WE MADE IT KID
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,
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,
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.