Age and Wisdom

Old men grown wise agree
When wasted muscles fail
That laying down their arms
And talking should prevail;

But younger men will fight
And pit their strength wholesale,
Will maim and kill to win –
And words will not avail.

Some older men, less wise,
And boastful although frail,
Send younger men to die
On an ever greater scale.


Across the blue sky
With its cuddly cauliflower clouds
Roaring like thunder
Like thunder deafening
Splitting the peace
Of our sparsely-populated valley
Fighter jets rehearse war

Then silence

Deafening silence

Suddenly broken as ears re-open
To the murmur of the stream
Twittering sparrows
And the sudden shriek of swifts
In rapid patrouille formation
Shooting like a screaming hail of arrows
Across the blue sky
Beneath the clouds

Nature imitating horror.

Low-flying swallows
They say
Herald a storm
Clouds gather grey
Thor’s hammer strikes
Deafening thunder roars

Nature imitating horror.


Blood on your Hands

The images have started pouring in on us again in news reports of the carnage being inflicted by Turkey on North Syrian Kurds and anyone else caught in the crossfire. In particular, the sight of the Syrian woman refugee in Akçakale whose baby son was killed by a mortar this week reminded me of this poem by Nelly Sachs, which I translated several years ago.

Those in power with blood on your hands, will you never stop?

Already wrapped in the arms of heavenly solace
stands the demented mother
with the rags
of her tattered mind,
with the cinders of her burnt brain,
laying her dead child in his coffin,
laying her lost light in his coffin,
bending her hands to bowls,
filling them from the air with the body of her child,
filling them from the air with his eyes, his hair,
and his fluttering heart –

then kisses the air-birthed babe
and dies!

German Original:

Schon vom Arm des himmlischen Trostes umfangen
Steht die wahnsinnige Mutter
Mit den Fetzten
ihres zerrissenen Verstandes,
Mit den Zundern ihres verbrannten Verstandes
Ihr totes Kind einsargend,
Ihr verlorenes Licht einsargend,
Ihre Hände zu Krügen biegend,
Aus der Luft füllend mit dem Leib ihres Kindes,
Aus der Luft füllend mit seinen Augen, seinen Haaren
Und seinem flatternden Herzen –

Dann küßt sie das Luftgeborene
Und stirbt!

Synopsis of On The Run

This is a true story

Two young people, Désiré and Joséphine, growing up happily in secure loving families and making plans for their future careers, are suddenly torn violently out of their peaceful everyday lives as civil war destroys everything they ever cared about. They flee from their homes in Rwanda, Africa, to neighbouring Congo-Kinshasa. They survive in desperate conditions in refugee camps, are forced to flee again and spend months wandering through the jungle where they encounter all kinds of danger from wild animals, pygmies, pursuing armed forces, and even nature itself, until they again reach safety, this time in Congo-Brazzaville. They settle down, have two sons, and then have to flee yet again.  Although they manage to build a new life for themselves, they are homesick for Rwanda and so in 2000, six years after the civil war, decide to return. This is a disastrous decision. Désiré is arrested, jailed and tortured but manages to escape and get back to his family.

They find themselves fleeing a fourth time, to Cameroon, where they are attacked and the family is split up. All alone with her third son, still a baby, Joséphine is taken in 2004 to Switzerland where she applies for asylum. After a long battle, this is granted but she has no idea what has happened to her husband and two older sons. Fortunately, the Red Cross succeeds in tracing the two boys and after yet another battle they are admitted to Switzerland to join their mother and little brother in 2006.

Although she has no news of her husband, she never gives up the search for him and remains convinced he is still alive. Meanwhile, Désiré has been close to death from sickness and disease, enslaved in Chad, escaped, and finally arrived in Nigeria. Here he tries to search for his lost family and finally discovers that they are all together in Switzerland. 9 years after the family was split up, Désiré is finally allowed to enter Switzerland and be reunited with his wife and three sons.

Throughout these harrowing experiences, Désiré and Joséphine never lose faith in God, constantly give thanks and recognise His hand over their lives.

Now available in English from

Wedding Joséphine + Désiré

Finally – A white wedding in church, with their children present

On The Run

Those among you who have been faithfully following my ramblings here for a few years may remember the story of a Rwandan family that was separated and split up by the terrible events in Rwanda and the Congo in the 1990’s. The young mother landed in Switzerland with only her baby in her arms, but never gave up hope of being reunited with her husband and her other two sons. Amazingly, her trust in God’s grace was rewarded: some years later, first her children and then her husband were found, and they were able to settle together here in Switzerland. How I came to be involved in their lives is told  in these blog posts:

An account of some of the ordeal they went through – much of it far too ghastly to describe in detail – was published in German in 2016 under the title of Auf der Flucht getrennt. As soon as I heard of this project, I offered to translate it into English for a wider audience, as a story of inspiration at a time when sympathy for refugees seems to be at a very low ebb in many parts of the Western world.

Happily, my offer was accepted and I finished revising my version of the book in English just over a year ago. The search for a publisher for the English edition was unsuccessful, so the author Johanna Krapf has finally decided to self-publish.

I am very pleased to announce that On The Run is now available online from
at a cost of 21,99€.


Even if you are tired of hearing about asylum-seekers and their problems, I would like to urge you to buy a copy of this book, if only to confirm the fact that miracles do still happen and faith is a powerful force.

And if that isn’t enough – well, this book is also my work! So why not buy it for my sake? Please!


Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoilt his nice new rattle.

Just then flew down a monstrous crow
As black as a tar-barrel
That frightened both our heroes so
They quite forgot their quarrel.

Lewis Carroll


Two ugly fat men, noted for their silly hairdos and megalomaniac personalities, revel in world attention as they compete in throwing their toys out of their prams.

Of course, once nuclear conflict actually starts, there won’t be any admiring audience left. But that doesn’t matter to a megalomaniac, who craves attention NOW and damn the consequences.

Where’s that tar-barrel-sized crow got to?

Holocaust Memorial Day

I didn’t want to let Holocaust Memorial Day pass without a comment, but what could I add to the millions of words already spoken and written, expressing the grief and tears and hopes of the ever-dwindling numbers of survivors?

Television brings Auschwitz into our homes, and as that footage is shown again and again we risk becoming inured to the sight of those living skeletons filmed as the camp was liberated. That must never happen. We need to continue to feel, just as strongly, the horrified outrage and revulsion that hit us in the solar plexus the first time we ever became aware of these atrocities. This is a wound that must never be allowed to fade into a mere scar.

I have wandered through the heart-wrenching Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and felt nauseous on the tilted floor of the Garden of Exile in the Jewish Museum there. I think of the Jews I know and have known, people of my own generation or slightly older who were saved by the Kindertransport, or whose parents and grandparents were victims of Auschwitz and other concentration camps; each story a unique mixture of horror and miracles. I think of my friends in Israel, born in the Diaspora but who have returned there, made Aliyah, drawn by their centuries old homing instinct, still facing the attacks of their enemies, day in and day out.

What can I say about the Holocaust, and what it stands for on a global scale, where genocide continues in many parts of the world even now, and man’s inhumanity to man seems to be escalating out of control? It isn’t only about anti-Semitism, though that remains a focal point.

What can I add? I can point to my other blog, with 100 translated poems of Nelly Sachs. Nothing else I can say can be more poignant than that.

A Tale Of Two Brothers

Last February, I was moved to write a poem about my mother’s cousin, killed soon after his 20th birthday on the Somme. I had found out quite a lot about Cousin Willy, but the image that haunted me was of a bright-eyed young lad eager to get out of the choking dust of the coalmine and see something of the world. Enlisting promised adventure, foreign travel, and glory on the battlefield. Instead, less than a year later and after serving at Gallipoli and in Egypt, he was one of 430 British “other ranks” of the 34th Brigade butchered in one day in the Battle of Thiepval Ridge. His body lies in an unmarked grave, but his name is carved on the Thiepval Memorial.

A couple of days ago a comment was made on this post by someone called Tim, so I replied to Tim’s e-mail address, thinking perhaps he was a relative. No, he isn’t family but the story is interesting nevertheless. Tim has recently purchased some medals in an auction, one of which is a memorial plaque for William Musgrave.$_12

The Internet linked him to my poem. Luckily, another cousin who is an expert on WWI had done some research for me, so Tim now has the full story behind that plaque as I filled him in on the details I have about Cousin Willy’s brief army career and death. In return, he sent me photographs of the medals in question, the death announcement in the local paper and the War Memorial in the local church where Willy is

The medals are interesting for various reasons. They were awarded in the early years of the twentieth century by the City of Sheffield Education Committee to William and his younger brother Walter for “punctual attendance and good conduct” over 4 years, and another one to Walter for 5 years. That is some record. This site gives some background information on these medals, showing how difficult it was to achieve this award:

Regular and punctual attendance

The precise definition of regular and punctual attendance varied slightly over the years but in their conception the requirements were very strict. The 1902 School Management Code, for example, stated that ‘a medal is to be awarded to every full-time scholar who has attended punctually on every occasion on which the school has been open during the educational year ending July provided that absence on not more than four half-days or two whole days in a year shall not debar any child from receiving a medal if at least two days’ notice of such absence has been sent by the parent or guardian’. It went on to say that ‘By punctual attendance it means attendance at school at 9am in the morning and 2 p.m. in the afternoon’. These were, of course, the standard starting times in the days when virtually all children went home to their midday meal. As a proviso, the Code stated that ‘No child may receive a medal who has not satisfied the head teacher as to his or her cleanliness, tidiness and good conduct throughout the year’. For some years after 1908, a restriction of not more than six medals per class or form at any school was made.  

These two brothers were obviously keen, industrious lads doing well at school. Their father was a colliery labourer and not able to pay for William’s education so he had to leave school and go down the pit at 14 as a pit-pony driver. Walter, however, gained a scholarship to the prestigious King Edward VII School, apparently the only working class boy to do so in 1910, and went on to gain another scholarship which enabled him to obtain his university degree.FullSizeRender

He was then ordained as a clergyman in the Church of England. He spent some time in Africa as a missionary, then worked as a Prison Chaplain at HMP Dartmoor and Bedford before going back to Yorkshire and becoming the Vicar of Knottingley; eventually he was made a Canon, and finally, a year before his death in 1966, Master of Readers at Holgate Hospital, Hemsworth, where his ashes are buried in the wall of the Chapel of the Holy Cross. He left a widow, Monica Violet, whom he had married in 1931, and two daughters. His memorial plaque is very modest and unassuming, like the man he was.20140428_104513

I met Uncle Walter when I was a little girl, visiting him and his elderly mother – my Great-Aunt Polly – at the Rectory in Knottingley. Aunt Polly and my mother corresponded regularly, in spite of Aunt Polly being blind. She didn’t dictate, but wrote her letters herself in pencil on folded sheets of paper, following the fold-lines with her finger to keep her writing straight. It wasn’t easy to decipher, but my mother usually managed to figure it all out.

After her death in 1952, we lost touch with Uncle Walter and his family, so I have no idea whether he has any living descendants or not. The fact that these treasured medals have appeared on the market would suggest that there are no relatives, or at least, none who care about family ties.

I am pleased that Tim has them now, and is interested in finding out about the boys who earned them. And I am very pleased that we have been able to help each other in this quest. What he needs now is to find the other medals that William would have been awarded: 1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal, and the Memorial Scroll signed by the King issued to next-of-kin. That would be quite a valuable little collection for him.

Cousin Willy: A Yorkshire Lad

Cousin Willy turned fourteen:
Time to leave school and become a man.
Dad was a collier down the pit
And said, they need a lad down there
To drive the ponies.
Nice job, thought Willy, driving ponies.

The pit was dark and dusty,
Coal dust in your eyes, your nose, your mouth, your hair,
The ponies came out blinking once a year
To feed on fresh green grass
But not too much (colic!)
Then back into the black.
Willy and his pony were a team
Short and sturdy both
Bound by a bond of mutual dependence in the dark,

Willy turned eighteen:

Your King and Country need you!

Screamed the posters
So Willy came out blinking,
Went to war, seeking
Adventure, glory, honour, fun!
He went abroad, to Egypt,
Gallipoli, and France
And Flanders fields.
And fell.

MUSGRAVE: Pte. William, 15083, 8th Bn. Northumberland Fusiliers. 26th Sept. 1916. Age 20. Son of Joseph William and Mary Musgrave, of 41, Hatherly Rd, Tinsley, Sheffield.

Battle of the Somme

Sic transit gloria mundi

war memorial

The war memorial, bearing all the names
Of fallen heroes on its marble plates, stands
Guarded by its useless angel amidst the games
Of shrieking urchins. No more brass bands
Playing mournful dirges, no everlasting flames
Kept burning in their memory, no loving hands
To place a wreath of honour. Graffiti shames
And desecrates, ignoring the commands
To remember and respect young men who died
In agony and fear in foreign lands.
Mere lads. Mere lads the vandals too, who tried
To daub obscenities denying the demands
Of duty. Would they believe their death was justified
If they could feel their children’s scornful brands?