Kensington Church, 1944

It was March when the firebombs fell out of the sky
From the Luftwaffe bomber that chanced to pass by
(For some tactical target attempting to search),
But his bomb hit the nave of the Kensington Church.

The roof caught alight like some tinder in drought,
And Londoners gather amid the black-out.
Around them the flames and the billowing smoke
Swirl up the street as the by-standers choke.

The din of the sirens, the call of "All Clear"
As fire engines, flashing, come hurriedly there.
First-aiders, nurses, St. John's and Home Guard
Form a long water-chain through the streets and church yard.

The roof is ablaze and flames lick the clouds,
An unspoken fear is gripping the crowds:
Will the steeple burn too and collapse in the fire,
Destroying the altar, the vestry, the choir?

Like huge throbbing snakes the fire hoses curled round,
As the fire engines pumped to a crackling sound.
Hauled high up the ladders, the hoses a-stream
Kept dousing the inferno midst huge clouds of steam.

Then the vicar arrived, looked aghast at the sight,
And he thanked those nearby for their resolute fight.
His concern was the organ, "A fine one, it's said.
It's the water, not smoke , that I specially dread."

"It's standard that key board, a typical type,
The problem's if water gets into a pipe.
It's bound to be ruined, of that there's no doubt,
But if played at full volume the water blows out."

At this an air warden said, "Just wait a bit.
If I get the thing working , why, I'll rescue it.
"No, no," cried the vicar, "that's too great a risk."
His protest was powerful, his manner was brisk.

"It's my duty, don't worry" the volunteer cried;
And he fought through the fumes to the chancel inside.
He struggled through debris, avoiding the flame,
And wished he could leave just as fast as he came.

But he started the organ and played to the beat,
And the music he played could be heard in the street.
And the water that rained down to put out the fire
Was expelled up the organ pipes into the choir.

His repertoire varied from waltzes to swing
But most of the time he played "God Save the King"
And thus to the enemy gave a riposte
Braving smoke, fire and water at personal cost.

With a crash, a spark-shower and great waves of heat,
The roof of the nave fell ablaze at his feet.
Then the bell-ringers join in, a round starts to ring,
And along with the bells he plays "God Save the King".

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I am five, and my grandmother runs from the flat.
In her sensible shoes and her pre-World War hat,
She sprints down the street to the clanging alarms,
And she carries me safe in her sheltering arms.

Oh, the thrill: all the firemen, the uniforms, noise,
The engines and smoke that delight little boys!
The water describing an arc in the air,
The thrill as the tongues of the blazing roof flare!

"You shouldn't take risks with those bombers around,
With a kiddie like that you should be underground."
"I don't reckon with shelters," said Gran, "never fret,
I've survived for four years and they've not got me yet."

But her words were drowned out by a creak and a crack
As the roof of the nave fell in flames at the back.
To the shouts of dismay from the on-looking crowds,
While the steeple untouched still stood proud in the clouds.

Streams of sparks and black smoke in the darkening sky, Then some ash in the air made this little boy cry.
But the pain is forgotten - - the bells start to ring.
Unheard in the background was "God Save the King."

The bombing of St. Mary Abbott's Church, Kensington was my first vivid memory.
The name of the (correctly-termed) air-raid warden was never recorded.
Maybe he did not want it to be.

July 2008