In 42 part through the war where the longest battle played,

Our lifeline cross the Ocean in crucial balance swayed,

Nine thousand men, five million tons, never made it home,

This appalling tally, in that twelve months alone.


There was no place to hide in a floating steel abode,

The Hun had found and cracked it our secret Navy code,

They lay across our bow they knew whereof our route,

Loaded up with tin fish waiting there to shoot.


An order spoke from Hitler to Dönitz and his crew,

Sink the ships and lifeboats kill survivors too,

These infernal words, to his U boats went

Rescue none leave none afloat the ghastly message sent.


Dauntless merchant seamen, sailed and scorned their fear,

For weeks on end the persevered, vicious death was near,

Slow and easy targets for the Kriegsmarine,

Launching their torpedoes in day and night routine.


These lethal hungry wolf packs, lurking out of sight,

Delivered mortal damage in this underhanded fight,

Convoys crossed the black pit beyond the reach of planes,

Contending with the enemy and awesome hurricanes.


Our mariners endured steaming through Hells gate,

Powerless and helpless, to know their own ships fate,

Difficult and dangerous, also poorly paid,

With stubborn sense of purpose they carried on their trade.


In 43, eventually, the tide was slowly turned,

Brave escorts grew formidable with tactic lessons learned,

Aircraft stretched from Iceland flying to the hilt,

Long range Liberators with radar newly built.


Canadians and Yanks, toiled to aid us through,

Supporting our red duster and turning of the screw,

All we have of freedom that we use or know,

Seamen helped to bring it, many years ago.



The Liver Building from the River Mersey.


Youve heard of Para Handy and his Puffer - Vital Spark,

Of course you know of Noah and the grounding of his Ark,

All vessels have a life and time - with natural will and ways.

Rolling and a`pitching when steaming through the waves.


You may ask the veterans in Liverpools fair city,

Gathered here in final year - to a bands last ditty,

Time has gone but memories long while shell-backs are alive,

Theyll speak of ships on danger trips that helped them to survive.


Some craft faced mortality in Western Oceans roar,

Waiting death from U-boats in that cruel and mighty war,

`Till the deadly tin-fish, met them on the flanks,

Of liners and the escorts, the tankers and the tramps.


Some torpedoed in their prime, plates all ripped and tearing,

Other ones grew old and carried on seafaring,

They died a death or lived a life, maybe badly mauled,

Flying our Red Duster where ever duty called.


From the wallowing rusty bucket to the liner up ahead,

Someone somewhere loved `em with grieving eyes so red,

We do remember those ships that steamed along in lines,

They saved our land when needed, in dire and desperate times.


After sterling service and life thats very hard,

Her decks and loosened rivets met the breakers yard,

They weathered all the storms - now just cast aside,

But like the men that manned `em, bless `em all with pride.


There is no stone on a ships big tomb

Just names marked down in the Admirals room

Their only cross on a chart prostrate,

A pencilled fix to point their fate.



I have sailed on mighty oceans and many a dangerous bay,

With Davy Jones a calling, inviting me to stay,

I thought then of his locker and contents of his deck,

Countless ships throughout the years sunk or made a wreck.


Fishing boats and tankers, missing submarines,

Once overloaded ferries and ancient quinquiremes,

Warships and the liners, planes without their floats,

Kon Tiki rafts and whalers and fancy motor boats.


Vessels deeply laden that never reached their goal,

Strewn across the murky wastes with ghostly silent soul,
The mast and yards of sailing ships pointing stiff and stark,

No use now to anyone, static in the dark.


Golden coins and cannonades, part of pirates` treasure,

Baubles from a Spanish chest sunken there forever,

Untold tombs of mariners and those that took a dip,

And many rusty anchors from craft that had to slip.


Cannon balls, gun barrels, bells made out of brass,

Dinner plates of sailors and portholes` rounded glass,

Wood has rotted slowly in places that we know,

Barnacles encrusting on iron there below.


The fishes keep them company, the massive whale and shark,

Giant squid and serpents, lurking in the dark,

I thought I’d turn his offer down – that Davy made to me,

Endeavour now to keep afloat – on Neptune’s fickle sea.




Picture yourself in a convoy on a wild September day,

Astern of a ship named Tregenna – just three cables away,

She’s steaming along at eight knots, with a cargo of steel in the hold,

Pitching heavy in head seas, into the spray and the cold.


When all of a sudden a U-boat dodging the escort screen,

Fired a salvo of tinfish, tracking through fast… unseen,

This lethal spread of torpedoes became Tregenna`s death knell,

Just as her bow descended, headlong into the swell.


It was a fatal plunge that the ship was in,

Breached below her deck-line, through the plates so thin,

Her freight stowed heavy and low, beneath an empty space,

Quickly led to foundering, when water took its place.


The ocean rushed in so quickly, leaving no time to prepare,

She dived on her nose and kept going, stern shot high in the air,

The watch on the bridge jumped clear, perchance or not to drown,

Only four abandoned her - as the ship went down.


Now you have the story when in the vessel astern,

Two minutes it took to reach there, horrified to learn,

There was no sign of Tregenna - just Atlantic waves,

Thirty three men within her, bound to deep sea graves.


Sinkings were so frequent on a convoy’s run,

But our merchant seamen still defied the Hun,

One reason why our monument stands there to remember,

Is for the likes of these men, who died here that September.



The Tregenna sailed from Halifax in convoy HX71 on 5th. September 1940.

On September 17th. The U-65 fired the torpedoes that struck the Tregenna just as the ship pitched forward. She did not recover and stood vertically, briefly, before sinking. She was 413ft. long carrying 8,500 tons of steel

This catastrophe was observed by men of the Filleigh who were in station less than two minutes travelling time directly astern of Tregenna.

According to the 2nd. Mate, she had sunk in less than forty seconds.

There were four survivors.







`Twas in the Indian Ocean in nineteen twenty-three,
The Trevessa perished by the head in a raging sea,
Loaded in Port Pirie her cargo heavy zinc,
Bound in time for Antwerp until about to sink,
The heaving seas were flooding in, the vessel taking water,
In the hold, the concentrates like wet cement or mortar,
Pumps there could not handle it, as bilges could not drain,
Engineers tried everything but toiled and fought in vain.

Abandoning Trevessa in the early hours of morn,
Shocked by her quick foundering soon after in the storm,
Embarking in two lifeboats the crew of forty-four,
Commenced upon their voyages of epic ocean lore,
The wooden craft were clinker built, eight foot beam and strong,
A single mast with lugsail and twenty-six feet long,
The Mate in charge of one boat cast off to sail and row,
Westward to Mauritius - two thousand miles to go.

The Old Man took the other one to find Rodriguez Isle,
Mostly in good spirits in Merchant navy style,
They tried to sail together but after six rough days,
The Mate’s boat proved the slower so went their separate ways,
Keeping up the headway, they pulled at times with oars,
Ignoring painful sunburn and agonising sores,
They lived on basic rations, doled out with discipline,
Plus cigarettes with matches and baccy in a tin.

The seventeenth day in the Old Man`s boat saw two men pass away,
Nine succumbed in the other one by exposure cold and spray,
Though four of them delirious carried out self-slaughter,
By ignoring well known orders and drinking of salt water,
Captain Cecil Foster had braved the first World War,
Knew how to stock the lifeboats as he’d been sunk before,
Stowing extra water and tins of milk condensed,
Along with hard ship’s biscuits carefully dispensed.

Experience and foresight served them very well,
He’d saved the lives of many with now a tale to tell,
Of surviving heavy seas, trying to steer a course,
Through extremes of weather and latitudes of Horse,
Days then weeks were counted, declining all the while,
`Till navigating coral reefs off Rodriguez Isle,
Mauritius bound, the Mate’s crew, later made landfall,
Carried then ashore - for they could not walk at all.

The zinc concentrates were loaded in the form of a kind of slime which water could not percolate. The sounding rod could not detect water in the holds nor could the bilge pumps reach it. Engineers started to cut off the heads of the rivets in the collision bulkhead to allow the water to escape into the forepeak where the pumps could reach it. However, the bulkhead began to bulge and crack and they were forced to give up the attempt



There was a young apprentice among Trevessa`s crew,

He carried off the Duster from where the ensign flew,

For when his ship was sinking he abandoned with the rest,

And wore it in the lifeboat clutched around his chest.


It was a proud convention to fly it from the mast,

Now it helped preserve him until ashore at last,

His name was Arthur Phillips, he came from Barry Town,

Brave to save the colours, before his ship went down.


Not only is it bunting signalled from the yard.

But the emblem of our seamen held in high regard,

Round the world exalted through the shot and shell,

That’s why it went with Arthur in his boat as well.




Sail on my friends, in convoy`s keep,

Leave me here in the deep to sleep,

I watch you go mid`st bubbling wake,

You will not stop – too much at stake.


Sail on old friends, my ship`s gone down,

It won`t be long before I drown,

Tell my loved ones – all that knew me,

Torpedo`s target – lost at sea.


Sail on my friends, you may survive,

Our vital cargoes must arrive,

Take a drink if you reach port,

Remember me – give us a thought.


Steam on young seamen – go full speed,

Our Country`s at it`s greatest need,

I give my life for others bread,

Farewell mates – now I`m dead.




As I was resting on my bunk

Thoughts of last night - ships were sunk -

Were of this convoy steaming East,

And the wolf packs frenzied feast.


Our ship, I ponder, my turn next?

Cannot slumber - mind so vexed,

Ten more days will see us through -

But will the U-boats strike anew?


Orphaned children - wives bereft

As vessels founder - flotsam left,

Will I greet my shipmates - safe ashore,

Or be lost for ever more?


Just any time it seems to be,

Torpedoes dart across the sea,

Will they strike the engine room

Or in the hold with a massive boom?.


Whether killed in one fell swoop

Or linger dying on the poop,

I’m thinking of my dear old mum,

Grieving for her youngest son.


Would I be blasted from the deck

To blazing water round my neck?

Perhaps I`ll make it to a boat,

Or if I’m injured - will I float?


Mind in turmoil and raw emotion

Must I die in the mighty ocean?

So many ships so many crew

Perished here - survivors - few.


But if we make it safe and sound,

We’ll sail again - outward bound.

What hope now of peaceful sleep

While gently rolling `cross the deep?



Just after the war in Antwerp - where houses were bombed to rubble,

There stood a single cafe - that managed to keep out of trouble,

In one square mile of city, among buildings razed to the ground,

The `Buzz Bomb` was open for business - the foundations and structure were sound,

In acres and acres of wasteland, it stood like a beacon to men,

Often I thought it was lucky - so I went there now and again.

(As  kind of told to me from my brother John)




For winter sun we went away to the Isle of Tenerife,

We indulged our passion, for paella and grilled beef,

It was our week of summer - the resort of Golf Del Sur

Where the waiters called Chris Mrs, and sometimes called me Sir.


They called the hotel Green Park and it justified its name

But they placed it by the airport and thats its claim to fame,

For when they built the runway they put it at the end,

So when we’re quietly bathing the noisy planes descend.


When we’re in the sunshine spreading on the lotion

Downward comes a Tri-Star with distinctive dropping motion,

Its a good job Chris brings her earplugs (and other things that mattered),

For when the flaming jets come in the peace is really shattered.


And early in the morning when we’re not yet out of bed

Well there they are already - thundering overhead,

And when we’re at the bar, boozing quietly there,

Down comes another Trident screaming through the air.


They frighten all the kiddies - my oath, they come so low,

Just above the rooftop - you see the after glow

Every couple of minutes - all throughout the day

A mighty jet flies over and we cant hear what we say.


They cast a giant shadow as they glide beneath the sun

Slowing down our suntan and spoiling all our fun,

So if you come here on holiday to see the sights and sound,

You will see the underbellies of planes from miles around.


They zoom in from England and Germany of course

And often come from Poland and some of them are Norsk.

Full of light skinned passengers hoping for a tan,

Parents and the young kids who also brought their Gran.


They need the plane to fly, from where the skies are grey,

Perhaps theyll see what we did - dolphins here at play.

We cannot fault the weather - it didnt even rain,

And so enjoyed the respite - we never will complain.


It was a lovely holiday with a meal out in the nights

While munching luscious lobster - one forgot the flights,

We should not slag the aeroplane wherever it may roam,

For soon we’re going to need one - just to get us home.

Feb. 2000



I remember well, when I went off to sea,

Many years ago - but things come back to me,

Sights and sounds of seamen on a merchant ship,

Just the same around the world however long the trip.


Familiar life of ships routine as she steams from A to B.

A following wind and gentle swell as the vessels running free,

Seagulls over the quarter, awaiting galley gash,

Wing tips hardly moving `till they see their breakfast splash.


A roving British tanker passing close to port,

Flying from her gaff - red duster whipping taut,

The flying fish, and porpoise, playing round the bow,

All these things and many more, I recall just now.


Lookout on the fo'c'sle with sound of the bow waves swish,

Or on the monkey island with the foghorns constant hiss,

Perhaps upon the masthead, high up in the air,

Dangling from its lizard, a waiting bosun`s chair.


Work is done upon the charts as the Mates plot out our course,

Aft the bridge in his radio shack Sparkie taps his Morse,

Engineer in overalls walking round with spanner,

And constant turning on the spot - the modern radar scanner.


A handy crowd out on deck equipped with knife and spike,

The steady wake when looking aft - all due to Iron Mike,

Buffer in his locker - a thimble in the vice,

Showing young apprentices the Ozzy locking splice.


The general work and maintenance of topping lifts and guys,

The pulsing of the engine - not noticed `till it dies,

Chippy with his sounding rod plumbing all the tanks,

A growing tan while heading south and beards among the ranks.


Greasers wearing sweat rags, and buckles back to front,

Telling yarns of wartime days and calling cook a runt.

We rarely see the Master until it’s Sunday rounds,

His authority is silent unless there are the grounds.


But most of all we’re ready, for hazards on the way,

Peril, fog or tempest will surely come one day.

I learned the ways of mariners with an independent crew,

How I loved those salad days - I `spect that you did too.



I was not born ‘till 41-I wasn’t at the fore, but later on I sailed with men-they told me what they saw.
There never was a ‘phoney war’ for the merchant-men at sea. Especially in the early years-with two men lost from three.
Sitting ducks for E-boats and explosives in ‘bomb alley’. An easy moving target, from engine room to galley.
They were blown from burning ships-torpedoed by the Hun. Or victims of atrocity-shot by a Nippon gun.
Plenty perished in lifeboats, many gave the sharks a feast. Still pretty much defenceless, the ships rolled West and East.
They sailed North in Russian convoys-braved the ice and foe. Lived in hell conditions-and pitching, blind in snow.
Some sailed independent-they steamed South on their own. Perchance to meet the U-boat-lurking ‘neath the foam.

Many thousand seamen died-risking life at sea. It was the brave survivor who told me their history.
The lethal mines would sink them, or the tinfish named by some. Or possibly a Junkers on a mortal bombing run.
Crews foundered in the ocean-black or freezing cold. With mangled steel beneath them and pig-iron in the hold.
But if they shunned the enemy, and escaped the heaving slaughter, well they just signed on again, and went back to the water.
To the lads that never made it home-to all the men that died, wouldn’t it be apt to say “They never made the tide”?
Over forty years I’ve toiled at sea- aboard all types of craft. But I doff my cap to those young souls that went and joined a raft.
I’m mighty proud to march for them, on the 11th of November. For this very special breed of men that I for one remember.
I haven’t any medals-but I wear my badge with pride.
As the bugle sounds the ‘last post’ for the men who missed the tide.

Joe Earl  29.09.02


The `Bitter Lakes` from a Satellite.


Nasser closed the Suez Canal in the Six-Day war,

Trapping ships in Bitter Lakes for seven years or more,

Fourteen deep-sea vessels, dust-covered by the sand,

Came to be the `Yellow Fleet` in wind blown off the land.


Different nationalities anchored close together,

Biding out their time in the desert weather,

The UK ships Melimpus with the Scottish Star,

Also Invercargill and Agapenor not far.


Norwegians water skiing, archery with Yanks,

Bulgarians and British, all officers and ranks,

Held their own regattas carefully organized,

The Polish and the Frenchmen also fraternized.


Crews of foreign seamen including Swedes and Czechs,

Picked the teams for soccer - playing on the decks.

They swapped each others goods and partied in the shade,

Even formed a post office where special stamps were made,


Finally in `seventy-five, two ships left the scene,

Münsterland and Nordwind under their own steam,

Reached the port of Hamburg to waving and loud cheers,

The cargo worth a fortune after all those years.


Of the dozen others confined in their prime,

I’m clueless to their fate or outcome since that time,

It was not the life they chose but was the life they got,

Yet another story of a seamen’s diverse lot.



This creed of men, this breed of men, that came back from the war,

These Merchant men, these doughty men, returned to Malta’s shore,

These British men, from motley crews - for men that didn’t come back,

Were there to join the residents at the laying of a plaque.


These old lads caused mayhem, from the moment they touched down,

But hearts were in the right place at Valletta’s ancient town,

These veterans with their standards, mustered at Saint Paul’s,

Unveiled our marble tribute between the trumpet calls.


Recalling all those shipmates that never did grow old,

I saw the backbones stiffen as emotions took a hold.

They remembered ‘Pedestal’ and other convoys there,

It seemed that nature joined us with thunder in the air.


Gale force winds were blowing and hailstones from the sky,

While listening to the sermon - that made a hard man cry,

Attending then the Palace `longside the Bishop’s throne,

The President de Marco, told of his siege at home.


Among the various stories, that V.I.P.s narrated,

Was a tale of two young sisters that were promptly educated,

By the saying of the grace - prior to the daily meal,

Learning that the food they ate, sprung from men’s ordeal.


This yarn is true I relay to you - from letters signed by name,

Old ladies now but grateful still, - they wore the ‘hood of shame’,

They wrote of when their father - before he poured the gravy,


“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful,

- And for the Merchant Navy.”

April 2001



Oh Lord above please keep an eye,

On all seafarers sailing by,

Some are soft or hard as nails,

But seek thy love when all else fails.


If while steaming shore to shore,

We lose the fight - to endure....

Certain perils day or night,

Then we pray to see the light.


We may be selfish, scared, exposed,

Humbled now by human woes,

Since passing by the harbour trees,

To facing death in endless seas.


If by fate our days are numbered,

Set heavens course unencumbered,

Whether sinner, near or far,

Please guide us Lord, across the bar.



September 3rd Every Year

The scattered flowers on the waves

Marked our hardy seamen’s graves

Since those floating blooms were cast

The peril`s over now and past

Shall our gratitude just sleep

Resting still across the deep?

Have our garlands sailed astray?

No, not on merchant navy day!



Once again gathered here - we count the cost and flow,

Of those that crossed the bar - the men we used to know,

Although perhaps we shed a tear at setting of their sun,

Lets celebrate the life they led - a voyage home now run.


In battles lost with foe, or ancient years last mile,

Its how a life was lived that makes a man worthwhile,

Those that went some time ago, we remember still,

Upholding debt of gratitude boding no one ill.


Others gone more recently our grief we now defend,

A legacy astern - for nought goes with us in the end,

For each of us our day will come, and then your God may say,

Welcome Shellback, come aboard - your friends are left to pray.




Good old Samuel Plimsoll he was the Seamans friend,

He stood against ship-owners in order to defend

Basic rights and safety on all seagoing trips,

By bringing legislation to deadly `coffin-ships`.


A Liberal politician - a caring man for sure,

Born near docks in Redcliffe, in eighteen twenty four,

Long and hard in parliament he fought to have a say,

Eventually this Bristol man, won and had his way.


Excessive was the loss of life and so much common slaughter,

By sailing on decrepit craft too low in the water,

For many vessels left the quay, soon to sink right under,

Though well insured the cargoes of ships that broke asunder.


Men were thought expendable for the sake of profit,

Wicked were the ship-owners who made their money off it,

Countless crews protested all to no avail,

Refusing work on rotten ships ending up in jail.


Many rights for mariners were plenty overdue,

Samuel saw at first hand so knew just what do,

He wrote about our seamen and perils shore to shore,

Urging for improvements and making them the law.


Soon the Merchant Shipping Act - of eighteen seventy six,

Demanded annual surveys, so measured marks affixed,

Upon the hull of all ships to denote a legal draught,

Assisting in the buoyancy measured fore and aft.


There is a bust of Plimsoll, here in Bristol city,

A reminder yet of seamen of those he took such pity,

And homage to a great man in memory of those days,

When life was even harder upon our blue seaways.