* In Flanders Fields + THE “JERVIS BAY” GOES DOWN


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.



HMS Jervis Bay

She is an old freighter
Of some fourteen thousand tons.
Standing in the roadstead
Of a port somewhere south of Singapore.
She lists a bit,
As if wearied by the typhoons of the China Seas;
By the whole gales of Tasman;
By the turbulence of wind off Borneo.
Her gear is obsolete,

Her iron skin blistered,
Pocked with rust.
Her engines are rheumatic,
And her saw-tooth screw
Will yield less than fourteen knots . . .
She is the old Jervis Bay
Of Australian registry,
Resting, between tides, from her
Obscure drudgeries,
Somewhere south of Singapore.

She nods at her mooring cables,
Head bent to the dry monsoon.
The Jervis Bay is nodding, half asleep,
When a gig draws alongside,
And there is brought aboard,
Solemnly, a flag with a blue field –
A storied ensign – emblem of Britain’s Naval Reserve.
This of itself becomes a rousing circumstance
To one so frowsed, so drably sleeping,
Somewhere south of Singapore.

Up the starboard ladder-way
There comes a new master,
Puffing somewhat with middle age.
He looks about, he looks above, below.
Forward, aft he peers.
His is the manner of a man recapturing a memory.
He is Fogarty Feegan,
Called from retirement
To command the Jervis Bay.
For ten years Fogarty Feegan
Has walked in his English garden,
Watching the roses bud, the violets bloom,
Enjoying each miracle of season
That brings white blossoms to the hawthorn hedge.
But now he has left his barrow and his slips
To bring the storied ensign, with its blue field –
Blue as the violets of his garden –
Bringing it from afar to the old Jervis Bay.

His voice rolls against the breakwater.
His big hands grasp the teakwood rail.
He swears a bit, and finally
The Jervis Bay awakens.
Soon a battery is supplied –
A small one –
Guns of five-inch calibre.
Then, with a hundred young reservists for her crew,
The Jervis Bay puts out to sea,
From somewhere south of Singapore.

Captain Fogarty Feegan
Has a distant rendezvous
With other old masters,
Summoned from retirement,
Called by their King
From their little farms,
From their office stools,
From their fireside chairs,
From the cities and the shires –
For threefold war – earth, sky, sea –
Beggars the world. Ships go down . . . each day go down,
And bottoms must be had
To bear cargoes to Britain.

Now up cones the Jervis Bay,
Up from tropical waters,
Through Suez, through the Strait of Gibraltar,
Out and across the Atlantic,
And to the Americas.
In a harbour of the North,
And with brave haste, the old hulls
Are laden to their loading lines
With cargoes for Britain.
Captain Fogarty Feegan
Listens to the rumbling of winches;
Hears the samson posts creak;
Hears the chains and blocks complain;
Harries his first Officer, Mr. Wilson, with commands,
As things needful for the life-beat
Of England’s great heart
Are stowed aboard.
“Hurry, damme, Mr. Wilson, sir!”
He shouts to his First Officer.
“We are not sleeping now, Mr. Wilson,
Somewhere south of Singapore!”

From a Canadian bay,
From behind the fog-bank of November dawn,
A convoy line puts out;
Thirty-eight ships put out to sea
With cargoes for Britain,
A consignment to help sustain
The life-beat of England;
Goods to provision an isle
That for a thousand years
Has prized the freedom
And the dignity of Man.

The gun crews of the Jervis Bay
Sleep beside their battery.
They seem young seminars
With parka hoods cowling their heads
To keep out the cold sea-rime.
Night falls, a great and sombre hymn
The night of November fourth –
Nineteen hundred and forty years since Our Lord –
Is an anthem of wind and small, following sea.

The morning comes like a priest,
Upholding a golden monstrance.
The morning of the fifth
Finds the Jervis Bay and her convov
Strung like a procession of pilgrims against the dawn.
The ship’s sounds;
The practice rounds are fired.
The sun is on the meridian,
And Fogarty Feegan shoots the sun
For latitude.
Eight bells again,
And Fogarty Feegan shoots the sun
For longitude.
And then, at five o’clock
The lookout calls from the crows-nest:
“Ship, sir, off the starboard bow!”

Through his glass.
Fogarty Fcegan makes out smoke –
A black gargoyle in the sky –
East by south-east,
Then sights a ship, hull down.
And now a battleship
Comes boiling over the horizon.
She opens fire with heavy guns.
Captain Fogarty Feegan telegraphs his engine room
To strain the boilers till they burst.
He bellows. curses, brings to bear
The popguns of his battery
Against the Goliath armour of the battleship.
He sends up smoke to screen the fleet.
He orders all the convoy ships to scatter wide and fast.
Then Fogarty Feegan
Sets out alone to meet the battleship.
Five-inch guns against eleven-inch guns.
Egg-shell hull against Krupp plate.
“Damme, Mr. Wilson, sir,” he shouts,
“We’re not hearing mandolins today, somewhere south of Singapore!”

This is a mad thing to do
This sea-charge of the Jervis Bay,
Yet a sky of dead admirals looks down
From the Grand Haven,
Looks down at Fogarty Feegan,
Whose senile tub
Steams bow-on for the battleship.
Nelson, Drake, Beatty, Harwood;
Yes, and the Americans:
Porter, Farragut and John Paul Jones,
All look down in wonderment.

And now a burst of shrapnel rakes the Jervis Bay,
And tears the right arm from the sleeve of Fogarty Feegan.
He does not fall.
He grasps the teakwood rail with his other hand.
Masking his agony with bellowings that rise above the guns.
Nor will he let a tourniquet
Be placed upon the stump.
He waves the stump, and Mr. Wilson knows
(And the sky of dead admirals knows)
That if a hand were there.
It would be making a great fist.
Still steaming toward the battleship,
Fogarty Feegan keeps his little guns ablast.
The eyes of the setters
And of the pointers
Grow black and blue from the recoils –
Their eardrums dead.

A salvo comes with the top roll of the battle-ship,
And now the ensign –
Emblem with the blue field –
Is shot away.
Enraged, bloody, rocking on his heels,
Fogarty Feegan roars
“Hoist another ensign, damme, Mr. Wilson, sir!
Hoist another flag,
That we may fight like Englishmen!”
A boatswain procures a flag from the locker –
A flag used for the burial of the dead at sea.
“Here, sir,” he cries,
As to a brace he bends
The Banner of England.

The Jervis Bay, ablaze from stern to bow,
At dusk, still fires her puny guns,
And will not change her course.
Salvos from turrets,
Guns three-over-three,
Make great geysers grow about
The old ship’s wake.
But still her guns give voice.

And now she’s struck below the water-line.
Her boilers go.
The Jervis Bay begins to settle by the stern.
Yet, sinking, still she faces her antagonist.
Then the waters begin to close over her.
The waters close over Fogarty Feegan,
And over the flag
That once was used for burials at sea.
And now night spreads its shroud.

Of thirty-eight ships in the convoy,
Twenty-nine are saved,
Their cargoes saved,
To help sustain the life-beat of England,
While from the sky dead admirals look on,
And claim Captain Fogarty Feegan for their own.

The Jervis Bay goes down –
Goes down as no mere casualty of storm,
To rust out, fathoms deep, in common grave
With sisters unremembered by the years.
The Jervis Bay – of Australian registry,
From somewhere south of Singapore –
Goes down in the history
Of an Isle that for a thousand years
Has prized the freedom
And the dignity of Man.



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