Skip to main content
Letters of Love in WW2

Cyril Mowforth’s WW2 poetry

Having only recently married, Cyril Mowforth left to fight in the Second World War all the while creating an astonishing social history of the conflict within his correspondence with his wife, Olga.

Amongst the descriptions of what was going on (or at least those that avoided the censors), their thoughts and feelings, and the longing to return to the life they knew, Cyril wrote some incredibly accomplished poetry.

Episode 1: At Sea: Optimistic Goodbyes

Written in June 1941 while camped in North Africa, Cyril had not been apart from Olga for very long at this point. While they missed each other, there was a positive and somewhat adventurous tone to their letters.

Shall we stroll through lovely Wyming

Where first we walked together

Along that winding sandy drive

Midst pine trees and the heather.

Or shall we browse along the stream

That comes from Stanage Moor

Then take the road to Ringinglow

Where first we entered Dore.

Let’s once again across the heath

And o’er the hills to Strines

Where tinkling waterfalls beguile

The fern fronds ‘neath the pines.

Perhaps we’ll chase the river down

From friendly Derwent Hall

Past Leam and Bretton, Bakewell Bridge

What memories they recall.

Or wouldst through all the lovely dales

Of Yorks and Derby famed

The Dove and Lathkill, Swale and Wharfe

How aptly they are named.

But after all it matters not

What time or place or weather,

All these become mere novelties

When we walk together.

Episode 2: North Africa: lost messages

A frustration builds in the second episode as Cyril and Olga's letters become more and more out of sync, some being delayed by up to three months. Penned in December 1941, Cyril’s poem paints a picture of the arid conditions while fighting in North Africa.

Did you ever wander sweating

Through a plain of yellow dust

When the thought of sparkling water

Drives a man half mad with lust.

When you through the shimmering distance

See a lake and waving trees

Yet you know that when you get there

Though you grovel on your knees.

And scrape and scratch among the hummocks

You will find naught else but sand

And you’ll rave and curse the country

For a god-forsaken land.

Have you ever drunk salt water

It’s the only thing you’ve had

If you brew some tea and sweeten it

It doesn’t taste so bad.

But by itself it’s awful

And your thirst t’will never cure

Then you’ll know how precious water is

Just water, cold and pure.

Episode 3: Siege of Tobruk: Battlefields and Reality

Now seeing regular action, and the devastation that comes with it, Cyril’s moving poem that touches on the ‘highest price’ paid during the action that ultimately spells a major victory for the Allies in Africa.

They dream no more inspiring dreams of love and hope

Their hurts no longer ache with thoughts of home

No more will dawn bring light and then the fear

That day which follows is the last to come.

Their ears are deaf to hideous noise of metal against plate

And awful scream of steel at lightening speeds

That renders human flesh to something that

No longer feels the pain – no longer heeds.

Perhaps beneath some ridge or on deserted plain

Where in the cause of liberty they fought

And bitterly contested every inch of worthless ground

They lie at rest, their precious freedom bought.

Bought at the highest price that any man can pay

That, when passing time has dimmed the glory of their stand

The ignorants will with painful ceremony say

“They rest in peace on sacred hallowed ground

That is forever England” --

No dedication trimmed with laud and pomp

Can change this heap of rubble where they died

This filth infested ground that all men cursed

And cursed again yet valiantly defied.

Possession to the foe was in their hearts

A hated substitution for a dream

A mirage of the hills and winding lanes

That they would see no more.

Episode 4: El Alamein: Silence and Roses

A depression hangs over Cyril and Olga’s correspondence towards the end of Cyril’s time in North Africa, having spent many days in hospital with various ailments. Cyril writes the following poem in October 1942 from his tank, while trying to escape 'the pestilential flies'.

Thoughts of you unbidden surge

And clamour for admission

To drive me almost to the verge

Of insane blue condition.

The way you looked and walked

And memories of kissing

How you smiled and talked

Sweet reminiscing.

The very dust that chokes

And drives a man to swearing

Brings back somehow those jokes

To camouflage our caring

That oft we made in sweet collusion

To cover up our young confusion.

Episode 7: Bergen-Belsen: Sorrow and Shock

Inspired by the following line in a letter dated December 1944, Cyril writes a poem that expresses not just his yearning to get home to his wife, but also his desire to wrap up the task at hand.

'As usual when I reach the subject of weather it means I’ve exhausted all other topics – all that is except the one inexhaustible subject – You and I and me and you.'

You and I and me and you,

How we are and what we do,

Of whom we think, to whom we talk,

Of what we dream, with whom we walk.

Where we went, last week, last night,

Of things that come within our sight.

What we hope to do tomorrow,

Greetings, yearnings, joy and sorrow.

Relations’ news and neighbours’ chatters,

Gardening notes, financial matters.

These, the content of our days

Tell of parting, broken ways.

Writing! Writing! Words and phrases,

When what we crave are love’s embraces,

But only when all Fascists cease,

Shall we together live in peace.

Episode 8: Home at Last: Grief and Relief

The final part of the last episode features a poem from Cyril’s notebook that harks of the poignant poetry of The Great War.

In a world few understand

With a hard, blue blazing sky

On a frontier drawn in sand

Is where men chose to die.

Where the dust from the far dunes fills the tracks

And where the dawn rose red

Where the drift of the shapeless hills

Hide where the heroes tread.

There in the desert

Their blood shed for lost desires

Of fathers who died in the mud

‘Mid poppies and broken spires.

Listen to every episode of Letters of Love in WW2 on your favourite podcast app.