The Butcher’s Poleaxe – #VEDay

Somewhere there is a poleaxe,

your sweat worked into the staff

from unbroken nights,

where the pig must not squeal.

Milk bottle spectacles

but no flame or light catching

in the glass reflection.

All of it done in the silence

that cannot be broken,

unlike the rules you’re cleaving

with each precise blow.


Hands returned to steering wheel,

on dark lanes winding home,

nose to windscreen

foot light on the accelerator,

you mouth curled in prayer.

May they not come back this way

with the fat bulbs unsown

on London, or Crewe,

or elsewhere deemed vital.

May they not discard their leftovers

on these field tonight.

Let the silence be unbroken.

VE Day 2020

Not long ago my mother told me about the poleaxe my great-grandfather kept in the garage. He used it during the Second World War to slaughter pigs, as it was more effective at killing them quickly before there was chance for them to make any sound.

This was during rationing, when there were limitations on the slaughter of livestock. My great-grandfather, a butcher with eyesight so poor he was unable to enlist, would drive to farms in the middle of night to do the deed. Headlights were not allowed due to blackout regulations, and knowing those narrow country lanes, I’m amazed he managed to avoid ending up in the ditches.

My Great-Grandmother, who I knew very well, would remain at home. The danger was not only getting caught, but from returning German bombers on their way home. Any bombs that were not dropped on the high-value targets were dumped out over the country-side. I remember being told stories by the Great-Grandmother, of how she spent night in the cupboard beneath the stairs, listening as the bombs dropped nearby.

After the war ended and rationing was lifted, there was no more need for the poleaxe, and no-one really knows what happened to it. I like to think that it is still in existence, perhaps on display, or perhaps tucked in the back of a cupboard.


      1. I’m working on editing, Carol. And it’s going so slowly, like a chapter a day at most. And with a trilogy that’s about 110 chapters. Ugh. But getting there. Maybe August! It’s hard to focus. 🙂


  1. This would be a good poem with historical background to take to your local library when some kind of commemorative day comes up regarding that period, with the poleaxe as an exhibit would be a bonus.


  2. So many things people had to do for survival back in those days… My mother was eleven when she woke up with German Soldiers in the street (my grandparents lived in Norway back then)… amazing what you can do with a poleaxe


    1. I’m not sure how he worked out that the poleaxe was the way to go though…
      Can your mother remember much from that time? I can’t imagine how awful, and confusing that would have been.


  3. What a most interesting story you share with us! Your poem captures it all. The darkness, the silence, the coke bottle glasses and more. Well done!
    I hope you are writing your stories in memoirs for your grandchildren!


  4. Yes, fascinating family sharing, riveting in it’s detail and sense of place and time. You have placed your grandfather and his poleaxe, and his poor eyesight into my poem research caverns; thanks.


  5. You paint a very convincing picture of your great-grandfather driving, almost as if by feel, just as it must have been when he worked that poleaxe.


  6. Wrapped in our own “discomfort” of quarantine and inability to visit the barber or beauty shop, we forget the terror, the hunger, the horror of a generation or two ago. Your story was fascinating. Thank you for sharing.


  7. I love the intimacy of this poem, Carol, in the direct address to your great-grandfather. You’ve painted a portrait of him with only a few details, but so clear to me, and the atmosphere is palpable in the lines:
    ‘…no flame or light catching
    in the glass reflection.
    All of it done in the silence
    that cannot be broken’
    ‘nose to windscreen
    foot light on the accelerator,
    you mouth curled in prayer’.
    I have memories of the stories my grandparents told me about the war, some of which became my children’s novel, Joe and Nelly. Those stories are rich picking s for a writer.


    1. Thank you Kim. I was lucky enough to have my great grandmother in my life, however my great grandfather passed away before I was burning. All my impressions of him are based on stories I’ve been told. There’s still that sense of familiar and love there though.


  8. The poem is such a different but important tribute to those who lived during really difficult times. I love the memory of your great grandfather and the poleaxe takes on a momentous task. The most dangerous being driving down those country lanes in the darkness. They were a generation who learned how to cope.


  9. So specific and interesting, both the poleaxe and the family story you tell. I like the suggestion above to use this in a library….or museum, as you said. I can picture it on display.


  10. These were the lines I most appreciated, Such an elegant twist here and so many meanings piled into that metaphor. When you think of it so many ordinary, useful, potentially lethal tools have sweat-stained wooden handles.

    “All of it done in the silence
    that cannot be broken,
    unlike the rules your cleaving
    with each precise blow.”


Comments below, but please leave your bots at the door.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.