Winnipeg Free Press
Jan. 10th, 1941
Pte. James Baker in England Sends a Letter and Poem from Somewhere in England
Dear Polly Evans,
I have not written to the paper for a long time I am afraid. But it is not because I have not been following the doings of the page very closely whenever I could get my hands on it. Rather is because I have been so tremendously busy lately that I have not had time to do much writing. My correspondents - that I have gained through the paper, also keep me very busy.
But a few days ago I went away on seven days leave. I went up to Scotland for three days and then came back to London for four more. I arrived in London in the midst of the worst fire blitz they have yet had - and believe me, it was the most terrible and awe-inspiring sight I have ever seen! When I got there the whole of the city of London - an area of nearly one square mile, was one vast sea of roaring, billowing flames! Miles upon miles of hose pipes littered every street and water dripped everywhere. But no sound could be heard above the roar of the flames, not even the boom of the guns or the bursting bombs. Men - dirty, wet, bedraggled and tired, burst in and out of the clouds of smoke - appearing like the devils which inhabit Dante's Inferno. The whole of the Guildhall was wrapped in flames and the oldest house in London, which survived the First Fire, succumbed to the Second...it was the most pitiable sight I have ever seen: and that night I saw strong men speak with tears in their eyes of the historical places and places to which is attached so much of London's romance, entirely ruined by the ruthless foe.
But life - and the hope of life continues on, almost unmoved by the efforts of the enemy to destroy it: and that indirectly is the subject of my newest poem. I will tell you the exact circumstances which caused me to write it, and perhaps it will help you so see that it is more appropriate to the times than it at first glance appears to be.
It was a bitterly cold day and I was wandering down the Strand - lonely as only one could be in a great city, looking for something to amuse myself when all of a sudden, I caught sight of an old woman sitting huddled up against the side of a building trying to hide her ragged clothing from the piercing wind and at the same time, sell some of the beautiful roses which were displayed in the box at her feet. She looked so cold and miserable - and so all alone, that I felt I had to write a poem about her. So I sat down on the running board of a car and right there on the street, I wrote the poem which I am enclosing. It is meant to emphasize the fact that even if there is a war on, the homeless and aged derelicts of London still have to help themselves, just as they did before. Life - such as it is for them, still goes on just the same. How much harder it is for them in wartime: God only knows. But judging from what I have seen, they must be starving to death.
Well, I guess that is all for this time. Good-bye for now.
I hope you like my poem
London's such a lonely place -
bleak and cold and grey,
Filled with broken derelicts -
sinking day by day.
Unobserved, they're drifting
out of human ken:
Who knows or cares that once these wrecks
were human, feeling men?
Who knows or cares what pain they feel:
the gnawing wretchedness
Of hunger's bony clutching hand
endured beyond distress?
Who knows or cares when they are gone,
who mourns when they are dead or
bows uncovered head...
See yon aged toothless crone -
face lined with bitter pain,
Her rags, they're clutched in yellow claw
about her withered frame,
The flaming roses at her feet
Seem to taunt and mock her with
her long-lost youthfulness.
Persistent ‘midst the traffic's din
a bitter, lonely cry:
"Pretty bright red roses - sir,
buy my roses! Buy!"
But who among the hurrying throng
stops for such as she,
Contemptuously they hurry past
intent on "home" and "tea"!
Poor starving soul - she's one of many
forsaken, just as she;
Youth springing onward, strong and sure,
will not encumbered be
By helpless age and feeble limbs -
Forgetting soon that they
Will someday fail in eager strength
and pass into decay.