The Tamil Girl

In October 1963 in Singapore I was too slow to stop a fatal motor accident and a little girl died.  I spent months involved in the Indonesian Confrontation, an undeclared war, along the shores and mangrove swamps of Sabah, Borneo.  I am still troubled by dreams they have nothing to do with conflict.  It is a nightmare where a child died.

R.I.P. Little Girl

 

Ghost of a Tamil Girl

The Tamil Girl died in my grasp
Though not a word was said
I hold her still though I’m now old
– Sad memories in my head –

I held her dying on that day
I’d tried to save her life
As Death will have the final say
My soul’s now torn by strife

For, “If only”, “Oh, If only…”
Repeat around my brain
In a soul now sad and lonely
I bear this bitter stain

Oh, if only I had stopped her
Running into the road
My conscience feels like I’m a cur
I’ve had to bear that load

For on the day that She had died
My actions were too slow
Time and again I’ve sobbed and cried
About that fatal blow

“Watch out” I’d said – not in her tongue
She’d run out all the same
I’ve never heard her requiem sung
And never knew her name

I’d fetched her from that roadside there
Placed her before her folk
But I still carry so much care
It makes me almost choke

And now at night deep in my sleep
In dreams I meet this child
And she looks sad if I should weep
Her ghost’s serene and mild

Are souls of those who have died young
Like angels of the Lord
And in our dreams are we among
A sort of heavenly horde?

Are we shown glimpses of a place
Beyond the void of Hate
Where there may be a state of Grace
Beyond the grasp of Fate

The Dead who flit about our dreams
May help us in our woe
They’re not as real as waking schemes
Yet bring a gentle glow

Through sorrows we may face each blight
Protected by their charm
These dead who visit in the night
May guard the mind from harm

 

© Trevor Morgan 18 April 2004 amended 2012

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THE ATLANTIC BLOCKADE (1807-1860)

HMS_Black_Joke_(1827)

The political correct brigade here [In Britain], say we should apologise for the slave trade. It seems the long campaign by the Royal Navy to blockade the trade is now forgotten: Can we also say “thank you”?

The Royal Navy’s Africa Station blockaded the Atlantic approaches to the West African coast from 1807 to 1860. This was a long and unsung struggle to end the slave trade. Now it is forgotten and the English are told they must apologise. Yes, English merchants had profited from the trade but this was atoned for in this blockade and with the loss of life endured during those long decades. There should now be a public thanks giving to go along with the empty gestures of apologies. For it was only by this long struggle that the trade was gradually erased.

Fact: Ships of the West Africa Squadron seized almost 1600 slave ships and freed 150,000 enslaved Africans aboard them.

The Volunteer Slipped

He heaved into his hammock
That watch was long and dull
Monotony’s so long and strong
Goes on without a lull

His dreams were strange and fitful
Long years had took their toll
The work they did was good, not wrong
And yet it sapped the soul

Most slave ships could outrun them
Yet still they strove to win
Disease had took so many a man
Yet there they fought dark sin

For decades on this station
The navy would endure
They strove to stop an evil trade
In that there was allure

His fitful sleep soon over
He was soon back aloft
As lookout high up on the mast
The morning breeze blew soft

Eleven long years he’d done here
This would be his last ship
The yardarm damp with morning dew
Was said to cause the slip

Death came when he hit the deck
And silenced his last yell
The ships log would record a death
It said: “… the Lookout fell…”

Long years that watch had been kept
The dark trade would demise
But thankless tasks are soon forgot
For this world is not wise

That long watch would at last end
The slave trade would be gone
This long blockade would be forgot
Yet widows would be wan

Efforts of this long blockade
Have fallen now from sight
Our people need no dark tirade
Our people stopped the blight

Yes, Our work stopped this foul trade
We died ‘neath tropic skies
Our efforts though have been betrayed
Where dupes apologise!

 

The Mariner and the Murmuration

I was on the Somerset Levels one early evening when I found myself amidst a myriad of starlings. Some flew so close I felt the draft from their wings. They then arose above me like a glorious host and filled the air, there must have been near to a million of them. I was transfixed. This was a very special gift to witness such an event. I saw a lone hen harrier stoop through the Murmuration and despite her efforts she failed to catch a single starling.  Her chicks went hungry that evening

Sonnet

The Murmuration of Starlings

“That streaming flight of birds went streaking by
It seemed as though they might block out the sun
A million starlings swarmed across the sky
The harrier there she stooped but she caught none
That flow of birds had parted round her flight
At sunset though the flock had settled near
They seemed to fill all trees within our sight
The twilight sky seemed calm and all was clear
The evening star grew bright until moonrise
Shone silvery light across the low wet land
Then myriad stars they seemed to fill the skies
There’s more to this than we may understand
Maybe there’s mystery in all we see
Yet none of us may know what is to be

Watching the Murmuration

The flock it seems to flow not fly
Like eddies in a brook
Above me there they filled the sky
And all here stopped to look

That flow of birds would twirl and roll
And reel around the sky
The sight of them they warmed his soul
As their flight rolled on by

A Mariner watched a harrier dive
And saw her pass straight through
I saw the starlings all survive
It was a wondrous view

The harrier passed right through the flock
Though it sought flesh to rend
Those myriad birds they seemed to mock
And seemed to part then blend

Coordination seemed the key
Each bird knew what to do
Was there in this some mystery
In how all these birds flew?

The harrier sought but it took nought
Each stoop here gained no prey
It rushed straight in the way some fought
This would not be her day

It seems attack is not the way
Where foes elude attack
We ought think of a better way
That we might now come back…

I watch each sunset full of Grace
Gaze at the evening star
I see the Moon’s big silvery face
And hear a lone night jar

Sorties Away

Long time ago I was in the operations room of a carrier as she turned into the wind and launched a whole squadron of her aircraft.  As a radar operator I tracked them until they went below our radar horizon.  Strange something as mighty as a carrier has to turn into the wind to launch a strike.  This is predictable and ought to make them vulnerable, but they operate within a screen of escorts that are needed to protect them.

Sorties away

Carriers turned into the wind
In distant deep wide seas
And now because some fools had sinned
The world is out of ease

And sortie after sortie went
To deal a hammer blow
With a resolve that won’t relent
They’re sent to cause more woe

The carrion of the deep will feed
Upon much mortal flesh
And madness will not yet recede
We’re all caught in its mesh

Carriers turned back on their course
Their sorties are away
But actions done without remorse
May cause yet more dismay

Jutland and after

HMS Chester was a light cruiser that got within range of German battleships.  She fought and survived but at a terrible cost.

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Closing in for action – Jutland May1916

Across the sea there to the east
Grey forms were steaming fast
Some spewed smoke like some ancient beast
This day could be their last

Great waves form patterns so beware
They roll before the eyes
With complex movement everywhere
Beneath those eerie skies

Each pattern’s change in motions strange
Form part of destiny
So as two fleets came into range
Then what will be will be

The rapid firing of each gun
Resounded through the hull
The belching smoke that dulled the sun
Went on without a lull

A flash upon the forecastle deck
One gun then ceased to fire
It had become a twisted wreck
Become the gunners’ pyre

Another gun fell silent too
Its crew tossed all about
Without legs what were they to do
The lucky soon bled out

One untouched man stood in a daze
A boy bled at his post
As sense came back within this haze
Hell had a new outpost

The horror of the scene was grim
Good mates were bleeding free
His training then it guided him
Like all men on that sea

The toiling crew worked to put out
Some raging fires below
There was no time for hope nor doubt
Before that deadly glow

Those legless gunners got some care
Their stumps were tourniqueted
But Fate it can be so unfair
Each Death was just delayed

The two survivors of the blast
A man and dying boy
Each in their way would be down cast
And never now know joy

 

From: “Jutland and After”
Dedicated to Arthur Wicks who lived through the battle and relived it for 50 years.

Book

Saga of Sabah – and other Sagas of the Sea

book

I have a book of poems published in Sabah, Malaysia.

Sabah State Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Trevor Morgan, Saga of Sabah and other Sagas from the Sea
ISBN 978-967-11517-8-5
1. Poetry–Environmental aspects–Sabah
2. Borneo–Foreign relations–Indonesia
I. Sabah State Library
808.81

This is copyright and may not be kept in storage in any media in the United Kingdom

Buku Saga 1

Kulit Saga 1

Widows’ Sea

Widow’s sea

The boat rolls gently on the wave
A small bird’s flying by
We know the sea’s a sailor’s grave
And like the breeze we sigh

The seaweed’s washed up on the beach
It’s scent is on the air
Her sailor’s soul is out of reach
Winds blow the widow’s hair

An eagle soars above the shore
The tide is on the turn
It flies above the sailor’s grave
A widow’s left to yearn

The tern dives in the gentle wave
Then rises to the skies
And flies above the sailor’s grave
A lonely widow cries

Whitebait are caught there in a net
The fisherman’s at sea
There are to be more widows yet
It’s what is going to be

The widow’s weeping by the bay
The orphans by her side
Yet these sad times will pass away
For goodness will abide

The boat lulls on the gentle calm
Soon no clouds in the sky
In stillness is a gentle balm
And widow’s tears will dry

From: “Typists in the towers”

Saga of Sabah – and other Sagas of the Sea

I have a book of poems published in Sabah, Malaysia.

Sabah State Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Trevor Morgan, Saga of Sabah and other Sagas from the Sea
ISBN 978-967-11517-8-5
1. Poetry–Environmental aspects–Sabah
2. Borneo–Foreign relations–Indonesia
I. Sabah State Library
808.81

This is copyright and may not be kept in storage in any media in the United Kingdom

Buku Saga 1

Kulit Saga 1

Hudson River

This is a song lyric for a book Cilla wrote:

Hudson River

There’s bright sunshine on the Hudson
Winter winds are blowing chill
Cold hard frost reflects the sunlight
And I’m longing for you still

Chorus  Our best dreams can be so empty
And our longings give no thrill
Love is met with cold indifference
And I’m longing for you still

There’s a thick for on the Hudson
Mists are hanging grey and still
Cold hard frost reflects the lamplight
And I’m longing for you still

Chorus

There’s an oil slick on the Hudson
Slimy streaks clear waters kill
Rainbow tint reflects the bright light
And I’m longing for you still

Chorus

There’s cold moonlight on the Hudson
I had wanted you until
Cold hard heart reflected love’s light
Yet I’m longing for you still

Chorus

There’s ice floating on the Hudson
Winter winds are blowing chill
Cold hard frost reflects the warm light
And I’m longing for you still

Chorus

Cold hard frost reflects the warm light
And I’m longing for you still

I am longing for you still

Longing, longing for you still

copyright Trevor Morgan 1994

HMS Barham and the Witch of Southsea

HMS Barham was sunk by U331

 

HMS-Barham

Dedication:  To Uncle Frank who never spoke about any of this

and to all the men who ever served on Barham.

Foreword

The Second World War was long and unremitting for the men who served in the Royal Navy. For them it was a global war. From the Arctic to the tropics they died.
An affidavit was presented to the Nuremberg tribunal in defence of Doenitz the German Admiral. In this affidavit signed by 67 u-boat skippers they stated: –

“The undersigned declare that the German Navy was educated by their leaders to respect the written and the unwritten laws of the sea…We have always seen it as fitting our honour to keep these laws and to conduct the combat at sea in a chivalrous manner…”!!!
It is difficult to understand what this means. Are there chivalrous as well as unchivalrous ways to cause men to be shattered and to drown? War is plain dirty and nasty and that is all.
The campaign for the Mediterranean was long costly and eventually successful.
The cost in ships was considerable. These narrative verses are a fiction based loosely upon events in this campaign and on the strange case of the “Barham Witch”. It is a little known fact that the last trial of a so-called “witch” took place in 1944.  It was more associated with state secrecy feeling the need to silence a psychic than on any real belief in witchcraft.
Relatives in Portsmouth were to find out about the sinking of HMS Barham first from a clairvoyant who was strangely accurate before the news of the tragic sinking was released to the press. On many documentaries we have seen the film a battleship rolling over with many of her crew running across the upturned hull before she sinks. This is a film taken by the Barham’s own spotter plane as her task force zigzagged to try to evade submarine attack.
There was a great loss of life and the submarine skipper got an Iron Cross for his work that day.
I heard as a child a story of a widowed mother who lost her only son on the Barham hanging herself in the late 1950s. She too and those like her who died in that campaign was also a casualty.

 

U331 – Beneath the sea

Hans Diedrich gained his iron cross
We all do what we can
Strangers to him would face a loss
Oh, how they’d hate this man

Men do what they are trained to do
They do the best they may
That periscope it showed a view
That’s with him to this day

Three plumes of white rose up midships
Upon that looming foe
With silent prayer upon his lips
He saw that deadly blow

The forward tubes stood empty now
Torpedoes were away
Hans Diedrich made a silent vow
He’d not forget this day

His boat then shuddered with each boom
That echoed through the hull
And right there in that murky gloom
His brain seemed tired and dull

 

Rude awakening

A lack of sleep can slow things down
Or weaken deep emotion
As struggling men sought not to drown
Mid terror and commotion

U331 would slink away
The battleship would sink
That was to be a fatal day
Amid an acrid stink

Beside the turret near the bow
Two seamen felt each blast
They struggled to the side somehow
But she went down so fast

Soon they were swimming in a sea
That frothed and bubbled so
There were so few that now swam free
Most had been dragged below

Below the sea beneath the waves
Dragged down there in their ship
Good friends gone to their early graves
One sailor bit his lip

For silence seemed to settle then
The sea became quite still
It chilled the bones of swimming men
These waves would slowly kill

Young Frank he wore a lifebelt though
So rested for a while
The injured first would sink below
Shock makes the soul docile

The water was not all that cold
So Death would not come quite fast
Events they could so slow unfold
Some things seemed meant to last

Now Frank and James they both could swim
James had no lifebelt so
He knew their chances would be slim
Time would drag on so slow

Frank’s lifebelt could support these two
Frank helped James take a rest
It was the natural thing to do
The sun sank to the west

A periscope then glided past
Some beasts await their prey
It turned towards the north at last
Before the break of day

Some beasts are strong and charge head on
With guile some pull prey down
Here fishes could now feed upon
Each victim who would drown

Yet all night long they drifted there
And all the next day too
The weather was quite calm and fair
The sky the clearest blue

That second night sleep nagged at them
They fought hard not to sleep
Each star seemed like a diadem
Above the hungry deep

Beneath their feet the fish swam by
Some gorged on human flesh
Though neither man would choose to die
Sleep caught them in its mesh

And James he sank below the waves
Sometime through that long night
Sailors may go to dark deep graves
James sank without a fight

Deep in his sleep within a dream
He met his dead Granddad
That old man’s face it seemed to beam
So James did not feel sad

He sank there to a fateful death
His dream made him content
He did not struggle to take breath
And soon his life was spent

Asleep Frank drifted on along
The currents of the sea
His fit young body was still strong
So death was not to be

He felt a tug upon his hair
An oarsman yanked his head
He was the last man rescued there
Now all the rest were dead

He puzzled at where James had gone
James had been in his dream
This last survivor seemed so wan
Then he began to scream

But morphine soon made him slump down
There in the rescue boat
It never was his fate to drown
Sobs whimpered in his throat

That boat it rode the gentle swells
They searched for sometime more
Long gone now were the acrid smells
That Frank had smelt before

In future years those smells would be
With him both night and day
A tortured soul is never free
Some things don’t go away

 

The Southsea ‘Witch’(i)

Speaking to women in her booth
Right there beside the shore
Poor Helen Duncan spoke her sooth
The way she’d done before

“Your James upon that battleship
Has died and gone to grace
I sense somehow he lost his grip
I see a strangers face

He and your James were in the sea
It seems their ship went down
Dear God this surely cannot be
How can so many drown?

Why did you have to come today?
Why did I seek for you?
Oh, hear this what I have to say
There’s nothing you can do

Most of the Barham lads are gone
Torpedoes sank the ship
The visions that I gazed upon
Could make me lose my grip”

She asked the women then to leave
She closed up for the day
Those sights she saw then made her grieve
Some scenes don’t go away

This time those sights came from the blue
She was not in control
Confused she knew not what to do
Her’s was a troubled soul

Each vivid sight each vivid smell
Tore right through her mind
She saw those young men put through hell
These visions were unkind

She felt each shock she felt each pain
She felt dragged to the deep
She felt she’d never breathe again
She saw sad kin folk weep

She saw herself stood in a dock
She saw a prison yard
Newspapers all would scoff and mock
And times they would be hard

She thought to close down for a while
To take a well-earned break
Inside she’d lost the will to smile
Her hands now seemed to shake…

ship25

 

The last casualty June 1955 (ii)

So Barham sank just like a stone
With eight hundred men and more
A widow woman wept alone
Though she’d been here before

Her husband Harry on the Hood
Now slept beneath the sea
Her only son’s now gone for good
A Barham lad was he

A banister was robust where
That rope stopped her dead weight
She’s left behind all worldly care
Where sorrow was her fate

In life she’d loved and did what’s right
She’d helped the poor and weak
She hanged there in some dappled light
So lonely, dead and bleak

So there behind the opening door
The agent felt cold dread
A pool of fluid on the floor
A silhouette of the dead

It mattered not how good she’d been
Fate took away her Hope
Now there’s this horror too be seen
It hung there on her rope

The hallway of the house was bleak
Where she last hugged her son
And she hung there for near a week
Once her last act was done

Her end had been so sudden though
When vertebrae were broke
She had not done a dancing show
That day she did not choke

She’d choked with tears for several years
All lonely grim and cold
Through many years she’d shed her tears
But now she’d not grow old

The state had waged its wars at sea
But not all deaths were there
More tragedies are yet to be
When sorrow’s everywhere

Just one last casualty was she
For trauma took her down
She’d hanged, she’d not died out at sea
It’s quicker than to drown

© Trevor Morgan, 2015

 

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[i] The last trial for witchcraft in England was held at the Old Bailey in 1944. Helen Duncan was convicted after she told relatives of sailors killed when HMS Barham was sunk that they were dead and the ship was sunk. At the time the sinking of the Barham was kept an official secret and it is not clear just how Helen Duncan could have known. Some still assert that she was genuine and dead sailors’ ghosts came to her and told her of the ship’s loss.

[ii] “A war widow was found hanged in the hallway of her house. The estate agent handling the sale of her house entered the property to show a potential buyer around. It was then that he found her…”News paper report in the local press.

Verdict… “she had taken her own life whilst the state of her mind was disturbed”…Coroners report, Portsmouth, England, June 1955.