The Banner

The Banner: a pair of jeans on a pole

verse epic


Part 4: The Battle

2: Cantos 6-10

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
-  Auksford, 2015  -

© Robin Gordon 2015

The moral right of the author has been asserted

Canto 6: In which Norah takes the lead and Tommo’s ambition soars

Now, after this setback, perhaps you all thought
that Norah might be dismayed,
but surely it must be plain that there’s nought
can discourage this eager young maid.

“Come, follow me, lads,” she said with a smile,
“through the caravan site we will run,
and when we have travelled two thirds of a mile,
we will pop out behind them – what fun!”

Though Norah was eager, yet Tommo was shy,
so Norah took hold of his arm,
and Johnny the other, in case he should try
to sneak off, avoiding all harm.

But as they were going along the main street
Norah abandoned her plan,
for over and over they chanced there to meet
the sad Halden fighters who ran

from Swarrell’s proud warriors chasing them down,
but now they all joined Norah’s gang,
that’s how Halden’s mob now returned to the town,
and these are the songs that they sang.

“Swarrell wankers!  Swarrell wankers!
We’ll knock out the shit
of any we catch on the street,
till they quit!

We are the masters, the ones who will rule!
We are the warriors, we are the cool!
It’s Halden that’s clever and Swarrell’s the fool,
for the courage of Swarrell is quite miniscule!”

Now at the corner stood a girl
and Effie was her name.
She saw.  Her head was in a whirl,
cried, “Tommo, what’s the game?”

Then Tommo, overcome with pride
as leader of the throng,
completely taken for a ride,
besotted by the song,

answered her with scornful words,
and said, “Just watch as we
flush away those Swarrell turds
right down the lavat’ry!

There’s gonna be a lot of blood
soaking through the soil
of Swarrell, flowing like a flood;
we’re going to embroil

them all in battle, and we’ll take
their colours as our prizes.
We’re on our way our thirst to slake,”
so Tommo fantasises.

“Oh, Tommo, Tommo!” Effie cries,
with copious tears and many sighs.
“Oh Tommo, let these battles cease,
for bless’d are those who bring us peace.”

The words of Mouse came to her mind,
but Norah said, “I think you’ll find
this sort of stuff is nowt but guff.
Tommo’s left you?  Well, that’s tough!”

Leaving Effie full of fears,
her face begrimed by falling tears,
Norah led her fighters down
the street, deep into Swarrell town.

Onward go those warriors,
marching off to war,
looking unto Norah, who
marches on before.
Tommo will be master!
Tommo will be King!
He feels his heart beat faster
as his cohorts sing:

“The Banner high!
The ranks are close around.
It’s do or die!
Our foes we shall confound!”

Just then they see the ranks of Swarrell foes,
and Norah whispers into Tommo’s ear,
“Now’s your chance to overcome all those
who would oppose your rise, so have no fear,

for, Tommo, you are bound now to become
the king both of the town and of the city.
Go into battle!  Do not fear these scum!
Exterminate them all and have no pity!”

“Yeah!” cries Tommo.  “I shall be the King!”
Then Norah and her girls all moved aside.
“For centuries of me the bards will sing.
I’ll take on six of you!” bold Tommo cried.

“Is that how all the Halden lads behave?”
said King to Ronno, with  a puzzled frown,
“for every one of them just seems to rave.
“I’ll have him!” Ronno said.  “I’ll take him down”

“No,” said King, “you’re wounded.  Just ignore him.”
Then Jake sprang forward, and he gave his view.
“If I was only younger I would gore him!
If Sid were here you’d see what he would do!

Why, if we’d heard such insults from a Jap
or from a Jerry, we’d not hesitate!
In war you can’t just take a little nap,
you’ve got to strike down all of those you hate!

Out there in the desert I was ready
to face up to old Rommel, man to man!
If I had met him, I’d have killed him dead, he
wouldn’t have escaped, although he ran!”

“Come on then, Grandad,” Tommo called.
“I’ll have your long-johns for a banner!”
His words now seemed to throw a spanner
into the boasting of Old Jake.
He seemed afraid of being mauled.
His feeble frame he quickly hauled
to safety, and in such a manner
his boasting seemed to be a fake.

Now out steps Ken
from King’s stout men,
and says, “I’ll take you on!”
Tommo’s stuck.
He’s out of luck.
Too late to get him gone.

Ken and Tommo, face to face,
back and forward, pace for pace
moving sideways round and round,
when suddenly there comes a sound.

Police cars!  Sirens!  Drawing near!
So that’s the end of fighting here.
The opportunity to batter
Tommo’s lost, and King cries, “Scatter!”

Ah, Muses, now the streets are clear.
No blood has here been spilled.
There hasn’t been a battle here,
and no-one has been killed.

I always do what you all ask,
and I’ve completed this hard task,
The sirens came, the battle ceased,
and so, o Muses, I’m released,

and quietly I can lay my pen
aside and think no more of war,
for, thanks to vigilant police,
the battle’s over, we have peace.
What’s that you say?  There will be more,
and I must set to work again?

Canto 7: In which Norah sends out messengers and Old Jake falls into danger

The sirens made the boys all scatter.
The girls, of course, could stay and chatter.
Should any copper chance to ask,
their girlish faces wear a mask
of innocence: “Yes, we saw boys,
and heard them making lots of noise,
but who they were, and what and where
they did or went we do not care.”
Then Norah called her girls around,
and said, “It’s time you went and found
the lads and brought them back together.
All they’ve done so far is blether
and boast and throw some stones and run.
It’s time for us to have some fun.
Wilma, take these girls and go
into Halden, don’t be slow.
Bring the Halden lads back here
to take the enemy in the rear,
and, Thelma, you and all your friends
make sure the Swarrell gang defends
the goods yard and the engine sheds.
We’ll see their trousers torn to shreds
and lads bare-legged and looking silly
if we can only bring la’al Willie
back into the thick of battle.
If I can only manage that I’ll
be the happiest girl on earth
for what I’ll see fills me with mirth.”

The girls went off to do as she had asked
while Norah and two friends then basked
in giggles, glee and hot anticipation
of what they might soon see.  Their high elation
they shared by passing cigarettes and smoking
and laughing at the threat of soon provoking
those foolish boys, whom clearly they despised,
to strip each other of their greatly prized
dignity and manly status, pride.
To lose their trousers?  So undignified!

Slinking along the street there came
an ancient, ancient man.
The girls soon saw it was the same
old man who’d tried to fan

the Swarrell gang to claim the coat
of Hotrod when he ran,
so Norah said, “There’s that old goat.
Let’s catch him if we can.”

So Norah, Ada, Rita too,
surrounded poor Old Jake,
and Norah said, “Now why do you
so much pleasure take
in running round with gangs of boys?
I bet it’s pederastic joys!”

“Oh, me heart!” the old man cried.
“I can feel it go!”
“When it stops, that’s when you’re dead,”
said Norah, “so you’ll know.

We wanna see the lads get stripped.
That’s what you want an’all.”
Then Old Jake’s arm she tightly gripped,
said, “Did you see them haul

the pants of Nails when he was caught
when Halden tried invasion?”
“My son it was who grabbed and fought,
him on that occasions,
so valiant he, of him they sang.
He was the hero of the gang.”

“You say Sid Thatcher is your son?”
said Norah with a leer.
“They say of him, when all is done,
he’s just a filthy queer.

Well, he stripped Nails, and so you’ll be
a prize that Halden will
appreciate and praise when we
all take you back.  A thrill

we’ll have when you are cruelly stripped,
but it won’t be aesthetic.
When from your legs your pants are ripped,
you’ll really look pathetic.
They’ll all be eager to debag
you, take your long-johns for a flag.”

“Me heart!  Me heart!  I’m old!  I’m old!
You’ll be had up for murder.
You’ll go to prison, just be told.
They’ll hang you from a girder.

You’ll dangle there till you are dead,”
Old Jake than cried, and pleaded:
“Have mercy on this ancient head!”
His anguish went unheeded.

Then round the corner came some boys.
Was Norah’s plan undone?
’Twas Tommo, and so Norah’s ploys
could still lead on to fun,
so she explained, her cheeks aglow,
to Tommo, while Jake cried out, “No-o-o-o!”

Sid heard, nearby, his father’s voice,
and he was faced with quite a choice:
to charge in and protect his sire,
which the gang would all admire,
but on the other hand, of course,
if he should meet superior force,
he himself might be at risk.
Far better then to swiftly whisk
away from there and seek some help.
Bowled over then, he gave a yelp.
Then up he got and saw that Ken
and Stan, with other Swarrell men,
had charged into the fray to take
vengeance, and to rescue Jake.

Now poor Old Jake with fear was filled,
with fury and with grief.
By Halden girls he had been grilled,
shaking like a leaf.

“I’ll take you home, Dad,” Sidney said.
“A pot of tea I’ll brew.
Poor Dad, you ought to be in bed,
so I’ll look after you.”

“Oh no you won’t,” said Stan,
“for King wants every man
around the sheds to congregate,
because, he says, as sure as fate,
Halden will be back,
renewing their attack.”

“I have to see to Dad,”
said Sid.  “He’s been took bad.”
“Now, Sidney, do not make a fuss,”
said Stan, “he’ll be quite safe with us.
You know we wouldn’t send him
where we can’t defend him.”

Then up spoke Ken and said, “Hey, Sid!
What happened to that cowardly kid
called Terry that you said you’d keep
close by?”  Said Sidney, “I could weep.
I was so eager for the fight
that for a moment from my sight
he slipped, and then he ran away.”

“Well,” said Stan, “there’ll come a day
that we can pay the coward back,
for, when we’ve beaten this attack,
we’ll catch him one day in the street,
a chance a punishment to mete
that fits his crime.  To be a man
he’s less than fit, an also-ran,
a gutless coward, so this means
the gang will surely have his jeans.

But, as for you, my gallant Sid,
although you failed to do as bid,
you’re free to throw yourself right in
the midst of all the battle’s din.
You’re free to win yourself such glory
as bards will hymn in song and story.”

Sid smiled,
    as though beguiled
        by this brave word,
but in his heart
    he wished to part,
        and what he heard
of battle’s noise
    brought him no joys,
        and such a fate
did not attract,
    but how to act?
        It was too late!

Canto 8: In which Old Jake gives advice, and messengers and spies are sent out

Despite Sid and Jake’s great distress
the pair were both swept right along,
for Norah had had some success,
and the boys were all met in a throng.

So the girls all looked down from above
on the boys as they fought down below.
Said Ada, “I really would love
to see them debag one and throw

his trousers up here to us girls.”
A Swarrell girl who was called Jane
shudders as Halden now hurls
stones, for it seems they will gain

a victory over their foes.
To Norah she says, “It’s not fair
that we should support only those
from Halden.  I really despair

to see our lads beaten so badly.”
Said Norah, “They know what to do:
call Willie, for I would quite gladly
see him and his Black Dragon crew

come and join in the thick of the fight.
If he and his Dragons all came
I think that we very well might
see a very big change in the game.

I don’t support Halden at all.
I want to see boys lose their kecks.
It’s trousers I want to see fall
as a win for the feminine sex.”

Now down below on the battlefield
things weren’t going well
for Swarrell.  Would they have to yield.
Surrender?  Would they hell!

“We’re outnumbered,” King admitted.
“Bring Willie in,” said Ron.
“That’s the way,” said Jake through gritted
teeth.  “We should bring on

reinforcements, as we did
at Cassino to get rid
of Jerries who had gone and hid
within the ancient walls of some
old monastery that we had come
to on our bloody bold advance.
Reinforcements will enhance
our ability to fight,
so I say that Ronno’s right.

As a soldier in the war,
fighting Japs and Jerries too
I killed my victims by the score,
so I know what you should do.

Though my life has reached December,
old and grizzled is my head,
if you knew what I remember
it would fill you all with dread.

Fighting in the mud-filled trenches,
risking bullets all the while,
rotting bodies, filthy stenches,
sights would make you run a mile.

Tortured by the heat and vermin
in the jungle, way out east,
trying vainly to determine
how to slay the Nazi beast.

There’s one time that I recall …”
but King and Ronno moved away
discussing now how they should call
Willie to rejoin the fray.

“Well,” said Ronno, “I suggest,
that if we would persuade that kid
to fight for us it would be best
to send as messenger our Sid.

Wille would do owt for Sid,
considers him the best of men,
if we want to make our bid
successful, send out Sid and Ken.”

Oh, Muses, sadly now I must relate
of this bold embassy the sorry fate.
La’al Willie seemed to have abandoned all
loyalty to Swarrell, for the call
to aid them in their hour of greatest need
he rejected, and he paid no heed
to their insistence that this petty quarrel
might lead at last to Halden beating Swarrell.

“It’s nowt to me,” said Willie,
“for King was bloody silly
to send my lads away.
If he should lose the day
I hope their commandants
will strip him of his pants
and through the streets parade him,
for I will never aid him!”

“I think,” said Ronno, “it’s too dark to see.
Perhaps now Halden will call it a day.”
“Some hope,” said King.  “I’d not if it were me.
Don’t think that they will just all go away.”

Said Jake, “I tell you they are just regrouping.
That was what the Germans always did.
You’d think they’d come in straight,  but they’d be looping
through hidden ways.  I’d bet a million quid

they’re sneaking through the marshes as we speak.
You need to set up sentries and send spies.
I’d go myself, but both my knee-joints creak,
so I’m too ald to take them by surprise.”

“That’s all right,” said Ronno, “we’ll send Sid.
He’s got those inborn skills from good old Jake.
His light beneath a bushel he has hid,
but now’s his chance to show he’s not a fake.”

“Aw, leave him, Ron,” said Stan.
“He does the best he can.
Send me out there instead.”
“You both can go,” said King.
“I only hope you bring
the news that they have fled.”

Tommo meanwhile had decided
that a spy should be sent out,
and this mission he confided
to a simple, thickset lout
called Dolly, and to him he swore
in a solemn stern accord
that the colours Willie wore
should come to him as his reward
as soon as Willie should be captured.
Dolly went his way enraptured.

Then Dolly crept out to try
and see what he could spy.
Though the night was so black,
yet he hoped to take back
the where and the what and the why.

Now Stan saw Dolly creep past,
and he murmured to Sid, “Now at last
a lad we can snatch,
and the lad that we catch
will spill all the beans bloody fast.”

Stan took off his jacket and hid,
then he sprang out and muffled that kid
so Dolly was caught.
Although he then fought
he was captured by Ken and by Sid.

Dolly by this blow was jarred.
Stan then questioned him quite hard:
“What do Halden mean to do?
Tell us now, or we’ll take you
over to our gang’s HQ.

There behind the Engine Sheds
you’ll meet a fate that each boy dreads.
The Count is what we have in mind.”
“I’ll tell you all,” poor Dolly whined.
“I’ll tell you where our lads are lined.

But please,” he cried, “oh, please, don’t strip me.
I don’t mind if you both whip me,
but I don’t want to be dekegged,
and have to go back home bare-legged,”
that’s what frightened Dolly begged.

“We’ll take your colours, don’t you worry,
but leave your pants on if you hurry
and tell us where your lads are hid,
so spill the beans,” said Ken and Sid
to Dolly, poor wee frightened kid.

Canto 9: In which moonlight reveals the scene to Norah and her girls, Willie stays aloof, Sid falls into danger, and Old Jake complains

Meanwhile upon the viaduct on high
where Norah and her girls, like unto gods,
or goddesses I should say, wonder why
Fate, a female deity, now nods
and hides the coming struggle from their sight,
but, lo, the silvery moon comes forth at last
from clouds that veiled her, and her beams so bright
upon the scene beneath she now can cast.

So Norah sees upon the ground below
a youth brought down and lying on his back
and being stripped – oh, how her cheeks both glow:
at last a boy is tortured, on the rack!
His jacket from his back is swiftly stripped.
They take his scarf, and then they take his shoes,
and from his jeans his belt is cruelly ripped
so Norah hopes there’s more that he will lose;
but Ken and Sid have promised not to take
the pants off Dolly, and they let him go.
Once more poor Norah must her hopes forsake,
but she will not surrender to her woe.
The night is not yet done, and boys are silly.
Although reality has sadly lagged
behind her hopes, she pins them yet on Willie,
for when he comes, then boys will be debagged.

Now Norah isn’t wrong, for Pete
approaches his commander’s seat
and calls to Willie, “We should go
and help, because, you never know,
they could be at the Engine Sheds.”
Though this is something Willie dreads –
for Swarrell it would mean disgrace,
the loss of their most holy place,
of their Jerusalem or Mecca –
yet he still must keep up his pecker:
he must deny that such a thing
could happen, for he won’t help King.
Whatever battles Swarrell loses
he won’t attack until he chooses.

The girls on high now see
something.  “Look!” cries Rita,
filled with girlish glee,
for Fortune’s smiles are sweeter.
The lads of Swarrell charge,
 and Halden, by and large,
are forced back to the beck.
Then there comes a check.

The Furies now appear,
with many a rousing cheer,
and send a hail of bricks,
the dirtiest of tricks,
upon the Swarrell heads,
so that confusion spreads.
King and Stan are struck,
they were too slow to duck.
For fear they may be scragged,
they have then to be dragged
to safety by their men
while stones rain down again.

Some Halden lads have found a kid
hiding near the battle’s edge,
mid bushes, rubble, grass and sedge,
with on his jacket painted: SID.

“We’ve got Sid Thatcher!” hear them call
as they drag him from his hole.
“We’ll put his trousers on a pole.
This banner will be best of all.”

Hear them cheer and hear them jeer,
while Sid is filled with desperate fear.
Hear them triumph, hear them scoff.
Hear them shout and hear them yell,
like devils from the depths of Hell:
“We’re going to take his trousers off!”

Now Norah on the viaduct
is somewhat thrilled and rather bucked.
“Hear that?” she cries.  “They’ve caught some kid!
D’you hear his name?  I think it’s Sid!

Well, Sidney’s going to be dekegged.
At last we’ll see a lad bare-legged!
The war at last has gone our way!
It’s trouser time!  Hip hip hooray!”

Then Ken and Ronno lead a charge,
and with some Swarrell lads they barge
against Sid’s captors in a bid
to rescue him.  To Norah’s woe
they set him free, then off they go,
taking back still trousered Sid.

Back on his embankment, Willie,
whose view is not so good as Norah’s,
can’t understand, and thinks it silly,
that Swarrell should retreat once more as
he didn’t see the Furies’ stones
rattling round their battered bones.

Puzzled now, he sends out Pete
to go down to the Engine Sheds,
find out the reason for retreat,
and knock some sense into the heads
of King’s gang, and make them admit
the Mad Dog strategy’s not fit
They need to save themselves from scragging
by letting Willie go debagging.

Oh, Muses, a figure is quaking and quivering,
moaning and groaning and shaking and shivering.
He moans that he never had wanted to roam,
and thinks that some hero should take him back home,
then never again would his home he forsake.
It’s easy to see that the figure’s Old Jake.

Into this scene unexpectedly comes
Willie’s friend Pete, the best of his chums,
and Pete asks where King is, but nobody knows,
and Ronno says Willie must surely oppose
Halden’s advance, which threatens the Sheds
and asks if the Dragons are all off their heads.

Now Jake is mumbling in his gums
that while the Dragons twiddle thumbs
the Engine Sheds may well be lost,
and Swarrell’s honour will be tossed
out to the winds or in the flames.
They’ll all be stripped, and Old Jake blames
Willie for his senseless pride
that’s left the Engine Sheds all wide
open to a fierce attack.
Once lost they’ll never get them back.

Then, as he speaks, they hear a mighty clamour.
“They’re coming for us now!” hear Old Jake yammer.
Pete, the messenger, now bolts away,
hearing, as he’s leaving, Ronno say:
“Bring Willie now!  I don’t care what he does!
If he wants pants, and it gives him a buzz,
then he can have them.  He can go debagging,
just as long as we’re saved from a scragging.”

On hearing this, Old Jake is full of fears.
His dirty face with geriatric tears
is streaked.  To hide?  Is that the best suggestion?
To flee or not to flee, that is the question. 

Canto 10: In which Halden attack, Norah’s hopes rise, there is dissension among the girls, the Engine Sheds are taken and Willie sends Pete to save them

Like goddesses upon the Olympian mount
Norah and her eager girls now count
on seeing sights that they’ve all longed to see,
of teenage boys stripped of their dignity,
for Halden springs once more into attack,
and Swarrell from the Sheds are driven back,
and Ronno, on the rooftop is marooned.
His peril has quite suddenly ballooned.
It’s vastly greater than it ever was.
Then Norah and her girls all cheer, because
the Wild Bulls clamber up the walls,
so Norah in her triumph loudly calls,
“Come on girls, for it’s time to jeer and scoff.
We’re going to see some trousers coming off!”

Unnoticed by Norah, behind her own back,
Jane and the Swarrell girls pile up a stack
of pebbles and brickbats and stones of all sorts,
so Norah is shocked when a volley aborts
the Halden lads’ onslaught and makes them turn back,
losing the fruits of the hoped-for attack.

“Now, why did you do that?” cries Norah to Jane.
“I did it,” she says, “to save Swarrell from pain,
for you’re helping Halden, and that isn’t fair.”
“Stupid!” shouts Norah, “When lads are stripped bare
which side they are on doesn’t matter to me.
Trouserless males are what I want to see!”

Then Jane yells, “Oh yeah?
        You want trousers off Swarrell!”
but Thelma butts in and says, “We shouldn’t quarrel,
for Norah is right, and this is our chance
to lead all the boys a merry old dance.
They’ll all lose their trousers, their dignity too,
and that we’ve pulled the strings they won’t have a clue.”

“If it’s any,” says Norah, “I want to see scragged
it’s the ‘king of the two towns’ who should be debagged,
that Tommo, the bighead, who thinks he’s so cool,
he is the one to be made look a fool.
He is the one to be made to feel silly.
For that I will pin all my hopes on La’al Willie.”

A clamour came from down below.
The girls all rushed to see.
Those stones had dealt them quite a blow,
yet Halden didn’t flee,
and once again they stormed right back
towards the Engine Sheds,
and now they surge into attack.
Enthusiasm spreads
and Halden lads from every side
come racing to the fight,
and Swarrell lads from far and wide,
to Norah’s great delight.

The Sheds are taken.  Tommo stands
in triumph on the roof,
but Ronno has slipped through his hands,
so Norah looks reproof,
and says to Jane, “If you had not
so rudely interfered,
by now we girls, we would have got
a sight that would have cheered
us up, made us forget the cold.
We would have seen some pants
come off and then some heroes bold
blubbing!” Norah rants.

“But now,” she says, with wolfish smile,
“the Engine Sheds are captured.
I think that in a little while …” –
by now she’s quite enraptured –
“… La’al Willie’ll bring his Dragons in,
and then we’ll see some fun,
for Willie will set out to win
the pants off everyone.
Bare-legged we’ll see them run!”

Ah, Muses, let your saddened hearts be rent,
for Willie, like Achilles in his tent,
brooding on the insult and the slight,
still fumes and looks on King with bitter spite.

“The Engine Sheds are taken!” cries out Pete.
“The Engine Sheds were our HQ, the seat
of all our power, the Dragons’ glorious throne!
You can’t let Halden have what is our own!”

“We have to drive them off!” the Dragons cry.
“We won’t!” says Willie.  “King won’t vilify
me and treat me like a silly little kid.
When he is beaten we will make our bid.

The Dragons aren’t any gang of King’s.
We’re not his slaves, to come whene’er he rings
or snaps his fingers, that is why we’ve waited.
I want to see his gang annihilated.

Then, when that happens, we will all sweep down
and take the pants off everyone in town.
The Halden gangs, and Swarrell too, will be
subjected to the Dragons, and to me!”

They murmured and they muttered,
and loud complaints they uttered:
“The Sheds are ours!  We’ve got to
clear them!  It’s wrong not to!”

Then Pete to Willie said,
“Get this into your head.
If you do not attack
the Dragons will not back

you any longer, mate!
Disregard the fate
of our HQ and you
will lose the gang!  It’s true!”

“Orright,” says Willie, “you can take
a group of lads and go and make
a quick attack and drive ’em off
the Engine Sheds – but that’s enough!

I still want King to face defeat.
I want to see him come and bleat
and kneel before me in the dust
and beg for mercy.  Yes, he must!

Till King admits that he was wrong
he’s at the mercy of the throng
of those who fight for Halden city.
From me he need expect no pity

until he comes in person here,
discards his arrogance so dear,
and treats me like a proper toff,
and humbly takes his trousers off!”

“OK,” says Pete.  “It’s understood.
We’ll free the Sheds, but then we should
return, and wait here till you say
it’s time for us to win the day.”

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The Battle: Cantos 11-15

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