He lifted his 86-year-old body out of bed and realized there was a song streaming in his head.
Connected to a dream perhaps, but it persisted. The words waltzed through his head and with them came a rush of memories. The kind of memories World War II veterans never let go.
After so many years, he could still hum the tune. It followed him all day. Before bed that night, he put pen to paper to write about it. He did that now and then. It’s how he sorted things out.
Across the top, as a title, he wrote: “There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.” He went on to explain.
“This is a song from the ‘40s during the second World War. Of all the songs of that era this one has always stayed in my head.
“When I heard it sung I could almost see the people in England running to the bomb shelters while the air raid sirens wailed and wailed.
“I don’t remember all the words, but the ones I do go a little like this: ‘There’ll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover ... .’ Here I see in my mind (even today as well as back then) people in family groups going out on an open field, the kids are running ahead of their parents that are carrying picnic baskets and a bright colored tablecloth to spread on the ground to enjoy an afternoon together.
“The next line goes something like this: ‘Tomorrow when the world is free.’ ... This line back then brought the war right up in my face, and I would think of the prettiest small girl with almost pure white hair that I couldn’t get out of my mind. It made me wonder if I would ever see her again.
“The first two lines repeated, then the song goes something like this: ‘The shepherd will call his sheep. ...’ I see a lone man with a black and white dog herding sheep out into the area where the people were having a picnic.
“Next line, ‘The valley will bloom again.’ After these lines, I always thought I could see the great white puffs of smoke rising up from the bombs exploding in the great green area, leaving large craters. ... ‘And Jimmy will go to sleep in his own little room again.’
“This line would bring to mind my own younger brothers that are safe and dry in their own beds, not like Jimmy, who is trying to sleep in the cold, damp bomb shelter and shutting out the sound of the thump-thump of bombs and the weeping of other small children huddled around him and his mother.
“First two lines again, ‘There’ll be love and laughter.’ This would bring that pretty little girl with the white hair back to mind. Next line, ‘With peace ever after.’ I really believed this and never looked back to the hard times that befell my family, but could go on with my life in the Navy and feel it is all worth it.
“Then the next line went like this, ‘Tomorrow, just you wait and see!’ Back then, I never gave tomorrow too much thought. But I did look forward to fresh fruit and veggies, milk, eggs, bananas and, like most sailors, real beer!
“I more than likely have the lines in the song wrong, but the ones I have listed are the ones that still run through my head. The real sad thing is I have no idea if there are any bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover and everyone knows the world is a long way from being free!
“But tomorrow may not have come yet, and I still feel sad when this song pops into my head. Oh, by the way, I think Tokyo Rose used to play it every once in a while?
“I may ask one of my family to look up the words.”
He remembered the song pretty well. Not perfect, but close enough to trigger all those feelings that lingered, always within easy reach.
And there are no bluebirds in Dover, I am told. Apparently Nat Burton and Walter Kent, the two Americans who wrote the song in 1941, did not know that. The bird, however, was a symbol of hope and prosperity. And some say it could represent planes in the air defending England. Just as the cliffs of Dover, some places more then 300 feet high, stand as a barrier against those who threaten England.
Now that song also means a lot to me. Because the man who wrote down all those memories was my dad. And the pretty little girl with the white hair was my mom.
It felt good finding the lyrics for him. Even though he didn’t really need them. But now, I do.
“There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see.”
• Lonny Cain is the retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa and was a reporter for The Herald-News in the 1970s. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.