Poem I wrote last year (2013) in memory of all those who perished at sea on 22nd September 2014 when the U9 torpedoed and sunk three British cruiser ships in the North Sea off the coast of The Netherlands. Also remembering the bravery of the crews of the Dutch fishing boats who rescued survivors.
September 22nd 1914
In memory of all those who perished on board the Hogue, Aboukir and Cressy
Sky and sea belong to no one
Innocent dawn gleaming over the Broad Fourteens
Illuminate bitter lapping waves
How can fighting men impose a frontier here?
Hypnotic call of war.
Midshipmen and Reservists suddenly assembled
Crushed into night trains,
Clustered on to three aged battle cruisers
On Patrol in alien waters
Destroyer -escort abandoned in the storm before the calm.
Now basking, an easy target,
Even steel can be vulnerable,
Balanced on the horizon in first feeble light
Three vague shapes , hardly moving
Captured on Von Weddigen’s periscope.
Three shades of live bait begging to receive
four skimming torpedoes, racing and tearing in the ,
Span of one dour hour, U9 dives in triumph
Beneath the shambles and the harrowing
Some men stumble and tumble, others cling
To failing battle ships that turn turtle
That finally discards them, sliding, the most vulnerable
Parts of their bodies, sliced open by speed and by friction
Thrown, broken into a ghost water that rejects them.
Desperate men floundering , fighting over any piece of floating debris
Those on rafts are singing hymns to the Lord of the sea.
Men who can’t swim jump on the backs of those that can,
Tread water to avoid the burning puddles of oil
Useless pieces of kit, ripped pieces of twine, pointless paperwork
drifting in futile directions.
Sensation one.A numbing terror that convulses all the nerves of the body.
Respiratory system re-ordering itself, a taste of salt water and petrol,
Pumping itself, out then being overwhelmed.
Very breath of life, wrenched and choking, into further plummeting.
Eyes snapped closed. Spinal column burns. Mother in white gliding towards ….
Says something , but distance muffles her calling
Submerge again, there is an ache in both eardrums
Under water- distortion, half- cursed prayers, the scent of father’s cigar,
Rise to the surface, once reaching the top, need to seize air, throw the limbs stupidly
In rotation, then fall hopeless and helpless on to the back,
Exhausted, abandoned to the light of a mocking sun.
Think of long sermons in a dark chapel. Stained pastoral dry glass windows teasing
Sinking. Like one useless weight.
A soundless, colourless channel shoving up again.
Christ amongst a circuit of seagulls, crowned in shells, cloaked in feathers.
The criss-cross narrow milky wakes left by small Dutch vessels
Defying mines, fishers of men.
Tincture of opium handed out to the crew of the U9.
Glide, ride underwater labyrinth, back to Caesar/ Kaiser,
Proud Eagle of home.
For more information please see the Live Bait Squadron website.