|Shipdham lies approximately 3 miles south-west of
East Dereham. The
name derives from the Old English word for sheep - 'sceap'
- hence 'homestead with a flock of sheep'. Shipdham is
confused with Shipden - the drowned village off the
North Norfolk coast near Cromer.
was the first US heavy bomber base in Norfolk during World War II and
was home to the famous B-24 Liberator bombers.
The American poet Hyam Plutzik was stationed at
Shipdham c.1944-5 and became the Information and
Education Officer for the 44th Bombardment Group of the USAAF.
(Today the airfield has been turned into an
industrial estate - but the derelict control tower and
two of the original hangars still survive.)
Plutzik wrote two poems which were directly inspired
by Shipdham - the
first is On the Airfield at Shipdham which
concerns a skylark that he saw above the runway and
which he connects to the bombers:
There is the
lark, you said. And for the first time
I saw, far up in the fast darkening air,
The small lonely singer beating its wings
Against the pull of the old and evil earth.
It is too late, I
said, to praise its song ....
(because they bring our deaths
And thus another cycle of this bird's praises)
The beasts with guts of metal groaning on the line
Or in the higher sky solemnly muttering.
© by the Estate of Hyam Plutzik. All rights reserved.
This poem was dedicated to
the Norwich-based novelist, best known for his Spanish
Farm Trilogy (1927). Plutzik met Mottram after he invited him to give a lecture at the Shipdham
air base. In fact,
Plutzik records the event in a fascinating letter to his
evening Mr Mottram, well-known resident of the
nearby city, came & lectured on our base, and I have
just come back from taking him & his wife back to
their home. Riding in the dark along the wet roads,
with the forlorn landscape illuminated occasionally
by the dimmed-out lights, I thought of you my
wife, and I felt very lonely for you.
(Printed by permission
of Rochester University archive.)
On the Sunday evening in question,
Mottram and his wife were entertained in the officer's
mess and after the lecture were driven back to 4, Poplar
Drive - just off the Newmarket Road in Norwich.
The second poem inspired by Shipdham is
Base which appeared in Plutzik's 1949 collection
Aspects of Proteus. In this longer poem, the poet
contemplates the bombers spread out on the airfield prior to take off but
then shifts his attention to the surrounding East Anglian landscape
where he notes the 'thatched farmhouse sleeps in the dark' or
'bomb trucks move down the deserted perimeter/ Where the
cold North wind stifles all.'
Norfolk also features in his famous poem
The Airman Who Flew Over Shakespeare' s England
where 'pilgrims along the holy roads/To
Walsingham' are mentioned. There is also a lesser known poem called
The Old War which appeared in Apples of Shinar
(1959) which was also set in the county. Plutzik's long dramatic poem Horatio,
although not set in the Norfolk, was drafted during his time
here. The poem wasn't published until
1961 - one year before Plutzik's premature death from
cancer. Plutzik was only 50 years old when he died.
Plutzik, who was the son of Russian Jewish emigrants,
returned to America after the Second World War and was appointed
Professor of Poetry at Rochester University in New York. The
university now houses a collection of his poetry and his
Ted Hughes was a big fan of Plutzik's work and said: 'Plutzik's
poems have haunted me for twenty-five years. His visions
are authentic and piercing, and the song in them is
strange - dense and harrowing, with unforgettable
More photographs of Shipdham Airfield
Hyam Plutzik Poetry