David Raitt’s poems and stories
As noted on his page, , was born in Garngadhill, Townhead, Glasgow on 24 September 1915 after his parents and eldest brother had moved there from Arbroath. As a youth he joined the Boys Brigade, was a drummer in the band, was appointed Warrant Officer and a year later Lieutenant. When the 2nd World War broke out, David joined the Royal Air Force and became a Physical Training Instructor with the rank of Sergeant responsible for training aircrew. He was also Leading Drummer in the RAF Pipe Band as well as one of the editors and contributors of Drill Parade, the monthly journal of 16 R.C. (Recruits Centre), 350 R.T.W ( 1 Wing) which saw its first issue published in November 1941. After the War, he worked in an office and captained the Mortimer (Berks) football team during the 1950s, eventually becoming a fire consultant for Nu-Swift, a leading fire extinguisher company. He relocated to North Devon in 1962, where besides driving the highways and byways for his work (with his notebook always at hand), and taking up painting, he continued to write poems and short stories, some of which were published in the local magazine where he lived. Below is a selection of his writings.
Over London Town the smoke is heavy,
Stars are dimmed by flame from far below.
Shrapnel falls like raindrops that are heavy
For guns and planes are playing Peek-a-Bo.
Sleep, while the guns are playing
The London Lullaby.
Sleep, while the guns are laying
The Bogey Bogey of the sky.
Sleep, Sleep well, without a fear,
Sweet Sweet music's in your ear.
A Symphony - unfinished yet,
But one the World will ne'er forget.
Fear not when the note is loud
Or when the key is high.
Sleep Sleep and be very proud
Of the London Lullaby.
Over London Town will come a dawning
Everything will seem so bright and gay.
And upon that lovely lucky morning
Smoke clouds will have drifted all away.
Take a tip from the Navy
Take a tip from the Navy,
Imitate the sailor man.
A sailor doesn't care
He always debonair
So follow the fleet
And be another Fred Astaire.
Take a tip from the Navy,
Make yourself a Navy fan.
An A.B. in any port
Is sure to be a sport
Follow his example
And collect a big support.
All hands on deck then
Throw your troubles overboard.
Don't give a heck when
Old Hitler's propaganda makes you bored.
Take a tip from the Navy,
Learn while you can.
A sailor knows the ropes
If that will raise your hopes
Take a tip from the Navy
Enjoy life while you can.
Venus lost her arms to swing
Turn over each page in history,
Look at each distinguished name,
And in this field of glory;
One lady had a figure most renowned,
Another figure like it ne'er was found.
But though she had that subtle certain thing;
She had another title "Queen of Swing"
Venus was the queen of swing
Venus lost her arms to swing
She swung it all the day,
'till she wore her arms away.
Venus lost her arms to swing
Venus knew what swing was for
To charm all the knights, 0 Lor.! ..
She had rhythm in her walk.
She made her actions talk.
That lady often caused a war.
Venus was a dancer at the Court of King Ben,
The natives making music were the best in the land.
Her snakey moving arms made them snappy, and then
They went and made her leader of the band.
Venus was the queen of swing,
Soon she married Ben the king.
They say she bit her nails,
But these are fairy tales.
Venus lost her arms to swing.
No time to breathe
Have you ever looked long enough
at a tadpole to see it grow legs,
or at a daisy to count the petals,
or stopped long enough to see
the intricate pattern
of the inside of a rose.
Have you stopped to see where the ants go
when they scurry under your feet in the garden.
Have you ever seen the green fields ahead
and stopped to see for yourself
that they are not only green, but brown and yellow and
with odd patches of brilliant colour under
the grass. Have you listened for a while
with your eyes shut to a symphony piece or
even to the Flying Pickets or the King Bros. to hear the
lovely harmony, or yes, even to that
blaring punk rock group to hear the various
instruments. Did you stop and listen to a
robin singing, eyes still closed, ears open, and to
the voices in the distance of the chatterers
and a horn sounding somewhere, or a bell
ringing. Sometimes I have but most times
I haven't even when I had to do thirty
thousand miles a year as a sales consultant.
(After the war and a spell in an office, David Raitt became a top sales consultant for a leading fire-extinguisher company. Before he owned a car, he was obliged to travel by public transport or by foot in country districts lugging his heavy case of literature and sample fire extinguishers around with him. This poem could have been sub-titled “a salesman's lament”!)
He braced up in his seat out of his sleep slump, and his eyes panicked around for the air hostess. He shivered a bit - with the cold, and the fear that had not yet left him. His clothes were soaked with sweat and something else. This long business trip had tired him, and that must have brought on again the old recurring war time dream that had always set him shuddering. The rushing, tearing down to earth, with the wind frisking his body, and his parachute stupidly, not opening, but wriggling, twisting, jitterbugging him down in a Roman Candle.
He recalled the first time he had heard those awful words; at the parachute training school, on the way up for his first jump. Up, up, up. In the creaking cage, with the barrage balloon laughing in the sun; the whole world below mirrored in the frighteningly small space of the jump hole.
The Instructor had said, 'This is the only damn job not worth a Roman Candle,' then laughingly, to break the deathly silence which followed the stopping of the winch, he said, 'If your bloody 'chute conks out on the way down, bloody well come back for another one.' And he remembered how the faces had cracked a bit more as the forced grins of the men around the cage grew wilder.
But it had been good at first. After the words, 'Get cracking, go,' had sent him hurtling out into the blue, with the air pinning his ears back, and the wind returning his breath to his belly. When the gentle tug had halted his fall - and the tiny fear at his heart. And his parachute had billowed out above, holding him gently, gently downwards, until the ground enfolded him like an anxious Nanny. The faith he had then. He'd have jumped from Paradise with an angel instructor - but afterwards, yes, even after Arnhem when he had mounted Pegasus, he had begun to fear. Maybe Arnhem paid for that as he saw his comrades die as they descended to do battle; but never reached the battlefield.
Yes, gradually afterwards he had let fear creep in to his faith. He had imagined himself falling with his parachute cords entangled. Just like the large rubber dummy they had demonstrated with at the training school. It had fallen with its 'chute furled, twisted and unopened, and when this rubber man fell; he had bounced back fifty feet in to the air, then kept bouncing. Ah, just a model to show what would happen if there was carelessness when packing the 'chute. But could it happen to him? As the Instructor had said, 'You can fall to your death, and be snuffed out like a candle!' Maybe him next, instead of a dummy.
But the war had ended and he'd felt safe. Until the refresher school when his unit had returned to await demob. Some training had started again to give the soldiers something to do. The fear of a Roman Candle came back and torpedoed his thoughts, until the red beret was a burden on his head. He remember his Instructor shouting at him. 'Snap out of it man. I've done hundreds of jumps and I still feel afraid at times. You can't help it man, but snap out of it. Do you hear me?' But he had snapped in to it instead. On a trial jump from a converted bomber.
His fear had turned his face green as he had lingered in the doorway of the bomber and refused to jump. As the Instructor had pushed him gently and he had resisted. He had sickened as the remainder of his comrades in the stick of ten had jumped, leaving him alone, throbbing with each thrust of the engines. Yes, miserably alone, for even the Instructor had jumped with the others. Alone, to go back to the base and step out of the 'plane at the aerodrome. Pathetically alone! There was no blame for this. It's just like that. Sometimes you can go, you can jump, then you can't. But there is rarely a chance to jump again - once you've jibbed. Wouldn't be fair to your comrades. So it was other duties! Ordinary duties. And a boring time 'til demobilisation, and then back to civilian life.
Take away the cause and the fear goes. He knew that old quip. But the fear wouldn't leave him. Night after night he jumped again, up and down, up and down, in his sleep. His parachute always flapping instead of billowing. Himself, smashing in to the ground below in a Roman Candle. He would awake, a shattered wreck, exhausted, but at least happy to be in bed, another nightmare ended. No Roman Candle, not now. Not now!
Ah, yes for a long time those dreams had possessed him. But gradually as he had progressed in civilian life, had married, become successful in business life and had travelled in modern aircraft all over the world, they had faded. Except occasionally, when he was very tired, they had returned. And on this trip he had been very tired and quite ill with a touch of fever. A long journey he had undertaken. But really worth it he had thought. Great success in America and he hoped a similar success when he reached his planned destination at Seoul in South Korea. But the stop at Anchorage: where the Jumbo Jet 747 had been delayed for a bit had quite upset him. Perhaps some food he'd eaten.
But before he had gone to sleep he had been looking forward to this last leg of his journey. The arrival at Seoul where he could rest a while and perhaps stay over a bit with his many friends there. If he could only get rid of the lethargy he felt arising out of his dream. He shuddered and tried to think of something else that had penetrated his fantasy, it must have been the stewardess he thought, was she saying something? 'Seat belts, Seat belts! We are in emergency. Emergency! Was that another dream?
His eyes jerked open completely and he panicked around again for the air hostess but he seemed to be spinning round and round and everything was blurred. There was no movement from his fellow passengers. No shouting or panic, yet the aircraft had been crowded. The sigh of relief he had given became a hiss of fear. He could only slew his eyes upwards and he could see flames coming from the Jumbo tail plane. Screaming flames. But how could an aircraft have flames there? It was not wartime. This was Boeing Flight KAL 007 of South Korean Airways, flying over the sea of Japan. But it was, must be the aircraft that was spinning, spinning, fragmenting, spiralling, diving downwards fast to disaster. Roman Candle he thought, Roman Candle, Roman Candle!
But there were other men, women and children on board, two hundred and sixty-eight of them apart from himself. Where were they? The screaming, shouting panic, where was it? Just stunned silence. In the midst of a spiral, he could just get a glimpse of the wild waves below. Very close. He gave a sigh of resignation. His almost last thoughts turning to a scene where he glided gently down to earth on a brightly coloured parachute. Safe as on a feathered cloud. And in the end as the airliner plunged in and vanished below the cruel sea he thought, 'But airliners don't carry parachutes.'
And he would never know, neither would the other poor souls, who never reached Seoul, that it was a serious mistake which had caused their deaths. The sensitive Russians had thought that KAL 007 was a spy plane, coming too near their secret base of Sakhalin Island. And a Soviet fighter had poured missiles into the defenceless Jumbo. This was no Roman Candle. No, and it was not war time. It was nineteen hundred and eighty three. Peace time!
(David Raitt was a Sergeant Physical Training Instructor in the RAF during the war years and was responsible for showing aircrew how to make parachute jumps and land correctly. This necessitated him making many jumps out of aircraft himself.)
THE GHOST KNOWS BEST
"Some ghost stories are true," I said to Hunter.
"Indeed," growled Barr from the depths of his armchair, whilst Kerraway grinned his disbelief. "Believe me," I retorted," for I am very friendly with a ghost As a matter of fact all my greatest song hits were written in collaboration with one."
"Right," said Hunter sarcastically, " let's hear about it"
It was taboo hour at the Quaver Club when the playing of music was banned but reminiscences were allowed. We were toasting our legs at the lounge fire. As Greene was our newest member, I paged him as my direct listener. " I'll call my friend Phantom," I began. "When he lived he was a famous composer, now his name is immortal, it is known to you as Chapaigne."
He approached me first a long time ago when I was beginning to make a name for myself. In more ways than one my landlady said, for she had a name for people who didn't pay their rent But then Mrs Meeny was miserable anyway to take rent for such awful lodgings, they were terrible and I often had to apologise to Phantom for his having to walk through such dirty walls.
I was miserable when he came, the gas was as low as my spirits and I had no money for the meter so I had drawn my piano over to the window to get the light of the full moon. Each note I struck and marked seemed to form into pieces which had been similarly struck by more able men and greater pens than mine. Originality was as dead in me as the fire in the grate. My head was in my hands.
Phantom appeared with just enough noise to cause me to glance up. In appearance he was like the Maestros of old. A little velveteen jacket was worn loosely over long black pantaloons. The black bow cravat was gripped to a white shirt bodice, white as the long hair which fell from his shoulders. His face was serene and beautiful almost
"Good evening," I ventured without fear, for I was quite pleased to see someone, however nebulous. There was no reply, although I have heard of ghosts who speak. “You like music?" I inquired, noticing the bundle of manuscripts under his arm. "So do I. I’ll play for you." You will agree it was the only thing I could do. I played a waltz of the moment.
The ghost was, to all appearances, listening intently. After a while he glided towards me and placed his music on the piano. It was then that I noticed his name, Chapaigne, was scrawled across the score. Reverently I slipped from the stool to make way for him. He played, and soft melody filled the room. I was entranced, because this was a piece which I had never heard before and I knew all of Chapaigne's works.
“That's lovely," I whispered, "What is it called?" There was no answer, and I did not speak again until he had finished playing. The tune still haunted my brain. "Bravo, bravo," I said, 'Thank you, thank you." Miraculously Phantom was by my side. He motioned me to the piano, gave a queer little bow and vanished through the floor. It was absurd waiting for Mrs Meeny's scream as I pictured him falling on to her bed underneath. But there was no sound .... yet.
My fingers strayed to the keys and recaptured the tune left in my memory. I played it through completely, then again and again. When the ghost had played there had been quietness, but now the din I was making, brought the good landlady up with a threat to install again the piano in her own living room. Which, I told myself went to prove that I was not dreaming.
All night I caressed that instrument, heedless of the threat hanging over me. Marking notes, copying, changing and recomposing the melody, which I felt had been given to me to give to the world. Griffiths, the publishers received it next morning, complete and in manuscript form, and they accepted it, the first of many.
Mrs Meeny was in clover when I became known, yet refused to leave her house. She was grateful, not knowing that I was afraid to leave Phantom. Because often after that my ghost came, inspiring me, leaving behind him masterpieces of music, which I despirited and sold materially. As you know of course, ghosts never leave their abode.
I would have liked to give Phantom something too. But there was nothing I could think of unless maybe there was a curse on him which I could break accidentally.
I almost thought I had broken the spell, when he vanished and stayed away for a long period (that was really Bynder's fault). Bynder was Griffiths agent, a man of few words, hair or enemies. The last quality was why he had never to pay for lunch, and why I was surprised, when after an appointment at the Grosvenor he actually did stump up. Something was surely in the wind. We were at the coffee stage when he came to the point. He flicked his cigar and me!
"Heard of Ragtime?" 'That's about all." I answered.
"You'd better change your tune, and I do mean tune," he growled. "A little man called Berlin is setting the world alight, with a song about a ragtime band. It's got a new rhythm and a catchy melody. I like it, Griffiths likes the idea, and we want that kind of music. If you can't supply stuff like it, jazz, it is called, Let me know."
"Don't worry, I'll catch up with all this jazz stuff," I boasted, "I'll give you what you want," forgetting Phantom for the moment. ''You'd better," said Bynder.
I couldn't tell my ghost what the agent had told me. That was the trouble. Ragtime meant nothing to Phantom. He came as usual and the melodies lingered on. However, I had to alter the manuscripts themes more and more, although I hated having to spoil such beautiful music. Also it was harder than I thought changing old time waltzes and minuets into six-eight tempo.
I don't suppose I could have deceived my ghost much longer. In fact, he probably knew all the time anyway. He caught me altering our latest composition. His look made me think that I was the ghost. I thought that I had better explain. 'Tm sorry, Phantom," I apologised, "you have been a great help, you inspired me and made me successful. I appreciate that and your kindness. But times are changing, can't you see? Oh, you're a ghost though, and they can't change. Phantom, forgive me, your melodies are beautiful, who am I to alter them. But they still live, although in a new fashion. You realise that, don't you? It's the old spirit which makes this new music, although ordinary people can't see it. But I can, and I'm trying to enlighten them. Do you really mind, Phantom?"
Phantom was silent as usual. When I had finished my weak speech, he vanished without having played a note. I felt genuinely sorry that Phantom wouldn't be back. I had come to love that benevolent old music master. Of course, I could write music without his help, I had before, and I could again. Of course I could. I did try but it was no use. Something was lacking. There wasn't beauty or verve in my songs any more. Pulsating discords were all that I could conjure up, and that wasn't what Griffiths wanted. He had to be in harmony with his clients. I decided to quit creative music before I was humiliated.
Through the influence of Bynder I was placed in an orchestra. We played music which jazz enthusiasts called “highbrow” but I was not happy. I wanted to keep in touch with the melodious music which was now so popular. A cinema orchestra kept me occupied for a few years. I thought about it often, but for me, song writing was really "out". It wasn't very long before talking pictures put hundreds of musicians out of work, but I was lucky to get a place with a small jazz group. Bynder said I was through with being a composer, but I still clung to the belief that I was not. Music was getting different again, faster, hotter, even more lively and exciting. It was then that Phantom chose to call on me again.
The night was brilliantly lit by a full moon which illuminated the keyboard of Mrs Meeny's piano. This was stationed near the window where I had dragged it. My head was again in my hands. Jazz had long since been taken for granted, numerous classics had been written. I was versed in all the famous song hits. Gershwin and Berlin were famous throughout the world, their ragtime tunes were in greater demand than ever played to a faster beat. The rhythm was called "swing". Old time tunes were being brought to light again played to hot rhythm. The Blue Danube, Mendelsohns Spring Song and even famous Scottish songs like "Loch Lomond" and "Annie Laurie". And this was the time he had chosen to come to me again. I looked up when I felt his presence. He was standing where I had so often seen him before. His manuscripts were gone.
"Hello, Phantom," I greeted him, '1 am glad to see you. I don’t suppose I should ask where you have been as you are a ghost and go where you wish. Did you know Phantom that musicians are typing you with peculiar songs like "Ghosty, Ghosty," and "Here's a Spook", but that is not you Phantom. To me, you are the music spirit, who gives to these self same people the benefit of your experience for their new successes. In fact, I think you were a bit silly Phantom when you were annoyed. Those music men need all your help and all your evergreen ideas, and the beauty also. Movement has been put in to the old compositions, but they have not been desecrated or ruined. The modernists are not ridiculing your music, they are honouring it and paying a high compliment to the genius of your fellows. That's what you wanted, isn't it? Jazz may die, but your music never. New ideas. will arise, but underlying everything shall be the beauty of your inspiration. That music in every form will go on and on .
Phantom seemed to smile, he moved over to the piano and sat beside me on the stool. I couldn’t feel him but he was plainly visible. Ghostly fingers strayed to the keys and he played again. A lovely melody which uplifted the senses. A theme which was long of the past and all too Soon he was finished. But Phantom did not disappear as I expected him to. Instead he turned his face towards me and broke for the first time his policy of silence. He spoke two words, "swing it," he said.
Barr was the first to catch the flicker of my eyelids. He bellowed with laughter. 'The best story so far," he howled, and carried my wink to Kerryaway who joined in the merriment.
Hunter was looking at Greene who had turned pale and was staring at me with a funny expression. They rose from their seats together. Hunter grasped the man's arm and led him to the door. Greene was hysterical, and he was passing his hand across his forehead. Before they were out of earshot, I heard him say to Hunter, "How is it possible for that man whom I hardly knew, to imagine in detail something that has actually happened to me."
To Aileen, from David
I say to the flowers
Who is beautiful?
And they say— we are
But your lady may be too
If she loves us.
I say I know she does
For when I’m near
Her fragrance is of you.
A million, million, million leaves are falling Yelland way.
Do residents scream and scream their wrath?
Don't be stupid, they would say.
They sweep and sweep until
they weep to see their leaves all go,
The browns, the golds, the patchy blacks,
where bits of green still show.
Nothing there to 'hurt a soul
Or make them tear their hair.
For the trees are beauteous,
though all are stark.
They look the same when it