Ballad Of The Snow Goose
written and illustrated by Adrienne Foster Potter
Copyright@ May 1980
All rights reserved
Based on the story "The Snow Goose" by Paul Gallico, that tells of the great boat rescue of Dunkirk, England, when every available boat was called to help rescue soldiers from a beach across the channel being bombarded with enemy fire. This is the story of one of them:
She was walking the shore when she found him. The poor bird had broken its wing--
A bird with feathers as white as the snow and a song as wild as the wind.
Two lonely eyes saw them walking the beach--The girl with the bird in her arms,
Hunchbacked and maimed went the old man to help, To cure with his knowledge and charm.
Together they bandaged the white bird's wing. Together they watched the bird heal--
The girl would go home but always returned to see if the bird was there still.
Then came the day when he rose high and flew and answered cries of his flock.
She followed the bird with her saddened eyes and her tears fell onto the rocks.
Shamed by her tears and his own lonely grief, he sharply replied, "You've no right
To think he should stay!" She stumbled away, and he sat alone through the night.
Two lonely years came and two long years went. He painted the girl and the bird.
Then came the day while out rowing his boat, those old wind-born bird cries he heard.
The girl heard it too and ran through the marsh. Together they laughed and they cried.
Once in a lifetime a wild one returns. They kissed it, and held it, and sighed.
The summer set and the friendship returned and their love was the only bond.
When the time came for the white bird to fly, it stayed while the wild flock flew on.
Few joys he knew being crippled and maimed--the girl and bird his only friends.
They acted their parts as the miracle that to lonely old souls God sends.
Then one dark day came the perilous news he'd waited for all of his life.
The girl ran hard crying, "Why must you go?!" --"I need to help them in their strife."
The urgent call came, the answer was sent, and out to sea went every boat.
The hunchback rowed out with the snow-white bird, to help the Dunkirk tale be wrote.
Five shivering men he pulled in his boat; He dropped them off, then went for more.
Through billowing flames and cold winds that blew-- Two trips were done, then three, then four.
With courage and strength grown from years of pain, he did what no man dared to do.
He pleaded for help from his God above, then four more trips he carried through.
When dawn lit the ocean the job was done. They tallied boatloads one by one.
The young girl looked for her friend and the bird but somehow knew they wouldn't come.
The other men told her in voices hushed the fiery mission he had filled,
And finally with all of his rescues done his tired old heart had finally stilled.
She carried back home the painting he'd done and through the evening marshes roams,
With knowledge inside that two snow-white birds have finally flown for peace and home.
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Dunkirk, June 11,1940-Thousands of allied troops cut off from land retreat by the German soldiers were rescued from the beach or plucked from the water at Dunkirk on this day by hundreds of civilian volunteers in their small boats and ships. Philip Rhayader made the greatest sacrifice of them all. He was from Chelmbury and lived in a lighthouse, isolated from the rest of the world. A physical deformity caused many to shun him and he was said to be a man with great compassion for animals; especially birds. He rescued injured birds and stopped anyone from shooting birds in his property.
Rhayader was a painter but devoted most of his time to the birds who came to his home for sanctuary. Soldiers evacuated by Rhayader describe a bird circling his boat while he struggled through the choppy waves to save their lives. The bird was identified as a very rare snow goose from Canada. But tragedy struck and this good Samaritan was gunned down. His body was later found by Bill Oudener, a naval reserve officer.
Oudener was about to sail right into a big mine floating on the water when Rhayader's boat caught his attention. From the derelict, they were able to spot the mine and blew it up before it killed anyone. When they turned back to the derelict, the boat was gone. Even though Rhayader was dead, there seemed to be some mysterious connection between his death and the lucky officers. It was as if Rhayader died so that he could bring life to others. It was such an unselfish deed. Philip Rhayader and his snow goose will certainly be remembered by the people who owed their lives to him.
More info on "Snow Goose:" This story was first published in the Saturday Evening Post in Nov. 1940. It won the O. Henry prize in 1941.
For more info on the author Paul Gallico go to www.paulgallico.info/snowgoose_sep.html