Friday, 29 March 2013

"That Place in the Sun" by Charles Carroll

A newly discovered Second World War poem by Charles MC Carroll (1922-1945)

Charles MC Carroll known as “Gus” was my uncle, a front-line fighter and commando with 10th Royal Berkshires and London Irish Rifles, during The Italian Campaign and commando (equivalent to the SAS) from 1943-1945. I am currently researching his life and war in Italy. While examining his things yesterday, we found this poem handwritten on a flimsy piece of paper, in an old leather bag. The poem is quite amateur (there is nothing wrong with that). For me, it is very moving as I happen to know exactly where it was written. It is an insight into his state of mind, as a soldier facing killing the enemy and his own likely death.

The men of the 10th Royal Berkshires were held in a reserve area by the sea, behind the front line. This was following their first taste of the professionalism of crack German troops, some parachuted in from Leningrad, at Primasole Bridge, on the east coast of Sicily. Over a thousand British troops died taking Primasole Bridge who are buried at the British cemetery in Catania. Some of Charles own comrades died in a nasty wood ambush. British officers had led their men into a wood, by the bridge, for many to be mown down by camouflaged German tanks including the officers. In the reserve area behind the front line, the young British soldiers, trained but not accustomed to the horrors of war, got over their their first encounter of war. Here, they could bathe for a few days of rest, taking in the beauty of the view of Mount Etna and enjoying the sea. Charles could see Mount Etna (see the view below), as he was writing, sitting under the steaming July sun. 1943 summer temperatures were reportedly over 40C. In a few days time, he and his comrades would be heavily laden with equipment, clambering up the sides Etna to outflank the slowly retreating Germans. This photo shows where this poem was written. Mount Etna is the shadow in the distance:

In the poem, Charles sets out his private purposes in fighting, on the front line, as a regular soldier in the Eighth Army but also his most private thoughts as a trained commando, who would soon go off in night raids to find and bring back captured Gestapo. His key aims are listed as:  capturing Catania and beating the enemy, “the Hun”. By the way, his whole battalion called the Nazis and German troops "the Hun", not "Jerry" as in Hollywood war films. (Ref “The Fighting Tenth” the account of this battalion). His other aims were protecting loved ones at home freedom. Sitting in the blazing sun, he also has time to turn his thoughts to those who would follow after the war, who would inherit the peace, that they would achieve. He wants them to know that he gave his life for their freedom, for them to enjoy what he has had for just a few days, "that place in the sun - room for everyone". Charles knew what he was fighting, which is key for a soldier’s morale. Many Allies deserted in Sicily and Italy. Some were shot on sight, if they raided food supply lines. Charles never thought of that, even under fire from Tiger tanks at Anzio. He would eventually willingly die, fighting to "the end", leading the attack. He knew that the odds of surviving as a Commando and front line soldier in the Italian Campaign were stacked against him. The death rate for Allied soldiers was 50% in Italy, the highest in the Western war and Charles was ready to die for the world struggle against evil. This poem shows that he also wanted us to know that he was ready to kill - but only for the ultimate aim of peace - and for those who inherited the peace, to have a life. He seems to feel this strongly, without any kind of bitterness. His name has recently been cut again in stone, after metal thieves stole his brass plate from Sidcup War Memorial.

That Place in the Sun  by Charles MC Carroll

Peace seems the keynote of it all,
Behind the lines, of main HQ.
The brilliant sun, a golden ball,
In the mighty dome of heaven's blue,
Smiles down upon this ill-starred isle
Sprung from volcanic source, 'tis said,
Smiles on the peace, that reigns, for a while,
Until the night shall fall and blood is shed
And the guns will roar and shrapnel fly, 
Lured, their flashes illuming the sky.
The crash of shells, as a million hells,
Are bared to the star/spangled sky.
Strong men will flinch, and inch by inch
That world-honoured battering ram,
The British Eighth Army creeps slowly on.
Catania is the goal, freedom its aim :
No worthy foe shall stop the tide.
No boastful Hun shall quell the pride,
Of the mighty Eighth, who roughshod ride
Over resistance, from far and wide,
To the end.
To the ends of the earth, if needs must be,
The Eighth will go, to set men free.
For the sake of home, and the loved ones there,
For the sake of those with a right to share
That place in the sun - room for everyone. 
In the course of right, the Eighth fight on;
Till the day of victory gallantly won, shall be
Born on the day the Hun is crushed.
Peace the keynote: the world is hushed.
That's the fighting aim for us
One and all.
To the end.

Charles Miles Castle Carroll - Sicily, July 1943
(All rights reserved)

 Catania War Cemetery, Sicily


  1. Moving. It reminded me of when I discovered my father's cousin's last letter ('to be opened in the case of my death') among his papers nine years ago. Cousin Tom was on a bombing raid over Belgium (1944 I think) and an only child. He wrote to my Uncle Henry and Aunt Alvina of his hopes for democracy. Sadly, coming from a staunch Methodist family there were no obvious words of faith. It still made me cry as I read it.

  2. Alison, Thanks. Most comforting and interesting. By the way, I have only just found all your comments over the last year or so on my blog. So uplifting! Thanks.

    It is weird but these war writings capture the amazingly self-sacrificial spirit of these young men, something so unknown to our generation....One did wonder whether they had justified their own death or were bitter about it, but they weren't. It is almost Christ-like free self-giving for others. For us. Our place in peace and the sun, was their reason.