The History of Leith

April 9, 2011

War-time Under the Red Ensign

War-time Under the Red Ensign
I listened to Cookie, and when he grew weary,
He dabbed at his eyes, then surrendered to sleep,
I sat at his fireside and trawled through the echoes,
And sailed off again on his tales of the deep.
On cumbersome convoys with flammable cargoes,
On weeks without respite, or sight of a shore.
On the life and the times of a young merchant seaman,
With nowhere to hide, and his nation at war.
Somewhere around them lay Hitler’s marauders,
Patrolling the channels like guards at a gate,
As Cookie himself had so wryly suggested,
When you knew they were there, it was always too late.
He spoke from experience borne of the morning,
When U-boat torpedoes careered through the stern.
Cookie was dragged from the cold icy waters,
And watched the ‘Allegiance’ keel over and burn.
Men died around him, it could have been carnage,
But heroes abounded in many a mould,
Skirting the flames in their oil sodden life-boats,
Clutching at swimmers as though they were gold.
“And never a medal between them”, said Cookie,
“And hardly a mention in annals to come”.
In our Merchant Navy, heroics were common,
But due recognition was little or none.
They were hard men, but good men, of humour and honour,
Without them our shelves and our cupboards were bare.
But they formed a great nation’s invisible Navy,
And the nation itself hardly knew they were there.
Men like old Cookie would come home to nothing
Bar dark empty jetties, ‘mid dockland retreats.
Their march, but the ring of their boots on the cobbles,
And the foggy rejection of dimly lit streets.
Not much has changed in those thankless environs,
Where ghostly old seamen drop anchor and wait,
They peer through the darkness for arms to embrace them,
Then the moment is lost, and the welcome too late.

source-Kenny Maclean

Some Text