Herbert Corby: Reprisal

Imperial War Museum, WO201-2023 Middle East - dummy vehicles filling up with fuel, 1942


They worked all night with cardboard and with wood
to make those dummy planes to hoodwink the foe,
and in the chilly morning solitude
wheeled out the dummies to places they should go
on the dispersal fields, and went away;
the hours passed uneventfully, and even
no reconnaissance planes were overhead that day.
They evacuated in the twilight, just after seven
and when they'd gone the Germans flew above the drome
and by each plane they dropped a wooden bomb.

Corby was an RAF Armourer in a bomber squadron.  The poem is part of the operations leading up to the Battle of el Alamein, 1942.  Did it happen?  This is a poem.  Like the fabled Christmas Truce in the First World War, often written about in poem and song, this is the Second World War's registration of some sort of common humanity that renders the act of battle so much more inexplicable.

Stephanie Whitewar