At the outbreak of the Second World War, John Pudney joined the Royal Air Force as an Intelligence Officer. He later became a member of the RAF’s Creative Writers Unit, in which novelists and poets used their literary skills to aid the war effort. ‘For Johnny’, Pudney’s short poem about a pilot killed in action, caught the imagination of a nation grateful to its courageous young fighter-pilots and won instant acclaim. Laurence Olivier read it on the wireless and Michael Redgrave recited it in the popular and critically-acclaimed 1945 war film The Way to the Stars.
Pudney is, however, a more complex and wider-ranging poet than this one poem suggests, with a long career stretching well beyond his wartime experiences. Reviewing Pudney’s 1974 Selected Poems in Ambit, Martin Bax wrote: ‘his strengths remain: a sense of time which his age entitles him to, a sense of place, mainly London, together with his own personal romanticism, keep Pudney writing interesting poems when younger poets have dropped by the wayside.’
This new selection of Pudney’s poems edited by John Howlett includes a short memoir by his daughter, Charlotte Moore, and a Foreword by his grandson, Toby Perkins MP.