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Thermopylae 1942 | 12-Feb-05

The poem I am after was written during World War II and is about an encounter during the War. It refers to the famous battle in classical times fought on the same spot, but is not directly about the Spartan/Persian battle. I saw a programme on World War II poetry hosted by Sir Harry Secombe (I think Spike Milligan was also in it) on the BBC back in the late 80s. I'm sure the title was 'Thermopylae 1942' however I was looking at the history and the event it refers to seems to have taken place in 1941 so it may have been 'Thermopylae 1941'. I have no idea who the author was other than he was a British serviceman.

8 comments have been made on this quote. Click here to read them and then add your own!

Do you know this poem? Do you have any clues to help us find it?


I've been looking for this poem too, it's where the soldiers think about the battle because they're on the same site, but unlike the Spartens, they're allowed to leave
heather s

It is "Thermopylae 1941" by, I think, John Brooks or Brookes. It is part of the Salamander Oasis collection of war poems. It was on "Poetry Please" or similar a few years ago. I have a recording of it but have been unable to find it in print. John M
John Mellin

I have been looking for this poem for a number of years too, since I heard it recited on Radio 4's Poetry Please in fact about four or five years ago. I've just emailed them to see if they can provide any details.
Tony Cain

I belive it was by J E Brookes,Thermopylae 1941. Try The salamander oassis trust.
I hope this is of some help,feel free to email on the above.
david potter

I am very proud to say that not only do I know of this poem, but that it was written by my great uncle John Edward Brookes. The poem "Thermopylae 1941" has been described as "without parallel" and "a work of genius". In his book "Brookes: Verses Private and General" of which there are two editions, "Thermopylae 1941" is published as well as other war poems and many other works influenced from his life and his home in Somerset, including his poems for the "Visitor". In 1992 BBC Television featured John Brookes and his poetry.

John Brookes was born in London in 1920 and emigrated to Australia in 1939. When war broke out he walked 700 miles to join the Australian Imperial Forces. He fought in the Western Desert, Greece and Crete being taken P.O.W in Crete. As a small boy John spent hours fighting on the carpet with lead soldiers and as a young man grew captivated by translations of Greek poetry. This taught him rhyme, metre and iambics, a discipline which never left him.

In Australia his earlier influences became infused with his new friends' sardonic, manly humour and earthly Aussie poetry. Through a combination of Greek classicism and Aussie cynicism John Brookes found his own voice. Most of the war poems were written during four long years spent in P.O.W. camps and sadly due to activities such as escaping or being marched from one camp to another many poems were lost. Luckily, some survived. It seemed incredible to John that having fought famous battles between Roman Horatius or the Greek Leonidas on the carpet with toy soldiers, that he should find himself with the Australians defending Thermopylae against a horde of Germans. Outnumbered, as were the Spartans defending against the Persians, and watching the lights of the German vehicles descending to the plain, John Brookes recalls the legend of the Spartans, which he relates to his friend 'Bluey'. At the end they retreat, and the poem conceived in the wait facing the Germans was then committed to paper in the Salonika P.O.W camp.

The Salamander Oasis Trust have collected many war poems and discovered John Brookes contributing to the publication by way of an introduction. My own copy (second edition) was printed by Badger Publications in Castle Cary.

It may be of interest to those with an appetite for poetry, war, history or the artful narrative of every day life to know that John Brookes has written a yet unpublished book about his life and poetry. My great uncle is quoted as having said that all he wished to become in life was "an ordinary man". For all those that knew and loved him and those which have come to learn of him through his poetry may regard him as having been extraordinary in the greatest of senses. He most certainly was in my eyes. We lost him on 6th December 2004 and we'll miss him. A modest man, he would have been both pleased and dismayed to find that people are diligently pursuing his work. I hope that you will be able to discover his work and keep his wonderful legacy alive.
Claire Nicol

Not sure if my original post got through, but thanks for posting this great poem. I remember this from school, aged about 14, with great fondness and have always looked for it since. Thank you also for your post about your great uncle, Claire, a lot of people still remember this poem with affection. It was the first thing I read that represented an 'ordinary' voice talking about extraordinary things. A pleasure to read after being made to learn the overly heroic Charge of the Light Brigade by heart for saying the word 'brassiere' in front of a teacher.
heather s

Hello, that poem was written by my Father John Brookes
Genevieve Barton

A few years ago I was searching for this poem. alas, to no avail though I had heard it years before on 'Poetry Please'' and was amazed it did not show up. . This month our book club's theme is War Poetry so i had another go and BINGO ! I am delighted to have this brilliant poem to read and will give John Brookes his full honours. I am so glad to know that he survived the war and lived., a much loved man till 2004. Thank you Claire Nicol.
jenny Melmoth

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