The Last Casualty

There seems to be no ending to consequences of events. 


The Last Casualty¹

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


1. “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….” Newspaper report

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


A Sinking

This is a loose amalgam of several old sailors ditties.
My family had many members serve in the Royal Navy in both World Wars.
Most of the tales about that time I got from old women as a child. The men rarely spoke about what they had been through.

(Men actually survived this, but not many)


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 close up 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 had 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 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 his 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.
While fishes here could 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
A bowman 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!

Dedicated to kind old Uncle Frank

This is a part of a series of verses about the sea.

Song for nameless Heroes

Some can act with total clarity
While others may well dither and be lost.

As Shakespeare put it:-
“And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action…”

(Hamlet, Act III, scene I)

Song for nameless Heroes

“From very depths of dire despair
Some see a faint dim glow.
Was it a sign of some sweet air?
Just how were they to know?

With just a hint of faintest Hope
Just what were they to do?
Like putting trust in some old rope,
Mistakes can punish you!

Should we just meekly sit and wait,
Or trust to our own will?
Ah, we’re all in the hands of Fate
Where one wrong move could kill.

To hesitate may be to lose,
Or so the saying goes.
But which way were they then to choose,
It’s Chance alone, that knows!

And yet decisions that men take
May not be all that stark.
There’s some old ties we must forsake
That kept us in the dark.

Where everything is seeming odd
Beneath some faintish hue.
None may rely upon some god
To tell us what to do.

Then ditheringly we could have sat
Awaiting some rescue.
Through gritted teeth our Heroes spat
Ah, they knew what to do!

From out the depths of dire despair
They strove towards that glow.
They sought and gained the sweetest air
And left faint hearts below!”

Adapted from: “The Children of Gewis”
Trevor Morgan, 10 March 2012

HMS Bluebell

On 17 February, as Convoy RA 64 was assembling off Murmansk, Bluebell was hit in the stern by an acoustic homing torpedo fired by U-711, which caused her depth charges to explode. She sank in less than 30 seconds at 69°24′N 33°42′E From her crew of 86 ratings and officers there was only one survivor: Albert Holmes from Southampton.


HMS Bluebell – Sunk off the Kola Inlet 17 February 1945

Rising up to seek the light,
Upward through the winter cold.
Springtime is not yet in sight,
Ah, not all things will grow old.

Plucked up when it reached full bloom,
Thrown aside – but not forgot.
Lost there in the chill and gloom,
That place now – a sacred spot.

Bluebells bless our woodland floor
In the spring foretell of peace.
Each year may there grow yet more,
Let Bluebell’s glory never cease.

In the woodlands Bluebells grow,
Growing up through winter’s cold.
How they make a glorious show
Precious more than burnished gold.

Little ship sunk in that sea
All but one went down with her.
Died to keep this old world free;
Young men die when old men err.

From: “Arctic Elegies”

The Public Records Office at Kew

After a ship decommissions its documents are archived.
On the Albion in 1964, I remember tying up bundles of charts and binding with a red ribbon and pouring sealing wax over the knot. All was neat and sealed and dispatched. The Log Book and Letters in Passage were similarly parcelled up and dispatched.
Recently, I wanted to look at a particular set so contacted the Public Records Office at Kew. I was told they would not be made public for 100 years!
How strange, I wonder what might be in there?


The Public Records Office at Kew

After every action then
Reports were written up.
They told of what we had done when
We’d drunk from out that cup.

Reports prepared in triplicate
Was what we used to do.
We kept the first and duplicate;
The third must go to Kew

After thirty years or so
And for true history’s sake,
They are then put on public show;
Though some may be a fake!

Now can a State so that candid
And show off all its shame?
Who needs to know all that it did?
Lies keep it safe from blame!

© Trevor Morgan 2009


The Royal Navy is an old institution and good at record keeping. Documents can be lost when a ship is destroyed in action but even then there is an attempt to save the Log Book at a very minimum.
Only one Log Book has ever gone missing and that was the Log Book of HMS Conqueror, the submarine that sank the Argentine cruiser Belgrano during the Falklands War.
That seems to have been politically convenient.

Gosport Ferry Song

Before the First World War two young people met on a ferry.
One of them I knew, the other was to be his wife and the mother of his two children. He was in the Royal Navy and would go through battle and survive, she would be killed by the Flu epidemic just after the war ceased.
From “Jutland and After”.
That sad eyed old man I knew had been young and in love once upon a time.


 Gosport Ferry Song

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


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

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


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


There’s cold moonlight on the harbour
I had wanted you until,
Cold hard fate extinguished love’s light;
Yet I’m longing for you still


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


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.”



Rest in Peace Uncle Arthur

Widow’s Sea

I was recovering from an injury sat on the shore.
This was in Worthing. There was a strong scent of seaweed in the air.
Near by sat a women with two young children playing.
Here eyes were red, she had been crying.
I wrote this as I sat there:

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.

A raven soars above the shore,
The tide is on the turn,
It flies above the sailor’s grave;
A widow’s left to yearn.

A 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.

Trevor Morgan 1999

Drowned Sailor

HMS Goodall was torpedoed on 29th April 1945.
Hitler was already dead and the war was lost by the Third Reich.
Goodall was sunk in the confined waters of the Kola Inlet in Russia.
She was the last Royal Navy ship lost in the war with Germany.
I really hate the submarine that did this. It was a pointless act of killing.

Drowned Sailor

Limp and lifeless drifting downward
Sinking slowly through the cold.
Washed so slowly there to landward,
He would never now grow old.

Though no more he would face fear
Back at home old folk will weep.
Blue clothes cling about him here,
Though all’s blackness in the deep.

Bubbles rising from this clothing
His warm blood is now all chill.
Drifting, sinking just a dead thing
Arctic cold was quick to kill.

Fate was sealed and death was grim
For U-boats were here about.
He’d called out as ships passed him;
Passing matelots heard him shout.

In the springtime on the shoreline
Stinking corpses marred the shore.
Arctic daytime, chilly sunshine,
Clearing up a ghastly chore.

Those the gods love they all die young.
Gods can love a ship’s whole crew.
The sailors’ hymn is often sung,
Death at sea is nothing new.

Spirits of these dear departed
Heard upon a gentle breeze,
Kin and kith are broken hearted;
Sea birds’ calls sound ill at ease.

Trevor Morgan 1999

From: “Arctic Elegies”

Talking to an old man he told me that when a submarine was detected it was immediately attacked. This would mean abandoning men in the water. He remembered one shouting “Taxi, taxi can’t anyone get a bloody taxi round here”.
That man was joking in the face of a certain and immanent death. Jack has a unique sense of humour.

The Last Witch

Churchill repealed the Witchcraft Act in 1951.
When he was returned to power in 1951 this was in his first legislative proposals. To replace the old act he introduced The Fraudulent Mediums Act.

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.

On hearing of the trial Churchill is supposed to have said to his Home Secretary “What tomfoolery is this”!


The Southsea ‘Witch’

Speaking to women in her booth
Right there beside the shore,
Poor Helen Duncan spoke her truth;
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 stranger’s 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.

Her Visions

This time those sights came from the blue,
She was not in control.
Confused she knew not what to do,
Hers 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.

Trevor Morgan 2001


My uncle Frank served on the Barham at the Battle of Matapan. He was transferred off of the ship days before her last voyage.

The Sinking was filmed by Barham’s own spotter plane that had been launched to search for submarines.
Click on link below:

John Travers Cornwall V.C. lay dying

At the Battle of Jutland hundreds of boy seaman were killed in action.
One boy, John Travers Cornwall was awarded the highest honour, the Victoria Cross, for his valour.
At HMS St Vincent there was a picture of John. I have been unable to find it so have inserted another.
A silly television commentator said recently that he lied about his age to join.
15 Year old boys could join the royal navy up until 1968, I know, I did.
I once knew an old man who served on his ship, HMS Chester, at Jutland and saw the boy carried ashore. The old man cried after telling me that so I got little detail. This was 45 years after the battle.

John Travers Cornwall

The dying boy

Ashore the songbirds sang with joy
There was a gentle breeze.
But on that deck that dying boy
Felt, Oh, so ill at ease.

He saw the gulls and petrels too
As they whirled overhead.
He saw the shoreline now in view
His wounds still seeped and bled.

He felt the wetness on his side
The pangs grew bad again,
But never once there had he cried,
Still stoic mid the pain.

His small form was not yet full grown,
Some things aren’t meant to be.
He had loved all that he’d been shown,
He’d loved his life at sea.

He’d seen his gun crew be cut down,
Their legs and feet all gone
And though he’d earned some great renown,
His eyes no longer shone.

Near moribund and marked by Death
A haziness closed in,
He laboured at each single breath,
Some fights you may not win.


Ephemeral not lasting

Some go in the morning
Too long before the noon,
Parents are left mourning
Oh, they died too soon.

The gods it has been said
Who dwell up there above
Claim young who are now dead
As their dearest love.

From “Jutland and after”