turns to news of Spot, her dog, and cricket.
Next month, her mother’s urging him to buy
A luxury shirt. “I said it was too dear.”
To spur him on, she’s bought a matching tie.
“I told her that I’d have to leave the house
Without my trousers on, so I could show
All of the shirt and get good value from it.”
Their registers of love and humour glow
And live: the grandfather I never met
Fills me with laughter. Seventy-five years’ span
Now disappears like rapidly spooling ribbon.
I feel I have the measure of the man.
This poem is published to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day on 8 May.
Kieron Winn is the author of the collection The Mortal Man (Howtown Press).
This article appears in the 29 Apr 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The second wave