When the pub closes


By Sean Gunning

Toward the end of World War II, before the July, 1945, election that he would lose, The Times (London) prepared an editorial suggesting that Churchill campaign as a non-partisan world leader and retire gracefully soon afterward. “Mr. Editor,” Churchill replied to the first point, “I fight for my corner.” And, to the second: “Mr. Editor, I leave when the pub closes.”

—May 1945. H.A.Grunwald,
Churchill: The Life Triumphant (American Heritage, 1965)


Reflections of patrons of The Valediction pub,
in the gleaming brass bell behind the bar on the wall,
reverberate to sound-waves of sobriety
when a fat-fingered hand, full of fair hair and freckles,
reaches up for the rope with the frayed white tassels
and swings it back and forth unceremoniously.
And over the swirling din of noise and smoke,
the hoarse voice of the hand cries its nightly lament
to the heads and backs, crammed from corner to corner,
in coats and hats: “Last orders. Last orders, please!”
And there’s Churchill among them – never looking more stoic –
in a frame on the wall with Never Surrender! in bold at his ear.

A cloth-capped lad with a pint in his hand
and the jowl of a bulldog half-hidden under a sleeve
of a sweat-stained shirt rolled to the elbow
reads, not for the first time tonight,
the small words in the frame:
We shall not flag or fail.
We shall go on to the end.
We shall fight in France.
We shall fight on the seas and oceans.
We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.
We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight on the beaches.
We shall fight on the landing-grounds.
We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.
We shall fight in the hills.
We shall never surrender!

As a tear falls into the glass in the hand of the lad,
a knock-kneed man asks,
“Are you all right, son?”
And after a pause, the reply,
“So many gave so much for my generation.”

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