S.S.Fort Stikine before the explosion










The Fort Stikine, a coal-burner, was built in `forty -two,

Managed by the Port Line with a hardy crew,

Canadian built - a liberty ship, she sailed from Birkenhead,

Joining with a convoy, to Gibraltar then Port Said.


Her discharging port was Bombay in February forty-four,

Risking many perils to reach there in the war,

Her cargo was explosives stowed within the hold,

Plus six score of ingots - each two stone of gold.


A thousand drums of oil with cotton underlaid,

Volatile munitions of highly dangerous grade,

Scrap iron too was plentiful loaded down below,

The making of a bomb then - waiting there to blow.


At her berth in Bombay with many ships about,

Fear was raised on board when someone gave a shout,

A fire took hold so quickly which rapid took a grip,

Discretion used to scarper and abandon ship.


An explosion sent her boiler five cables length away,

Many near-by vessels were sunk or scrapped that day,

Shells, gold bars and oil drums with several bits of mast,

Flaming bales of cotton hurled up with the blast.


Shanties of the local slums turned kindling at a stroke,

Three days to douse the fires underneath the smoke,

Thousands killed or wounded emanating from..

The cargo of a freighter that turned into a bomb.


 Emergency response teams needed three days to control the fire. 8,000 men took seven months to remove the 500,000 tons of debris that the SS Fort Stikine scattered when she exploded, and to repair the damage her explosion did to the docks. Official records place the death toll at 740, - 476 of whom were military personnel. 1,800 people were injured as a result of the explosion and a total of 27 vessels were sunk or damaged in the docks.

The Docks Explosion was the result of a series of mistakes and miscalculations on the part of everyone involved. The Number 2 hold of the SS Fort Stikine contained 769 tons of raw cotton, timber and scrap iron. The compartment above this contained leaking drums of oil, 124 bars of gold, and 168 tons of Category A explosives. Altogether, three of the SS Fort Stikines five holds contained a combination of highly flammable raw cotton, sensitive explosives, and fuel. Together, these would prove to be a deadly mix.



Captain F.J. “Johnnie” Walker CB, DSO, RN.

Captain F.J. “Johnnie” Walker CB, DSO, RN.

Captain F.J. “Johnnie” Walker CB, DSO, RN.


Captain Johnnie Walker of wartime history,

Rates so very highly in annals of the sea,

His personal contribution to survival of convoys,

Was demanding and immense to our merchant navy boys.


He was the brain and sinew of our escort groups,

The training and the triumph, of corvettes and the sloops,

He switched a sheppard’s role from defensive to attack,

By chasing hard the submarines prowling in a pack.


Sailing into battle with speakers blaring loud,

“A-hunting We Will Go” playing to the crowd,

Ordering his signalman to hoist `The General Chase`,

Sounding out the enemy pursuing them at pace.


Relentless were his tactics, depth-charging day and night,

Illuminating enemies to hinder fight or flight,

U-boats had a problem then - t`was hard to find a way,

To stalk their prey of merchant ships being kept at bay.


Gradually the upper hand was gained by Captain Walker,

Convincing too our bombers to stretch across the water,

Sadly though it took it`s toll in nineteen forty-four,

He died worn out with stress of work by that cruel sea war.


Remember many seamen, lost their lives throughout,

Torpedoed in the ocean and scuppered by the Kraut,

His system persevered though, and helped to clear the way,

To purge the sea of U-boats by the landings at D-day.


His life was dedicated to destruction of the foe,

To the service of his country and evil overthrow,

He was a naval hero when times were desperate grim,

Britain ruled the waves again by Captains such as him.



Admiral Lord West kindly presenting me with the Merchant navy medal.


Let’s drink to British Admirals from Nelson to Lord West,

For presiding over mariners who deserve the best,

On naval ships from anywhere, that sail out on the tide,

Now including submarines stemming from the Clyde.


They know our merchant ships, under our Red Duster,

Are paramount importance in convoys when they muster,

Protection and our freedom is always what we need,

It’s the Navy that defends it with men of special breed.


Always in the background or maybe at the fore,

There’s an Admiral accountable in peace or ghastly war,

They deal with politicians and take a bit of heat,

Liable for actions, all throughout the fleet.


From recruitment to the building of modern fighting craft,

To gunnery and weapons bristling fore and aft,

They use there great authority linked with expertise

For maintenance and vigilance on the seven seas


You know our island history - we never will be slaves,

- Not as long as Admirals help us rule the waves.



Close by our City monument along the old Welsh Back,

You will see a dedication on a double plaque,

Fixed upon the wavy seats that represent the sea,

It’s for the Unknown Seaman remembered on this quay.


He travelled over oceans but never sought the fame,

A real but faceless mariner who did not leave his name,

For the waves will hold no headstones or mark upon the deep,

And for the unknown Sailor no narrative to keep.


But here we’ll keep a welcome for each and every one,

Of those perhaps that slipped the net with details simply gone,

Rightly we encompass them whether near or far,

Joining all our Seamen now resting `cross the bar.



It was fine to sail away again when the war was ended,

Free to show the steaming lights as the law intended,

No more expecting tin- fish to explode at any time,

Or convoy station keeping, maintaining of the line.


Deadlights could be opened so air could circulate,

A smoke on deck permissible if sanctioned by the Mate,

Lifeboats in their davits, now snugly stowed inboard,

And using chipping hammers on the way abroad.


No more fear of U-boats and their wicked games,

But plenty floating mines about broken free of chains.

Flashing via an Aldis lamp with his finger tips,

The Mate could chat in Morse code openly to ships.


Wartime grey was changed to colours with some cheer,

(They took the puny guns off but left degaussing gear,)

So all was back to normal just fighting lousy weather,

And engines up to full speed going hell for leather.


It`s fine to strike the bells again marking off the time,

Not forgetting shipmates that left us in their prime,

Most are under deep sea in a sunken tomb,

As we sail into sunshine - after years of gloom.



Our lads that sailed in convoys – officers and ranks,

Deserve a special mention and our heartfelt thanks,

Most vessels were quite sound – manned by crews well trained,

Others were the opposite, most scrap and rusty stained.


These doughty merchant seamen knew their cruel fate,

When struck by cunning sea wolves lurking there in wait,

If they lived to tell the story and strived to stay afloat,

They struggled then with hardships aboard an open boat.


Still they served our country sailing there and back,

Hauling vital cargoes in times that looked so black,

A dangerous job in peacetime they continued just the same,

During war at sea my friends – through the shock and flame.


Course it was the ammo ships that were blown to smithereens,

While plodding past the periscopes of hidden submarines,

Also on the tankers - one hardly had a chance,

When spotted by the enemy re-armed out of France.


The mines were pretty lethal, lurking God knows where,

Happenchance to strike one – turmoil then and there,

The bombers stretched to reach `em had a bit of fun,

Dropping tons of dynamite against a paltry gun.


Then there was the weather, with storm and hurricanes,

Very near impossible to steer intended lanes,

Especially wild Atlantic and freezing Russian run,

Casualties horrendous `till the job was done.


There was a school of thought – to foil the U-boat ace,

Just give the Royal Air Force some extra fuel space,

In long range Liberators to patrol as ocean scout,

Instead of burning cities and knocking civvies out.


Later on this was done – though several months too late,

Condemning many cargo ships with their precious freight,

Gradually the sinkings were cut by lessons learned,

Though still appalling losses until the tide was turned.


So crucial were these convoys to the war by land and air,

There’s a mighty debt to seamen that served for us out there,

They paid the price of liberty by standing firm and fast,

And still we fly their ensign - stubborn from the mast.



The convoy steamed on its ocean ride,

A grey wolf pack, lurked astride,

Explosions then lit up the dark,

Torpedoes struck their helpless mark.


Naval escorts chased around,

Contacts made with echo sound,

Need to catch the U-boats there,

In vast and deep, hidden lair.


Fires and screams mid lowered boats,

Burning oil and carly floats,

Urgent freight will not get through,

Nor would many shipwrecked crew.


Some ships scatter on their own,

Others sinking in the foam,

Daylight comes to count the cost,

Men that died and tonnage lost.


Depth charge bombs still booming aft,

Flotsam left of burning craft,

Another night of helpless slaughter,

Of brave seamen on the water.


This the way they fought their war,

Reluctant heroes at the fore,

Six long years they sailed and bled,

Under ensigns - white and red.



In bloom of life they sailed away,

At sea along with peers,

They kept the lifelines flowing,

Amid the U-Boat fears.


There they lost their shipmates,

That never did grow old,

Though veterans remember,

As advancing years unfold.


They saw the perils of the deep,

The best and worst in men,

Grieving with compatriots,

In the war back then.


Now these reluctant heroes,

For them no grave the deep,

Progressively they cross the bar,

A rendezvous to keep



A Tanker on fire after being torpedoed.


Rolling home in convoys five miles wide or more,

Our hardy merchant seamen await the night in store,

A crawling speed of eight knots from Halifax to home,

Escorts interweaving, darting though the foam.


The wolf pack will be lurking, waiting in advance,

To shoot a damn torpedo when they have a chance,

These men that run the gauntlet are wary all the time,

Hoping that their own ships avoid the firing line.


Keen to get the cargo through but sitting like a duck,

Trusting to the Navy boys and large amounts of luck,

Fearing of forsaken ships and fires that light the sky

Foretelling of the danger as fine men sink and die.


Counter measures not so good against the U-boat`s tricks,

Resulting in foul carnage and spreading oily slicks,

Staunchly sailing on, through the weeks of dread,

Keeping lifelines open while flying flags of red.


Some steaming back to Liverpool and also to the Clyde

Freighters bound for Barry and Avonmouth`s big tide

Tankers make for jetties all around our shores,

With extra miles zigzagging making wide detours.


Still they run the risk, of colliding with a mine,

Or bombing from a Kondor patrolling over brine,

Plus the usual hazards known to all seadogs,

Hurricanes and storms or blinding ghostly fogs.


When and if they sail through, after trips of trial,

Seamen don a brave face with grim or cheery smile,

They’ll endure the war, `till victory bell are rung,

Then carry on seafaring - bravery unsung.







They’re known as `Purton Hulks` though some of them are gone,

On the river Severn, remains are stretched along,

A strip of grassy land between two waterways,

The graveyard of old vessels, beached in former days.


One hundred years ago on a dark and stormy night,

Canal and river banks were breached by the nature’s might,

A call went out to plug the gaps so boats were duly beached,

Fighting back erosion till victory was reached.


Then it was a shingle shore but with passing of the years,

Eighty more old craft were used allaying local fears,

Holes were bored in several hulls so they filled up with spoil,

Gradually the bank enlarged by richness of the soil.


Fifteen cables long this bank, with many ships held fast,

An eerie grave of dinosaurs from our shipping past,

They fell pray to scavengers that hauled the bones of wood,

Stealing phosphor bronze and decks where seamen stood.


Bleached and brittle timbers are poking from the silt,

Lighters and some barges buried to the hilt,

Many more are visible but sinking every day,

Schooners and the others rotting where they lay.


There is the`Kathleen Ellen` once a gun boat runner,

Concrete rafts from early times before the D- Day summer,

A Kennet barge named `Harriet` her name still on her bows,

And the `Severn Collier` one of the latest trows.


They are among the vessels on top or just below,

The most valuable selection of craft we used to know,

A world wide rare collection is sinking in the ground,

And similar examples now hardly ever found.


Perhaps we can’t preserve them but protection is a must,

By developing a strategy through a kind of trust,

If it stops the vandals and keeps them out at last,

It will aid our social history of ships here unsurpassed.


After this narrow strip of land between the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and the Severn estuary had threatened to give way, the canal company used old boats to strengthen the bank.

What were once abandoned hulks are now important pieces of waterway history.



On one long edge of grassy bank, the canal lays full and still,

The river swirls on `tother side with certain back and fill,

Strewn about like skeletons only half interred,

Are ghostly hulks of vessels, mostly undisturbed.


All the small ships mentioned with fond poetic glow,

Were beached along this Severn stretch many years ago,

The steel barge River Falconnear a former bridge,

And Tirley fully buried, beneath a muddy ridge.


A section of the Jonadab poking out of spoil,

Components of the Higre most buried in the soil,

The fore deck of the Edith showing up in turn,

The name of Severn Collier remaining on her stern.


Cross bracing of the New Dispatchwith evidence of fire,

The transom of the Harriett resting in the mire,

The haunted Britton Ferry with stern post pointing out,

Timbers left of Monarch mouldering there throughout.


There is the wooden Abbey where sodden turf is growing,

Gunwale of the Adaher iron knees still showing,

The Shamrock and Conveyer not a step too far,

From the bow of Rockby and the lighter J&AR.


Stern part of the Petrus a workhorse of her time,

Bow and stern of Huntley and Dursleythere in line,

Newark and Britannia are making up the ranks,

Marriett and Voltaic are elsewhere on the banks.


Remnants of the Orby once the Island Maid,

Cemented hulls of F.C.B`s from the river trade,

The Irish Kathleen Ellen - of gun and smuggling fame,

Embedded deep with ketches and Selina Jane.


There is Envoy and the Painswick with the Mary Anne,

Iron rings and fairleads through where the moorings ran,

The portside of the Barry protruding through the grass,

And the schooner Sally where vandals nicked the brass.


Eighty one the number catalogued so far,

Some names of them forgotten since they crossed the bar,

A graveyard then of mystery and maritime old bones,

Ensconced within a river bank of mounting mud and stones.



John & Me


(My Brother John speaking)

I`m an old shellback - pushing seventy three,

Living in the Midlands far from the nearest sea,

The oceans that I sailed on seemed a long long way to go,

`Till I was paid a visit by younger brother Joe.


We drank some wine and whisky - all day we swung the lamp,

Talked of spells when young and bold of coasters and the tramp,

The time we lost the lifeboats when going to Baltimore,

Fog and icebergs on the Banks, the marvellous things we saw.


The South American Saint Line down the River Plate,

Loading coal at Durban with a now dead drinking mate,

Recalling months on tankers up the Gulf to Aberdan,

The temperature was bloody hot `an we didn’t have a fan.


Runs around the ` Medi` and the liner trips,

Torrid coasts round Africa - all those merchant ships,

The shifting of the cargo at Georgetown’s river mouth,

Then sugar from Havana to Formosa in the South.


The `maid in Copenhagen -`an men that gave their all,

Ashore there in Cape Breton - it’s reversing waterfall,

Long voyage from Australia loaded down with grain,

Fighting off the elements and awesome hurricane.


We spoke of many ladies that came within our spell,

(And the one that foxed us, at the Prince of Wales Hotel)

All the bars around the world, where we slaked our thirst,

Especially East of Suez where the best is like the worst.


Hauling back those youthful years - in nostalgia`s wallow,

Destiny was then - not now, I have old age to follow -

Made me feel alive again - brought back my life at sea,

Commending all the years we spent, hard but roaming free.


I dreamt I`d go to Hull again and find a ship to sail,

Wander down to Postengate - discharge book on the rail,

Alas I woke to memories, it’s impossible to go,

Just spellbound by that visit - from my younger brother Joe.




Forgotten on a slipway at Irvine near the Clyde,

Lays a legend of a sailing ship, her timbers grey and dried,

Older than the Cutty Sark she’ll soon be lost forever,

Unless there is the funding with pretty strong endeavour.


She’s a clipper from the early days of perfect ship design,

That voyaged to Australia and set a record time,

Under first class seamanship, by the Captain’s hand,

She carried out the emigrants who stocked that pleasant land.


One quarter million people in those Southern spheres,

Can trace their roots to passages in those early years,

Aboard this marvellous clipper, their forebears travelled out,

Through the Roaring Forties sailing East about.


Built in 'sixty four, by a man named William Pile,

Launching her from Sunderland in the British Isle,

Then twenty three long voyages returning round the Horn,

Driven by the fickle wind and seamen’s hearty brawn.


Composite of iron frame with hardy elm and oak,

Cabins for the colonists, special and bespoke,

In the name of preservation and history maritime,

It’s worthy of a mention if only here in a rhyme.


Sadly now she’s overlooked, an icon of the past,

Crying out for refit and rigging of her masts,

She could be overhauled again to remind us of the time,

When brave descendants ventured out and she was in her prime.


Our Chairman -
Derick Tedder


There are no flowers on a sailor’s tomb,

No welcome home from Flatholm`s loom,

Remember those in Neptune’s deep,

On granite symbol for souls asleep.


Hailed in monument on Welsh Back,

Under trees by a harbour track,

To our valiant dead this tribute stands,

-Atop the mast, their ensign fans.


In becalmed and safe repose,

Revere this rock on a compass rose,

Let our Mariners find a lee,

Lest we forget - on a Bristol Quay.



He was getting old and grisly and his hair was falling fast,

And he'd often tell his grandchildren stories of the past,

Of the ships that he had sailed in and the deeds that he had done,

With adventures with his shipmates - sailors every one.


Though sometimes to his family his tales became a joke,

But the mariners that listened knew whereof he spoke,

But we'll hear his tales no longer for Jack has passed away,

And the worlds a little poorer - for a sailor died today.


He was often rough and ready and a tendency to swear,

And he wasn't always fussy in the things he used to wear,

Perhaps he liked a drink too much but wasn't one to worry,

Another thing he did enjoy was a red hot Indian curry.


His memory sometimes failed him but he could get along,

When singing a bit of shanty or some other ribald song,

We will hear his verse no longer for Jack has passed away,

But his friends will miss him, they're in mourning from today.


He had seen the best in men by virtue of his trade,

And sometimes seen the worst - but called a spade a spade,

Tolerant he learned to be, because he understood,

People are just human - they are not made of wood.


You would find him in the pub - that was nothing new,

Born from years of socialising with a gallant crew,

All his life he toiled on ships - he never worked ashore,

And still an honest citizen he rarely broke the law.


Now he's heard last orders and death has drained his glass,

His life was full and no regrets `till evermore to pass.,

So when it comes to crying - do not be very sad,

An old man passed away today - a sailor since a lad.




The Pearly gates are open wide - there the Captain stands,

Ticking off a lengthy roll at the passing of all hands,

He does not look for plaster saints or someone he has missed,

He’s searching for brave mariners further down the list.


Life at sea was fraught enough before the war began,

Though ships routine was normal and fair to every man,

Then the conflict started - the Hell began and how -

Peace was really shattered when a mine blew off the bow.


They carried vital cargoes for us to fight the foe,

Across the rolling oceans transporting to and fro,

It wasn’t quite so placid when a Junker`s bombed the deck,

Or jumping in the briny with a life belt round the neck.


They also sailed on `buckets` - in tramps that’s most corrosion,

What was worse and more diverse was suffering from explosion,

They could man up any craft from liners to a barque,

But scrambled to a life raft when torpedoes found their mark.


In convoys or alone - where defence was mighty thin,

They were striving for survival when the plates were crumpled in,

Seamen knew the hazards like storms and drifting fog,

But not a German raider with a shellfire monologue.


When they entered Heaven the Master made his marks,

By the names of Merchantmen who shared the sea with sharks,

He did not query good or bad - amiss or mainly sober

But praised them for the lives they gave, `ere the war was over.


When you see the albatross patrol the Southern climes,

It`s said they bear the sailor souls of those heroic times,

Flying free and happily where no one shoots `em down,

Soaring to eternity - nevermore to drown.



Launched in eighteen ninety the Robin’s fine design,
Made this old steam coaster a classic of her time,
She rolled and navigated, around our coast for years,
Driven by her engines and doughty engineers.

Replacing brigs and schooners she plied her salty trade,
Four hundred tons or more on a voyage made,
China clay or pit props perhaps a load of grain,
Railway lines or barrels she hauled `em just the same.

Later sold to Spaniards and then renamed Maria,
To roam the Bay of Biscay during her career,
She bunkered coal for liners, carried iron to France,
Dodging foe in wartime taking then her chance.


She was not big or glamorous but defied the odds,
Guided by her steering gear made of chain and rods,
Her end was very near, by scrap or fatal rust,
But luckily retrieved by an honest trust.

Now preserved in London moored up in the docks,
Serving as a gallery for promotions and workshops,
A triumph for our heritage especially maritime,
For she floats again as the Robin – and flies the red ensign.




The Time has come the British said to back up our demand,

Travel to the Falkland Isles and then reclaim our land,

Maritime logistics and forces set in motion,

Took the war eight thousand miles across the mighty ocean.


Invincibleand Hermes were the aircraft carriers,

Protected by our warships - and a couple of dozen Harriers,

Troops were sent on Canberra and the QE 2,

Fuel and stores on merchantmen where the duster flew.


Admiral Sandy Woodward and Sea Lord Henry Leach,

Commanded this armada and landings on the beach,

Below the waves our submarines watching all the way,

Sinking one big cruiser, then kept the rest at bay.


The `Junta` sent the Exocet and Super Etendard,

Skyhawks and the Daggers were held in high regard,

Battles that were fought where the Argies made a stand,

Varied from the bombing, to fighting hand to hand.


The army did the yomping when their transport sadly sunk,

When Cunard`s Conveyor, was hit and turned to junk,

Commandos and the Paras, went the extra mile,

Over barren countryside steadfast all the while.


Avro Vulcanbombers served us very proud,

Winging back from Stanley after strafing through the cloud,

A record set in history for the longest bombing flight,

Proved a masterpiece of flying, through the day and night.


Galtieri showed his arrogance and made a bad mistake,

Thinking that old England would its land forsake,

We lost a lot of brave men, some aeroplanes and ships,

Fully laden landing craft suffered dreadful hits.


But the Air force and the Navy, Army and Marine,

Carried out their duty to Country and the Queen,

And the Merchant Navy, under our red duster,

Special - indispensable when armadas have to muster.


Again reluctant heroes when the nation needs to fight,

Our sturdy unsung mariners showed their worth alright,

So raise a glass to Stanley where once a white rag flew,

And all the ships that sailed there with a hearty crew.


Vital Need for Merchant Ships - Up to the surrender in mid-June, 40 merchantmen totalling over 500,000 grt reached the South Atlantic. Without them, the war would not have been won as the Royal Fleet Auxiliary lacked the ships to transport the land forces and then support them and the warships 8,000 miles from home.



(Bristol Steam Navigation Co. Ltd)

I was Mate aboard the `Milo`, sailing out the Bay,

From Swansea to old Amsterdam in the usual way,

Pounding in the head sea, with Land`s End far ahead,

Laden down with cargo - twelve hundred tons of lead.


Making heavy headway, Sou`West is the course,

In rising swell and winter wind, blowing near storm force,

I can sense the hog and sag, fit to break her back,

Lightning `tween the squalls `an sporadic thunder clap.


Everything vibrating, she shudders with the shock,

(Hope the bolts are holding, round the engine block),

There’s salt upon the funnel, now as white as snow,

Propeller shaft a`racing and a shambles down below.


Quite normal on a coaster, so plotting closer now,

Toward the Cornish Lighthouse two points on the bow.

“Ready now my shell backs your wages soon will earn,

Another half an hour or so, we’re primed to make a turn”.


The cargo`s safe and staying put as violently we roll,

(Far worse than normal cargo, like the bulky coal),

Aching body weary now at the break of day,

With quarter seas a`heaving - she’s steering like a dray.


Now we have the Longships, way abaft the beam,

Looking for the Lizard Point, soon it will be seen,

Jammed against the telegraph supping mugs of soup,

Jarring all my bones up as she takes one on the poop.


Longing for an hours kip, no dozing off between..…

My watch below but standing by while shipping seas of green.

`Roll and go, pitch and stop`, is what all seamen say,

That’s a fact as heading East we`re shooting past Mount`s Bay.


Easing up the Channel averting other craft,

The lads are cleaning up a bit in the galley aft.

The engines will be nurtured, after rack and strain,

For bearing us to other ports - or take us home again.


Steaming past the Goodwin Sands, Dover’s out of sight,

We’ll have a crack in Amsterdam and take a drink tonight,

I often think of runs like this in my old age dreams,

My young days on the Milo - one of Bristol Steam’s .



A Liberty Ship


Thompson built a welded ship up at Sunderland,

Ten thousand tons she carried, and structure simply planned,

When the U-boat war broke out we had to hold the line,

But cargo ships were sinking in that horrendous time.


So using modern methods he mass produced some more,

`Empire`was the prefix of every name they bore,

There was the Empire Ranger, and the Empire Deer,

Among the names of many, launched there on the Wear.


She was called an ugly duckling dressed in wartime grey,

Holds were four in number and flush decks all the way,

Eleven knots her foremost speed, armed with basic guns,

But crucial to our lifeline on dangerous convoy runs.


Copied by our Allies they built `em in the States,

And named them after heroes - of the nation’s `greats`,

Like the William Hooper, Dan Boone or Joseph Meek,

Delivered from the shipyards, several every week.


They built them too in Canada but named them after `Parks`,

Canadians that manned them, trained and then embarked,

Mount Pleasant Parkand Jasper Park sadly met their fate,

Shattered by the enemy while steaming with their freight.


British crews that joined them, had a different name,

Sailing in the `Fort` boats constructed just the same,

Fort Bedfordand Fort Brandon just two of plenty more,

That carried precious cargoes from shore to distant shore.


Later on the `Victory` ships came onto the scene,

Longer and much faster and broader in the beam,

They called them after cities like the Bedford Victory,

All crewed by unsung heroes that fought the war at sea.


The President had told the country that these ships would bring liberty to Europe.

From then on, they were known as 'Liberty` Ships.

It was said during the war that if a Liberty Ship delivered its cargo but once, it paid for itself.

Approximately 2,742 liberty ships were built and 200 of them were sunk.



I will tell you of a story that is waiting to be told,

A yarn about a graveyard for mariners of old,

Placed in San Francisco lost to one and all,

Behind abandoned buildings with graffiti on the wall.


In a little valley, ringed around with trees,

By an old presidio that crumbled to it’s knees,

A Merchant Navy hospital long ago once stood,

With a cemetery well hidden and gravestones made of wood.


The place was just abandoned and left there to its fate,

Marked faintly on the map as `landfill number eight`,

A parking lot on one corner making lots of cover,

A tennis court, spread across making up another.


An archaeologist interested poking with a hoe,

Discovered under weeds, headstones in a row,

Excavations from a missile site had covered up the place,

With many feet of debris adding to disgrace.


Probing ever further they found this eerie plot,

Six hundred graves of seamen - and more, as like as not,

These crew men of sailing ships entered Frisco bay,

Hard labour and T.B meant they never sailed away.


Many died when they were young as old records show,

The latest men interred there ninety years ago,

All were merchant mariners but no one seemed to care,

Several plots were unmarked and rubbish dumped on there.


A suitable memorable will be placed upon the site,

Explaining to the public the pauper seamen’s plight,

They will not be exhumed - powers that be have said,

There they will remain in the Fox`le of the Dead.



The Bosun’s legs were damaged, swollen black and blue,

Chief Steward quite bewildered not sure what to do,

Consulting then the Captain they studied up the guide,

(A special one for Master’s to take advice inside).


This Captain’s Medical Guide covers all the ills,

Tho’ instructions are ambiguous for serving drugs and pills,

There’s cures for mental illness, scalds and having babies,

Plus fevers, burns, athlete’s foot, drugs, alcohol and rabies.


The Captain was quite practised, his duty wouldn’t shun,

Reckoned he had it cracked it, knew what must be done,

They had sailed from Argentina the weather hot and red,

Said the right thing for the Bo’sun was cool him in his bed.


Stack his legs with frozen cubes, were orders to his crew,

All hands mostly happy now, knowing what to do,

The Chippy made a special box to fit this man precise,

Shoved the Bo’sun’s limbs in, then filled it up with ice.


The Chief worked hard with spanners to keep the fridges purring,

Night and day maintained away – to make the frost occurring,

Steaming through the tropics they looked after him with pride,

Chilling down the Bos'un on his scorching ocean ride.


He lay there in a stupor as he followed this routine,

Of frequent shots of rum while piling ice between,

They finally reached Cape Verde and put the man ashore,

Bunkered then with booze and fuel, sailed again once more.


Most mariners are hardy – go through life with ease,

Not troubled much with ailments or tropical disease,

Till the ship received a cable saying “ Bad news I’m afraid,

Your man expired of frostbite……… when ninety in the shade”.




On Poppy day our Merchant men `turned to` at the square,

Along with other forces, that also gathered there,

To honour all the fallen ones that lay `neath ground or sea,

Specially the sailors and some well known to me.


We`d dusted down our blazers an` polished up our boots,

Then we steamed through Bristol - to the bugle`s toots,

This then made us thirsty so we steered towards the pub,

It wasn’t very far away, `an it also held the grub.

After the Parade.


The King Billy was the venue - the very place to meet,

After tramping round the Centre - to the drummer`s beat.

The ladies hove to first you know, they were at the fore,

So when the landlord opened up - they were stemming by the door.


We ordered up a pint or two and spoke of when we marched,

Then we sunk another one - `cus most of us were parched.

The Sunday lunch was served to us, after climbing up the stairs,

Preceded by the red and white - the bottles came in pairs.

After the Parade.


We sported all our medals, especially worn today,

Its great to see them shine like that - for the M.N.A.

There is many more I have not seen - this I do regret -

What can you do with men like these? - they haven't claimed `em yet.


A toast was drunk to absent friends - not without emotion,

And all the wives and family too, remembered with devotion,

This is why, with head held high, we convoyed mighty proud,

Not one of us - with lump in throat, denied the loyal crowd.

After the Parade.


Amusing yarns were heard by all, and the speeches met by cheers,

During this Remembrance day, while dining with our peers,

Veterans are a special breed - they don`t need perdition,

So we’ll go round the buoy again, and continue the tradition.


Life is delight in simple things and we owe it to our friends,

True laughter has no bitter springs so we take it to the ends.

But when you view it sideways wer`e not just here to drink.

One reason that we marched today - was to make the nation think.!

After the parade



Many shore-side people when they hear `abandon ship`,

Think perhaps it’s easy, an exciting fun day trip,

Just ambling down the gangway and stepping in a boat,

But my friend believe me - the chance of that’s remote.


Especially in the wartime with sinkings every day,

With very fraught conditions in each and every way,

Any time, throughout sunshine, or night `till dusky dawn,

With no choice of the weather, in calm to violent storm,


Your ship becomes a victim, so thoughts run through your head,

Shall I find my shipmates, are they maimed or dead?.

Better grab my cigarettes - wrap `em water tight,

Is the enemy still waiting to kill us all for spite?.


Should I try to put the fire out, that’s blazing on the deck,

Am I wasting time, if the ship’s a total wreck,

Shall I jump overboard, and swim beneath the oil,

Before I’m blown asunder and depart this mortal coil?.


I may not hear `abandon ship` or any firm dismissal,

If there is a smashed up bridge or no steam on the whistle,

Where the Hell`s my lifejacket ? - that I mustn’t spurn,

The vessel now is listing and sinking by the stern.


It reminds me of the trenches when rivets fly nearby,

Or in amongst the blitz when bombs drop from the sky,

If you escape from that, you may just walk away,

But it is a little different with an ocean to survey.


If you’re not incinerated, blind and choked by fuel,

Attacked by barracuda or drowned in sea so cruel,

Suffer thirst or sunstroke, or madness from despair,

Run down or crushed by `rescuers` - then all you have is prayer.


Hauled into a lifeboat - escaping from the flame,

OK lads get pulling - which way’s the shipping lane?,

A thousand miles from nowhere - did a mayday call go off,

Is that a lurking U-boat, spied in a leeward trough?.


Three weeks it was we rowed across, the lurching heaving seas,

In spite of constant bailing with salt water to our knees,

Subsisting on bare rations and tins of marmalade,

Six of us survived that trip, the memory does not fade.


However I was lucky, restored to my life of bliss,.

Thought I`d speak to Joe, he could write it down - like this!.


(Swinging the lamp one night - the above observations were noted).



Cory’s have a fleet of tugs, their funnels gleaming red,

They tow all kinds of craft about, and sometimes push instead,

There’s Z - pellers and tractors - single screw as well,

Its cool to watch them `bone in mouth ` steaming through the swell.

When ready there and waiting to aid all kinds of ships ,

We carry out our maintenance when they’re just radar blips,

Standing by to do our job - with mobile phone and bleepers,

Stemming there with pent-up power, to tow those ocean creepers.

Sometimes we go a long way, oft times its just a dap,

Every job is different and we can handle that,

`Cause we ply our trade at night or day, where the hungry seagulls fuss,

All weathers too, especially wind, when the worried Captains cuss,

Underneath the bows we go - where things may get so dicey

Oh how we yearn for a modern tug, ( but Cory’s say they’re pricey)

Get on with it and pass a line, we cannot blame our tools,

A foreign crew, its our hard luck - they don’t know the rules.

A puff of smoke a bit of weight, we bend `em round the pier.

“Nice Job” the Pilot says, as we retrieve our gear.

Rack `em, pack `em, and stack `em, this is what we say ,

Leave it up to Cory’s men - the tugs are on the way.




On Battery Point at Portishead theres a slab of Portland stone,

Its there in dedication - standing proud alone,

To seamen of the west country who sailed here close to shore,

On voyages of history in times of peace and war.


These sterling men of England cast off from local quays,

Roved to far flung countries across the seven seas,

Outward bound they passed this spot over sands of time,

Battened down, Bristol style, vessels in their prime.


They went to join the convoys with danger at the fore,

Or missions of discovery when sent out to explore,

Flew the old red ensign wherever they were going,

Kept our lifelines open and the commerce flowing.


Whatever type of venture saw them far from home,

They had to deal with elements across the mighty foam,

Hail now to our mariners going west across the Bay,

The Portland stone awaits - on your return one day.





Manure was carried by sea my friend, many years ago,

Mostly dried and stowed in sacks in the hold below,

Often times in those days the ships did spring a leak,

Wetting fertiliser and causing such a reek.


Then began a problem - for it turned to methane gas

A single spark or candle flame, and up she went - alas,

Lessons then were learnt - so the stuff was stowed up high

Crucial now, important, to keep the cargo dry.


Marked upon the manifest and on the bags were writ,

`Ship High In Transit` - true origin my friend,

Of the word we know as ****




Bob Bromley sailed the savage seas all throughout the war,

Suffered fraught conditions and told me what he saw,

His first ship was a tanker - the M.V.James Maguire,

From which he saw the Jervis Bay and San Demetrio on fire.


Fired upon quite ruthlessly by the raider Admiral Scheer,

Totting up huge losses in that nineteen forty year,

He served aboard the Robert Hands then the Empire Oil,

`Till torpedoed in the engine room and sunk amid turmoil.


A victim of a U-boat and her noxious ploy

Bob made it to a lifeboat `till rescued by St Croix,

(She was a Canadian warship - took him to St John,

This Destroyer reaching there - September forty one).


(It was the gallant Ottawa plucked more men from the sea

Bob’s crew mates were injured but there was no guarantee.…

So grateful to be picked up, on that fated trip,

Only then be sunk again when a tin fish struck the ship).


Housed in a wooden building, the windows clad by wire,

It looked a certain death trap if overrun by fire,

(Very soon it was - killed three fifty men,

There is a special monument erected there to them).


Then passage on a steamer, a ship named Caribou,

Running down the East coast with all her lights on view,

Bob was apprehensive by this heedless glow,

With six hundred passengers packed there tight below.


Again our Bob was lucky - made Halifax all right,

But the Caribou weeks later was blown to Hell at night,

With heavy loss of life, many children drowned as well,

Mostly wives and family, of service personnel.


Bob then crossed the Rockies - a five day train ordeal,

Until he reached Vancouver and signed aboard Fort Steel,

In due course arriving home until the next convoy,

Then went and joined another ship the S.S. Iroquois.


Two years on the Harper sailing round the world,

A brief spell on the Waldon Hill as Bob’s young life unfurled,

`Till at last the Chesapeake in October forty five,

Paying off in forty six our Bob remained alive.


It’s a privilege to know old Bob and count him as a friend,

A dauntless British Seaman - who stayed there `till the end.

 Aug. 2001