My mouth is as dry as a biscuit - my head a throbbing drum,

We’d been ashore in Rio and sampled local rum

We were the crew of the `Roscoe` - one of Lamport and Holts,

The booze was red and rusty with a kick of a thousand volts.


In the tropical evening, we had started our foray,

Attracted to a night club on this a Saturday;

We’d wandered out for a quiet night and a twirl around the floor,

With the ladies employed there and some that came in the door.


Quite happy we were while dancing and having a bit of a smooch,

Spending our hard earned money on girls and dynamite hooch,

All smart we were in our tee-shirts and freshly washed blue jeans,

When all of a sudden they entered - the United States Marines.


You’ve heard about the red rag, and what it did to the bull…

It seams we weren’t so welcome although the place was full,

We tolerant British sailors - well, we never turned a hair,

But it seems the Yankee `crew cuts` did not like us there.


It may have been just jealousy or dancing with their dames,

But when they’d had a drink or two they began to call us names

We had to stand our corner - we thought it only right,

To honour Merchant Seamen and stand up for a fight.


So with this altercation we had a bit of fun,

Everything went flying including lots of rum,

Chairs and tables over and a window there stove in,

Fists and knuckles bruising, connecting with a chin.


Everyone enjoyed it - we had the upper hand,

Even the marines did and most of them were canned;

But someone called the MPs they came roaring up in jeeps,

They weren’t entirely partial so we ducked into the streets.


In a bar of safety we counted up the cost,

A couple of broken nose bleeds an` a tin of baccy lost;

So Roscoe bound we made it, knowing valour prevailed,

We `turned-to` prompt next morning and later on we sailed.


The Captain’s log was open as he sat there with a grin,

Scribing down the truth of course - official now therein;

Before the book snapped shut, I saw he’d written down;

All the crew ashore last night - a quiet night on the town1



Ice forming on a 20-inch signal projector on the cruiser HMS Sheffield while escorting a convoy in the Barents Sea, Dec 1941



You were mighty cold on the Russian Arctic run,

When stationed there as Lookout at night without the sun,

Blurring of the vision by buffeting of winds,

Tears of ice down the cheeks while peering through the `bins`.


Eyelashes were frozen - icing up together,

Breaking off so painfully when melting out of weather,

Inhaling brought such agony in sub-nothing air,

On top of that, the enemy, which could be anywhere.


Brutal wild conditions black as any caves,

Fog or driving snow and mountainous the waves,

Bully beef as main course - hot drink hard to get,

Accommodation dripping and clothes were sodden wet.


Possibly you suffered grief by witnessing the end,

Of companion ships in convoy or a fellow friend,

No asylum either if arriving outward bound,

Beset by bombs and strafing in constant battleground.


They did not think of medals on that morale sapping trip,

Just carried out their duties in war-time’s surly grip,

Many of those journeys made a sacrifice,

With cargoes, ships and seamen, paying of the price.



It was the world’s worst journey across the Barents Sea,

In a scattered Russian convoy, named PQ One and Three;

Off the coast of Norway and round it’s Northern Cape,

Braving hidden U-boats and the Junkers Eighty- Eight.


A torpedo struck the hold, bearing tons of coiled barbed wire,

Over aviation spirit - which exploded into fire;

Ordered to our stations, primed to abandon ship,

Struggling, taking crew off - the fire had forged a grip.


One man emerged from through it - he was all aflame,

Jacket, face, ears and hair, I didn’t know his name:

His feet and hands were tattered as he fought to save his neck,

Over red-hot cargo that had blown up to the deck.


We pitched him in the lifeboat where we beat him out,

Then cast off from our vessel as there was no doubt -

The ship was doomed and sinking, rolling on her side,

Since another tin fish took its mortal ride.


Four days then we spent adrift, in appalling weather,

This winter in the Arctic freezing all together:

The man just sat upon a thwart in ghastly awful pain

Sheer open to the elements but never did complain.


He may have been Canadian or perhaps a Yank

(It’s difficult to have a chat with a gale upon your flank):

But he helped to pull along by leaning on his arms,

His hands had swollen treble - he couldn’t use his palms.


The only thing he asked for, in those horrendous days afloat,

Was “Can you hold a fag for me, if I burn a smoke?”

Then came at dusk a rescue by a Russian fishing smack,

Who hauled us to a shelter in Murmansk’s cul-de-sac.


He looked at me through frozen eyes, most of him was rigid,

But he cracked his face and from his mouth I heard “We made it kid,”

Next day in the refuge I was summoned to his bed,

Where this courageous seaman, was laying there quite dead.


I do not know the history of this man I hardly knew

For he was picked up previously from another crew:

Years later on enquiring - his name may be O’Brien,

But I’ll not forget such dignity and his courage of a lion.


On 30th. March 1942, the S.S. Induna (part of convoy PQ13 which was scattered by severe storms) was sunk by two torpedoes from the U-376. The S.S. Induna had previously picked up men from the whale ship Silja and the S.S. Ballot. The doomed seaman is believed to be off the S.S.Ballot which had sailed from New York under the Panamanian flag and joined the convoy from Iceland. She was then attacked by dive bombers and lost steam;

Sixteen men were transferred to the S.S. Induna.

The above story is from a report by a crew member of the S.S.Induna who survived the war. There is a grave in Murmansk with the name O’Brien but no ship is mentioned. Ironically both the Silja and the Ballot - though casualties, eventually made it to Murmansk.



They sailed the seas to bear the brunt,

They steamed the courses laid,

Ten thousand miles their battle front,

Unbacked and undismayed.


Fine seamen these of our great race,

From your seaport or town,

They risked their lives with danger faced

Until their ship went down.


Remember them - they held the line,

Won freedom on the way,

Remember them - their life was thine -

On merchant navy day.



Capt. Ian North - Master of
Atlantic Conveyor


Captain Ian North - when he was called to war

Epitomized the spirit of Merchant Navy lore,

Resourceful with ability and a bushy beard,

Showing calm authority, he was well revered.


His ship was berthed in Liverpool when his orders came,

To steam down to the Falklands and help refute the claim,

He then prepared his vessel into a breed of carrier,

Converted for the choppers and the vital Harrier.


Laden with Chinooks, Wessex and the Lynx,

The Captain’s innovation ironed out many kinks,

Stores and apparatus loaded to complete,

Staggering in so short a time, and quite a marvellous feat.


Steaming with the battle group they went to do their bit,

Later near San Carlos she took a bomber’s hit,

Spreading fire and mayhem caused by exocet,

Reaching fuel in army trucks standing by on deck.


The sinking of `Conveyor` was a bona fide disaster,

Twelve men gave their lives inclusive of her Master,

Essentially civilians they didn’t have to go,

But steadfast British mariners never would say no.


They went to serve our country as seamen always will,

Crucial to the campaign with their special skill,

Flying our red duster - his crew were going forth,

Under fine tradition - and Captain Ian North.




My mate and I go angling, we go hunting for the trout,

Its on the way to Nailsea - my mate gives me a shout,

We pack our high-tec carbon rods, and half a case of stout,

Then off we go just fishing, when there’s no work about.


We park along by Harry’s hut and pay a small deposit,

Stroll up by the grassy cut and lay our gear upon it,

The wind behind of the wintry kind, we eye the rainy skies,

Weatherproof and eager now we bend on the fancy flies.


We point our rods at the rainbow foe and cast our coloured lines,

Forget hard times and look for signs of where the fishes go,

We get in trim and haul them in, at a satisfactory rate,

I tell my friend “you’ll have to spend - did you bring your chequebook mate” ?


With a dirty grin and a mighty swing, he casts for one last time,

He’s in a state `cus he’s just caught eight, `an he don’t think much of mine,

But the job is done we’ve had some fun, we’re heading now to pay,

But never mind `cus we did find, `’twas a brilliant angling day.


We gut our catch in a nice clean sink and go without delay,

To the local pub to talk of fish `an the one that got away.

My mate and me went boozing, we drank `till they chucked us out,

A great sport is the tippling - after chasing the rainbow trout.




In our Island nation, within the shores of the free,

There is salt in the veins of our kinfolk and lust for life at sea,

Many seamen at home that swallowed the anchor back then,

Time and again have the urge, to pack their bags once again.


For they sailed out East through the Suez, to the far off Indian shore,

Or steamed off West with cargoes, to docks like Baltimore,

North in Arctic weather, through the snow and the ice,

Or southern climes with palm trees and musky smell of the spice.


They kept a watch from the fo`c`s`le, an eye on the rise of the moon,

Or daylight trick at the helm `till eight bells struck at noon,

Sights they took with a sextant then pencilled a fix on the chart,

Or mothered the engines all constant, attending every part.


They heard the banshee screaming of storms sent over the deep,

Accustomed hard to seafaring, nursing the vessel’s keep,

Taking their fun and their fancy in ports wherever found,

Perhaps tattoos of a sailing ship inscribed with `Homeward Bound`.


They travelled the globe for months at a time over the ocean foam,

Friendships forged of the lasting kind with men destined to roam,

Still the life of a rover, sometimes beckons to me,

I reckon it’s salt in the veins - and the call of the sea.




Oh to sail on the tugs again in the bustling Avon docks,

To tow ships in and out again through Royal Portbury locks,

On the Westgarth and the Portgarth or the Gilbert under the bow,

Or perhaps the Avongarth - I think of her just now.


Oh to steam down the channel again in the fierceness of the tide,

Ready, eager and willing with a good mate by my side,

Then go home in the morning, after docking one in the murk,

Bucking lines of traffic when everyone’s going to work.


Oh to be at the wheel again while towing round the pier,

Our hawser tight and stretching, as the knuckle comes steadily near,

With skill of the crew that man them, the best and salt of the earth,

And the job “ Well done” from the Pilots when safely in their berth.


Oh to attend in the summer when the weather can be nice,

But not so great in the winter with treacherous fog and the ice,

Hauling various craft about with freight of every type,

The picnic element’s missing, when working there all night.


Oh to complete a job again after gales and worry,

Then return to `tie-up` and scamper home in a hurry,

For soon we’ll have new orders from the next tide’s busy sheet,

Followed by some maintenance all throughout the fleet,


Oh to hear the engines, from the quietness of my home,

As the tugs put on the power and haul one over the foam,

Then it goes to remind me, of arduous hours that are long,

Happily, I creep back to bed - my tug-boast days are gone.



The agent’s on the golf course, the ships are steaming near,

I’m waiting to give out orders but nothings yet quite clear,

The Gear bulk may be cancelled - we don’t know if she’ll go,

My lads are ready waiting and I really want to know.


The weather isn’t clever, the forecast not so good,

A car boat now wants three tugs - but two I understood,

Now I’ve lost a deck hand - his motor wouldn’t go,

And trouble with the lock gates - they are running slow.


There’s one man phoned in sick, so I’m jumping up the line

And another stuck in traffic who won’t get there in time,

Then we have some pilots trying to change tugs round,

It’s best if we don’t let `em, so we stand our ground.


The Giant must be shifted - just across the dock,

An ` a tanker may be loading - if she makes last lock.

Its not only this tide, where things I have to nurse ,

But I’m dealing with the next one, where things look bloody worse.


I’m trying to give out orders but I’m foiled at every turn,

Another vessel sailing - she wants one on the stern.

There are ifs and buts and maybes all throughout the tide,

It’s enough to drive one mad - but I take it in my stride.


I think I have it sorted and the programme worked out right,

Nothing now can go wrong - but then again it might,

All is set the die is cast - my dinner’s on the table,

Then I get a phone call, the viz. is half a cable!


It’s not so bad on weekdays - I’m in the office chair,

It’s Saturdays and Sundays I pull my greying hair.

And of course I do it, though my diction’s fruity,

But how I love my weekends - when I’m not on duty.



Let the engines start on the tugs

The crews be timely on board

Make sure there’s tea in their mugs

As the ships come in from abroad.


May the weather stay calm and clear,

And everyone’s on the ball,

So when the vessels draw near

Nobody calls me at all. !




Once I saw a Mermaid, posing on a rock

Sexy, pert and curvy but I’m not trying to shock,

She’s often been depicted, in photo and green crayon

And sits upon your starboard hand as you enter Copenhagen.





Take a little care this day and glance above the tiles,
Perchance to see a flagpole visible for miles,
Atop of it a red flag proudly whipping tight,
A Merchant Navy ensign flying there by right.

From important buildings as well as from the sea.
It's flown to honour mariners and shipping history,
Sailing through the years, transporting all the freight,
Conserving of the lifelines keeping Britain great.

If you glance aloft and see with knowing eye,
A `duster` at the masthead when you're passing by,
Please inform your offspring while going on to say,
A debt is owed to seamen under colours flown today.



Master and Commander standing there at ease

Braced upon his quarter-deck eying up the breeze

Mainsail tight, ballooning, disciplined and squared

Sheets hauled aft and ready, belaying pins prepared

Men upon the futtock shrouds scrambling to the yard

Braces taught and straining bowing very hard.


Captain in his swivel chair radar by his side

Pushing coloured buttons to manoeuvre in the tide

Thrusters pushing easily taking it in turn

Automatic sensors at the bow and stern

Seamen wearing plastic hats and overalls that glow

Pulling little levers that make the winches go.

Progress !!!



I wish I could retire - I’m getting old and weary now,

My bones tell me to give it up - its time to take a bow.

Yes, I have reached the top rung, of my working ladder,

There are many ways I feel it, and one of them`s my bladder.


The winters seem to last so long, they add to stress and strain,

And I’m a little less prepared, to fight the gales again.

How I long to go fishing, in the twilight of my years,

I’m sure no one will miss me or shed those salty tears.


Alas I cannot go just yet- I haven’t earned my pension,

A few more years an` a month or two, I must stand the tension.

I can’t wait until my time comes to chase hobbies with a passion,

Leave all those ships behind me and ignore the Bristol fashion.


All those craft I sailed in - all the places been,

Round the world a few times - all the places seen,

Let them be just fond memories to recall with idle pleasure,

While dozing in my armchair- and practising my leisure.


So now I’m growing feeble and a little past my prime,

I’ll be a golden oldie and forget the passing time,

I’m tired of hanging round, and toiling down the docks,

All hours working down there a`watching of the clocks,


No more sitting at anchor riding out the tide,

I’d much prefer my local bar with a cider by my side,

And in-tow with my darling, with no worries in the world,

When I strike my flag from the masthead, and stow it neatly furled.


I’ll be free to see the grand kids - and hand them back again,

Or perhaps go south on holiday - aboard an aeroplane.

I`spose I should keep healthy and lose a little weight,

For the day I cross my Rubicon - its not too long to wait.

 Feb. 1999


Spike and Fid


A Sailor born, a Sailor bred,

A tough Shellback was our man Fred,

His favourite job stood him apart,

Expert splicing was his art.


Rope or wire it didn’t matter,

Though `tis said he chose the latter,

He wormed and parcelled with the lay,

A perfect job in every way.


Serving tight with marline spun,

Grinning proud when all was done,

Alas one night he died in bed,

No more tucks for dear old Fred.


At his graveside stood his wife,

Thought perhaps he’d miss his knife,

Unscrewed then his coffin lid,

Then added too his spike and fid.






When a young man in my prime,

I shipped aboard the Wilson line,

From Hull to Denmark on a regular run,

Ideal voyage - lots of fun.


This suited married men of course,

Not long away so no remorse,

Fine home port and one away,

One with wife `tother to play.


Our fine crew with liberties taken,

Shacked up too in Copenhagen,

Things were fine for a year or two,

Then one night - right on cue.


Policemen raided - O` dear me,

Forty girls put on the quay,

Headline news in Danish paper,

Also Hull heard of the caper.


The crew would now be skinned alive,

(Including me there were twenty five),

We paid off on board in secrecy,

I pondered on the plans for me.


The Marine Super was no fool,

He shipped me out of Liverpool,

I heard things later - in due course,

About the bust ups and divorce.


But when she signed a brand new crew,

There were willing men in a lengthy queue.


(Roughly as told to me by my brother John)



We loaded coal at Dunston and sailed for Chittagong

A voyage fraught with monsoons made it wet and long

Our cargo then discharged we steamed up the river Hooghly

Dry docked in Calcutta, proceeded back to sea

Sailing to Malaysia – anchored five miles off Dungun

Prior to loading iron ore at the land of rising sun

Arriving then in Kobe and drawing twelve week’s pay

Girding up our loins for a pleasant shore side stay.


There was a tempting place it wasn’t very far

With a mate I entered and ordered from the bar

As beautiful young ladies sedately served our beer

Upped and clinked our glasses to wish each other cheer

We paired off very quickly as the girls imparted more

Turns out the staff were orphans who slept there on the floor

We treated them when time was called to a near hotel

(Not only just our two, but another three as well).


We frolicked in a deep bath, put dressing gowns to wear

Sat cross-legged on the floor to choose the menu there

The main dish – sukiyaki, a meaty, spicy, stew

Washed down with lots of Saki – made a happy crew

I took my girl upstairs – I called her Suzy San

Leaning on my arm she called me her Sailor Man

Took my time, caressed her from earlobes to the knee

She responded beautifully, made love right back to me.


Nothing in young manhood surely could surpass

The lusty lazy loving while with my Oriental lass

Night time was sheer heaven with hours of ecstasy

Five days of pure passion ‘tween Sexy Sue and me

She was so very cuddly and answered every whim

Suzy was so fabulous, to leave her was a sin

Time to go we battened down hammered wedges in the lugs

Singled up the mooring ropes, blew loudly for the tugs.


Thirty tearful women waved our crew away

Suzy San among them, wishing my return one day

When we dropped the pilot and settled on our course

The Captain turned to the Mate, his voice was rather coarse

“I know they dropped the atom bomb, I know the reason why

That’s the fault of war mate – so many people die

But can I believe in God – is there no redeemer ?

When you think of girls like those ……that died at Hiroshima”.


Almost as told to me by my brother John, S.S. King Stephen circa 1949.