Thursday, 21 August 2014


The promenade and beach at Dieppe, Seine Maritime, today. With its bright noisy fairground,  people enjoying blustery  August walks on the pebbles, the ferry port buzzing with visitors, shops, markets, cafes, restaurants  - it is hard to imagine how it was seventy two years ago. 
On 19th August 1942, the scene looked a little different, as a disastrous raid from the UK led to the deaths of hundreds of young men on Dieppe's beaches, most of them Canadian volunteers. This photo is on the information board at Puys Beach - scene of one of the worst massacres. The raid, it is said, can be justified because we learned much from our mistakes that day that led to our success on D-Day, two years later. However, these assumptions can be questioned.  There is a good reasoned article here:

Afternoon, 18th August. The first ceremony we attended was in remembrance of  two badly injured young Canadian airmen who were cared for by the villagers of St Aubin le Cauf at great risk to themselves.  Sadly, the airmen both died, and were buried in the local churchyard. After the war, the families of the airmen asked that their lads should stay among those who had cared for them. Every year, still, the village remembers them in style.
This permanent display is above their graves, on the church wall. John Edwin Gardiner, aged 23.  Norman Monchier, aged 19. RIP

Then on to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Canadian Cemetery, Cimitiere des Vertus, for a twilight vigil. Here, there are 948 graves, of which 187 are unidentified. 

The vast majority are Canadian soldiers, sailors, airmen who died on the day  - 19th August 1942.   Annually, on this date, schoolchildren place red roses by every grave. It was the most poignant experience, to walk between these graves and see the same date on them all.  More casualties of the raid are buried in Rouen, where the wounded were taken to hospital. Others lie in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey. 

After a wreath laying at the foot of the Cross of Sacrifice, there was a vigil held in front of the Stone of  Remembrance,  and an 'eternal flame' (inverted commas as it is dismantled after the ceremony...) burning at the heart of a maple leaf.  Here, the young people in red jackets, forming the Fourth Guard to stand vigil, are members of the Vimy Foundation 
The following day, 19th August, the actual day of the raid, we were back at the Cimitiere des Vertus for the main wreath laying, and the number of wreaths was astonishing. Moving. Above you can see  just some of the wreaths waiting to be placed - some young people from the Vimy Foundation again, and four clergymen who would be taking an interfaith service in French and English. 

'The Angel of Dieppe' - Sister Agnes-Marie Valois, who celebrated her 100th birthday in July. She tended casualties on the beach.  Seeing a German soldier about to shoot a badly injured young Canadian, she stood between the injured man and the gun and said he'd have to shoot her first.

"It wasn't war," she said. 'It was a massacre."

Sister Agnes-Marie laid a wreath. She stood, with help,  throughout the silence.

Then we went to a new development on the outskirts of Dieppe, where seven of the new streets are being named after the fallen of 19th August. Robert Boulanger was the youngest to die that day.

Flowers were laid at the new street sign with due dignity,  and a minute's silence. All in the middle of a huge building site. The mayor of Dieppe's speech was very good - knitting the past, the present, and the future as well - represented by the two hundred families who will be moving in to the first phase of the development.
Back to the town and to the Square du Canada, and the main memorial in town, where wreaths were laid by many many individuals and groups, including the Dieppe Fair queen resplendent in  a dress of mauve and silver netting. Speeches followed in the community hall which replaced the casino, destroyed in the war.

On to the final ceremony, at Puys Beach, where the Canadians took their worst losses. Chris laid a wreath here, as he had at all the other places, causing not a little interest in his 18th century court get-up as High Sheriff. In the pic is Revernd Canon Will Pratt, C's Chaplain.

Today Puys Beach was benign, with the sun shining, families playing on the sand. Seventy two years ago it was a different story - the beach strewn with bodies of both dead and wounded, as the landing craft had emptied out their men onto a beach with no access to the valley. In front of them rose a wall topped with barbed wire, and there were gun emplacements on either side. You can still see these.

Puys Beach 19th August, 1942. 

So ended one of the most moving series of commemorations. The series had begin at Newhaven, in Sussex, the week before, with a ceremony at the Canadian Engineers' memorial, as so many of the Canadian soldiers left from here for Dieppe.
        In Newhaven, I chatted to an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair - a veteran of the Raid. His name is Alan Saunders, and he is nearly 92. Blind now, he told me he was looking forward to going on the longest zip wire in Europe, in north Wales, after his 92nd birthday. (!) He was wearing not only his own WW11 medals, but those of his father who served in WW1.

        On 19th August 1942 he was nineteen years old and serving with the Royal Marine Commandos. Caught on a French beach amid shellfire and bullets, he and three chums decided to swim for it rather than stay and be killed. They made it five miles out into the channel before being picked up by one of our destroyers.
        At the wreath laying, he was just about able to stand out of his chair, make his way with the help of two colleagues across the grass to the memorial, and lay a wreath.

Then he stood alone, snapped to attention, and saluted.


Sunday, 17 August 2014

Adlestrop poetry competition

Earlier this year, I was delighted to discover that a poem written after seeing a call for poems inspired by Adlestrop by Edward Thomas, had been commended in the competition - run to raise funds for Adlestrop church.  Details of the winning poem, which is rather terrific, can be found here: 

The organisers are now going to publish a collection of the winning, commended and the best of the entries, later this summer. Nice to see, and also nice that my poetry buddy Caroline Davies will have her Adlestrop poem included.

Friday, 8 August 2014

For the Children of Gaza -

It's a privilege to join many other writers and artists in this collection of poems, prose and visual art, 
For the Children Of Gaza. 

Writers include the writer Michael Rosen,  who sent this poem
The artwork is poignant, strong, thought-provoking. 

The book is the brainchild of Mathew D Staunton and Rethabile Masilo and is published by

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Jonathan Pinnock talks about his latest book, Take it Cool

Jon Pinnock is one of those writers for whom I have a sneaky and enduring respect - he won't be pigeonholed, and I love that. I was not a little giggly when I kept reading  episodes of Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens -  and delighted when it was published as a whole by Proxima. I wasn't surprised when his collection Dot Dash won the Scott Prize for short fiction collections, and was published by Salt. He's a well published poet, as well as a novelist and short story writer. And now, he is adding a bio-historico-memoirish-musicological-thing to his repertoire... he is here to introduce it, talk about its genesis, and an amazing story it is too. 

Over to you, Jon:

TAKE IT COOL had its genesis back in the early 1980s, when I came across a secondhand reggae single with that name by a chap called Dennis Pinnock. It was pretty good, too, and I especially liked the dub B side, ‘Pinnock’s Paranormal Payback’. It intrigued me to think of a man of apparently West Indian heritage being saddled with the same daft two-consonants-away-from-disaster surname as me, but I didn’t take it any further until around ten years ago, when it suddenly struck me that I could Google him to see if he’d come up with anything else.

It turned out that he had. In fact, his discography ran to over twenty records, although he’d never got as far as making an album of his own, despite working with some of the biggest names in black British music. I began to wonder. What if I were to try and track him down? Might we be related somehow? There might be a story there, although at that point it seemed a bit thin to stretch out to an entire book.

But I wrote up a first draft of a chapter anyway and read it out to my local writers group, the Verulam Writers Circle. It went down very well, and during the discussion, one of the members of the group wondered if there might be a slavery angle behind our shared name. And that was the point at which the project suddenly became a whole load more interesting, because very soon afterwards I tracked down a Pinnock who – among other things – was a big deal plantation owner in Jamaica in the 18th century.

I now had several strands to work with. First of all, who was Dennis Pinnock? Was he still alive? Could I track him down? Secondly, what about all these other records? Were they any good? Maybe I could collect them all! (Sad, I know) Thirdly, what about the Jamaican connection? Was it even possible that – horror of horrors – I could be descended from a slave owner? So perhaps I needed to dig around in my past as well…

It took me almost a decade to pull all this together, partly because of all the research I had to do and also partly because I had no idea if it was ever going to be publishable. The one thing I did have in my favour was that no-one else was likely to come along and beat me to it. I’m still smarting from the way that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies waltzed in and stole all the glory while I was still writing Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens. But this one was always going to be a Pinnock project.

But finish it I did, and I did find a publisher in the end, in the shape of the wonderful Two Ravens Press. The finished book looks lovely – it’s even got colour pictures in the middle! – and everyone who’s read it so far seems to love it. As my publisher says, it’s unlike anything else on the market – which is both a problem and an opportunity. It’s a problem because there isn’t anything I can point to and say “It’s like that.” And it’s an opportunity for exactly the same reason.

Here’s where you can hear me reading the first chapter, which will give you an idea of what it’s all about: The text below it has details of where you can order the book, which of course you’ll want to be doing once you’ve had a listen.

Many thanks indeed to the lovely Vanessa for having me!