Country poet jests at Blitz evacuee’s beleaguered flock of ducklings
With air-raid sirens wailing in the night, a Belfast family rushed to huddle into the darkness of their make-shift bomb shelter in the garden.
A child was urgently sent back into the house to retrieve a drawer full of important family documents.
Emerging at dawn, thankful to be alive, they discovered that the drawer was full of socks!
An immaculately uniformed policeman lay motionless on the street. His boots and buttons were shining.
His badges and insignia gleamed. A slate had neatly, instantly, surgically, taken his head from his shoulders.
Bombs were falling near the boarding house so its blacked-out windows were tightly shut.
A sleepless lodger, breathless with fear, couldn’t open his bedroom window in the darkness. So he broke a pane of glass, gratefully inhaling the fresh air into his lungs.
Next morning there was a broken pane of glass in the bookcase.
Those are some contrasting memories of the Belfast blitz, a sequence of Luftwaffe air-raids from 7 April to 6 May 1941, often recounted down the years and particularly today, 80 years after the tragic Easter Tuesday-night attack on 15 April.
Memories of that awful night, and of the other air raids, have been shared on this page in recent weeks, and there’s a special anniversary section in today’s News Letter.
Following Roamer’s accounts during the past few weeks, Graham Mawhinney e-mailed from Draperstown - “your recent mention of the 80th anniversary of the blitz…put into my head a rather light-hearted story about an evacuee.”
Graham’s e-mail continued with an introduction to his great-uncle David Orr, former principal of Tobermore and then Castleblayney P. E. schools before becoming principal of Montgomery School, Donegall Pass, Belfast.
Mr Orr retired in 1934 and continued to live in Belfast “but he’d been reared on a small farm near Draperstown,” Graham explained.
So, early in 1941, the family evacuated the city to live there, almost next door to Mr Orr’s cousin, George (Geordie) Barnett - “a notable local poet.”
Graham is very kindly sharing some photographs here today and one of Geordie’s (slightly shortened) poems, written in jest “mocking the ‘Master’s’ feeble attempt to rear some ducklings.”
There’s a clever schoolmaster - retired for life
From the noise of the school with its worries and strife
Midst blotters and jotters, books, inkpots and maps
And the trouble of training up other folk’s brats
Who got from Belfast with a very tight squeeze
Along with a bunch of the evacuees
He arrived at Sixtowns looking hearty and hale
And soon settled down amidst Labby’s green vale
He felt quite at home being reared on the ground
And started to lecture the farmers around
On the right kinds of stock both for milking and beef
And their slow farming methods which brought them to grief
On good cultivation he oft times would rave
And showed them fast methods their hay for to save
At subjects like these he would seem to be clever
But n’er gave a thought to unsuitable weather
A neighbour’s dun duck to his farmyard did stray
And finding some crumbs she did stop there to lay
Then his knowledge of farming was put to the test
And it took him a week to discover the nest
When at last he succeeded his grief it was keen
And there was not an egg at the place to be seen
His sister, a farmer, laughed at the joke
And told him beneath the moss cover to poke
The eggs he discovered and started to watch
As the duck at that time was beginning to hatch
And the neighbour who owned her, her kindness to show,
To his small grandchild, David, the duck did bestow.
The ducklings came out and their number was six
And they greatly amused him with head wagging tricks
Till a rat came along and a duckling did slay
Which caused him to worry by night and by day.
He borrowed a dog and searched for a cat
Tried ‘Rodine’ and ‘Romore’ upon that same rat
But the rat did elude him and all he did try
And oft showed its whiskers from a burrow nearby
It took his whole household - their number was five
To guard his small flock for to keep them alive
And his neighbours were greatly amused at the sight
When the flock to the parlour were rushed every night
Good water he gave them and oft was amazed
To see how they left it, the sight put him dazed
The trouble seemed inbred and deep in the blood
As they hated clear water and hankered for mud
He says the whole lot he will quickly sell off
And no more at the work of the farmers will scoff
For they must have great courage and hearts that are big
When they tackle the problems of poultry and pigs
Sheep, horses, goats, cattle, geese, turkeys as well
Their courage and patience increasingly tell
Beside the crop problems and problems of weather
These folk should be honoured for ever and ever
Geordie Barnett (1876-1965) was a prolific poet and Graham Mawhinney has collected almost 300 of his poems, which he hopes to publish.
If anyone has memories of, or writings by, Geordie Barnett or Cecil Orr, e-mail Roamer who’ll put you in contact with Graham.
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