Behind the Log (1947)


Bibliographical Description

BEHIND THE LOG / by / E.J. PRATT / [drawing 7.2 x 6.8 cm.: sailor pulling on a rope slung over his shoulder] / DRAWINGS BY / GRANT MACDONALD / TORONTO / THE MACMILLAN COMPANY OF CANADA LIMITED / 1947

(Cut: 23 x 15 cm.) 11-488, 32 leaves, pp. [i-x] xi-xiv [xv-xvi] 1-47 [48] (with illustrations on the following unnumbered pages: [xvi] [5] [9] [13] [17] [23] [29] [35] [41] [45]).

p. [i]: half-title, "BEHIND THE LOG"
p. [ii]: blank
p. [iii]: "By E.J. PRATT /Newfoundland Verse / The Witches' Brew / Titans / The Iron Door / The "Roosevelt" and The "Antinoe" / Verses of the Sea / Many Moods / The Titanic / The Fable of the Goats / Brébeuf and His Brethren / Dunkirk / Still Life / Collected Poems / Ten Selected Poems"
p. [iv]: blank
p. [v]: title page as above
p. [vi]: COPYRIGHT, CANADA, 1947 / BY / THE MACMILLAN COMPANY OF CANADA LIMITED / All rights reserved -- no part of this book / may be reproduced in any form without / permission in writing from the publisher, / except by a reviewer who wishes to quote / brief passages in connection with a review / written for inclusion in a magazine or / newspaper." / [at foot of page]"PRINTED IN CANADA"
p. [vii]: dedication, "To / Lorne Richardson"
p. [viii]: blank
p. [ix]: list of illustrations
p. [x]: blank
pp. xi-xiv: "FOREWORD" signed by E.J. Pratt
p. [xv]: fly-title, "BEHIND THE LOG"
p. [xvi]: illustration
pp. 1-47: text with title at head of text
p. [48]: blank

Ten drawings as follows:
p. [xvi]: "H.M.C.S. Skeena"
p. [5]: they pierce horizons for the surface hulls ... " signed [top right] "Grant Macdonald / "47"
p. [9]: "The Naval Control Service Officer addresses the Masters" signed [right, two-thirds down] "GM"
p. [13]: "Destroyer ... corvettes ... cargo carriers ... tankers ... / refrigeration ships ... hybrid types" signed [right, at foot] "GM"
p. [17]: " ... the asdic operator in his hut" signed [centre, at foot] "GM"
p. [23]: " ... and a moon ... picked out the seventy ships ... " signed [left, at foot] "GM"
p. [29]: " ... they ate and worked and slept" signed [right, at foot] "Grant Macdonald "47
p. [35]: " ... hundreds of sailors un-lifejacketed clawed at the jetsam / in the oil and water" signed [right, at foot] "Grant Macdonald "47"
p. [41]: " ... wrote their own obituaries in flame" signed [right, at foot] "GM"
p. [45]: "Spinney ... does a Blue Danube on the deck ... " signed [left, at foot] "Grant Macdonald / 47.

Material:
calico-texture cloth, not embossed (302), very red (Centroid 11)
upper cover: blank
spine: [vertically lettered in gilt] "BEHIND THE LOG / [dot] / E.J. Pratt / MACMILLAN"
lower cover: blank
endpapers: wove unwatermarked, pale yellow (Centroid 89).
Dust wrapper:
upper cover, drawing of three sailors with middle figure dominant;coloured in bronze, black, grey, red on white; [over-printed with hand lettering at top] "BEHIND THE LOG / by E.J. PRATT / [at foot] Drawings by Grant Macdonald"; wrapper initials: "GM" [left, at foot of figure]
spine: [vertically lettered] "BEHIND THE LOG / [dot] / E.J. Pratt / MACMILLAN"
lower cover contains a 22-line biographical note on Pratt and then, separated by three asterisks, an 8 1/2-line biographical note on Grant Macdonald; [at foot] MACMILLAN COMPANY OF CANADA LIMITED"
inner front flap: publisher's note about the poem and Pratt's research methods
inner back flap: a tribute to Pratt from the Royal Canadian Navy and a notice about his edition of Collected Poems.

Published December 1947. Price: $2.00. Number of copies unknown.

Copies examined: OTV (5); OTUTF (3); OTMC; OTMCL (2); OTNY; OHMA (2); OONL; VCP; LML.


Transcription

[Behind the Log, dust wrapper, upper cover]

[Behind the Log, dust wrapper, spine]
[Behind the Log, dust wrapper, lower cover]
[Behind the Log, dust wrapper, inner front flap]
[Behind the Log, dust wrapper, inner back flap]
[Behind the Log, upper cover] [blank]
[
Behind the Log, spine]
[Behind the Log, lower cover] [blank]
[
Behind the Log, endpapers] [blank]
[
Behind the Log, p. [i]] [half-title]
[Behind the Log, p. [ii]] [blank]
[
Behind the Log, p. [iii]] [By E.J. Pratt ...]
[Behind the Log, p. [iv]] [blank]
[
Behind the Log, p. [v]] [title page]
[Behind the Log, p. [vi]] ["Copyright ..."]
[Behind the Log, p. [vii]] [dedication]
[Behind the Log, p. [viii]] [blank]
[
Behind the Log, p. [ix]] [list of illustrations]
[Behind the Log, p. [x]] [blank]
[
Behind the Log, p. [xi]] [foreword (1)]
[Behind the Log, p. xii] [foreword (2)]
[Behind the Log, p. xiii] [foreword (3)]
[Behind the Log, p. xiv] [foreword (4)]
[Behind the Log, p. [xv]] [fly-tle]
[Behind the Log, p. [xvi]] [illustration] H.M.C.S. Skeena
[Behind the Log, p. 1] [CENTRE]BEHIND THE LOG THERE is a language in a naval log That rams grammar down a layman's throat, Where words unreel in paragraphs, and lines In chapters. Volumes lie in graphs and codes, Recording with an algebraic care The idiom of storms, their lairs and paths; Or, in the self-same bloodless manner, sorting The mongrel litters of a battle signal In victories or defeats or bare survivals, Flags at half-mast, salutes and guards of honour, Distinguished crosses, burials at sea. Our navigators trained their astrolabes And sextants on the skies in lucky weather, Or added guesses to dead reckoning, Hauled up their lead, examined mud or shell Or gravel on the arming -- fifty fathoms, Now forty, thirty, twenty-five, shallowing Quickly! "Engines astern, reefs, keep your lead Going. Have plenty of water under you." They did not wait till miracles of science Unstopped the naked ears for supersonics, Or lifted cataracts from finite vision To make night and its darkness visible. How long ago was it since sailors blew Their sirens at the cliffs while nearing land, Traversing channels, cocked their ears and waited? "Where did you hear that echo, mate?" "Right off The starboard quarter, Captain. Took ten seconds." "That's Gull Rock there a mile away. Where now?" 1
[Behind the Log, p. 2] "Two seconds for the echo from port bow." "That's Porpoise Head I reckon -- Hard a-port!" With echoes everywhere, stand out to sea. But when the winds deafened their ears or cloud And rain blinded their eyes, they were shoved back Upon their mother wit which either had To find the exits to the runs and round The Capes or pile their ships upon the reefs. And of that lineage are the men today. They still are calling to the rocks: they get Their answers in the same hard terms: they call To steel gliding beneath the sea: they pierce Horizons for the surface hulls: they ping The sky for the plane's fuselage: even The moon acknowledged from her crater sills. But though the radio bursts and vacuum tubes And electronic beams were miracles Of yesterday, dismissing cloud and rain And darkness as illusions of the sense, Yet always there to watch the colours, note The V-break in the beam's straight line, to hear The echoes, feel the pain, are eyes, ears, nerves: Always remains the guess within the judgment To jump the fire perfection of the physics And smell mortality behind the log. As weird a game of ping-pong ever played Was on the sea -- the place, off Cape Farewell, With the back-curtain of the Greenland ice-cap: Time -- '41 autumnal equinox. The crisis was the imminence of famine And the cutting of the ganglia and veins That vitalized the sinews, fed the cells [CENTRE]2
[Behind the Log, p. 3] Of lungs demanding oxygen in air. The wicks were guttering from want of oil, And without oil, the bread went with the light, And without bread, the will could not sustain The fight, piping its courage to the heart. Grey predatory fish had pedigreed With tiger sharks and brought a speed and power The sharks had never known, for they had been Committed to the sea under a charter Born of a mania of mind and will And nurtured by a Messianic slogan. They were not bounded by the parallels. They found their habitats wherever there Was open sea and keels to ride upon it. Off the North Cape they had outsped the narwhals, The sawfish off the Rios and the Horn. They did not kill for food: they killed that food Should not be used as food. They were the true Expendables -- the flower of their type. They left their mothers for self-immolation, The penalty the same for being on Or off the target -- for the first to join Their own combustion to that of the ships, And for the second, just to go the way Their victims went -- a drunken headlong spiral, Shunted from an exhausted radius Down fifteen thousand feet or more of sea, Engines, propellers, gyros, rudders, dead. The S.C.42 was being groomed To match a new suspected strategy. The sleuths till now had surfaced, stabbed and dived In lone attack. This convoy had to face [CENTRE]3
[Behind the Log, p. 4] The risk of concentrated ambush, meet it By leaving beaten sea-lanes, east and west, And in the ambiguity of the wastes To seek the harsh alliance of the ice And fog, where Arctic currents were more friendly, And long nights blanketed the periscopes. [CENTRE]THE CONVOY CONFERENCE In the Conference room the language dripped with brine. Veterans, who nearly half a century Ago had flown their flags on battle cruisers, Were busy grafting some new sprouts of Gaelic And Newfie-Irish on an English stump. They had saluted Fisher as cadets, Heard Open Fire under Jellicoe, Outridden typhoons off the Solomons And at the Falklands cancelled Coronel. 'Twas time they had a spell of garden peace, A time to trim their briers and colour Meerschaums. Those old days were the real days -- now, by God, They had to tread the decks of merchantmen, From flagships to dry cargo-ships and tankers. [LEFT MARGIN]The Naval Control Service Officer addresses the Masters. "Good morning, gentlemen. It is a pleasure To see familiar faces here today. To such of you who have commanded ships In earlier convoys what I have to say Will be just dishing up the old instructions. But since to many it is the first adventure, I know you'll pardon me if I should cover With some precision the important points. Let me begin by saying that your convoy Has, in its Commodore, one of the most [CENTRE]4
[Behind the Log, p. [5]] [illustration] . . . they pierce horizons for the surface hulls . . .
[Behind the Log, p. 6] Renowned men in the Service. It is not For me to talk at length about his fine And honourable record. It is known To all of you. He has of his free choice Issued from his well-earned retirement To place at the disposal of the Allies His knowledge, skill, and practical seamanship. Here at this table, gentlemen: -- Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Horatio Trelawney-Camperdown! "The Senior Naval Officer will have Escort and convoy under his command. An able and distinguished officer, He is through long and personal experience Well-versed in enemy tactics, and your safety Will be the escort's first consideration. [LEFT MARGIN]N.C.S.O. thumbing the pages of "General Instructions" "Being in all respects ready for sea, The ships will have steam up and hoist pennants At daybreak. Note -- The Commodore will sound A prolonged blast. The ships will leave anchorage In single column and at intervals Of three minutes, and in the following order, The Commodore leading . . . You will shorten cables XX minutes before you heave up. Note -- You will be making seaward on the ebb. You start two columns after dropping pilots. Notice in Form A1 all the instructions Governing matters of sequence, columns and speed. "May I now draw your most thorough attention To that important fire page, section B Of General Instructions' (a voice -- 'regular page [CENTRE]6
[Behind the Log, p. 7] of bumph'); that complete Blackout at night. Only last week reports Came in of a ship sunk because she showed A light, and that despite the most emphatic Warnings at the conference prior to the sailing. Remember -- have deadlights and scuttles closed, The blackout curtains checked, no cigarettes Or pipes lighted on deck and every measure To conceal the convoy put into effect. "And likewise of the first significance, Page 3 at section D concerning 'Smoke.' Advice is being received of ships making Black smoke which with good visibility May be observed for many miles at sea, And I may add for hours after a convoy Has passed a given point. I must repeat This warning -- Do not make black smoke in daylight! "Again. Your route has with the greatest care Been chosen by the Admiralty experts. But may I point out that such care and judgment Could be offset by so simple a matter As refuse-dumping over rails. Do not -- (Voices -- 'Wrap it around the bully beef.' 'No, put it in the soup to give it body.' 'God, that tomato soup needs body and flavour.' 'I'd put it in the kye to take the stink out.') Do NOT throw garbage in the sea in day time. That's a dead give-away. A crate or carton Floating astern a convoy might betray The existence and position of the ships. That practice must at all cost be avoided. [CENTRE]7
[Behind the Log, p. 8] "And most important for internal safety Of convoy lines is that of station-keeping. A ship that's not in station is out of control; The turns in moments of emergency Cannot successfully be executed, Unless this measure strictly is observed. I do not need to emphasize this maxim. "These measures are of front-line urgency. W/T silence must always be maintained Along the route. Occasionally it's broken, Not wilfully indeed but carelessly, By operators fresh from the radio school, Whose fingers have not lost the itch to tap The keys to break the tedium by listening To crackle on 500 kilocycles. A random da da dit dit dit might be An invitation to the U-boats ready To accept it. They are ever listening In on our frequencies and you know well The manner the Direction Finder Loop On a surfaced U-boat will follow a signal. It's like a human ear alerted, which Will turn to the source of a sound to get a bearing. You must remember that the enemy Will not relax his efforts to pick up Those waves, that German D/F stations even As far away as Occupied Europe Are taking bearings, plotting out our ships. "Now, gentlemen: here is the Commodore." [LEFT MARGIN]Sir Francis Horatio "Gentlemen: I shall be very brief and I hope To be as brief after we get to sea. [CENTRE]8
[Behind the Log, p. [9]] [illustration] The Naval Control Service Officer addresses the Masters
[Behind the Log, p. 10] I shall keep my signals to a minimum, But when a hoist does go up I shall Expect immediate acknowledgment. Many of us have sailed together already, And gone through several trying situations. But our success, such as it is, has sprung From absolute obedience to instructions And from endurance which must be assumed. While it is true that for the navigation Of his own ship each master must be held Responsible, there is but little room For rugged individualists. Elsewhere Perhaps the Nelson touch may be applied, And a captain's intuitions exercised, But not within the stations of a convoy. (Chuckles amongst the older masters.) "The N.C.S.O. has referred to the matter Of showing lights. A match, lit on deck, has Been spotted by an escort at two miles, And last crossing, a thoughtless biped left A port open and failed to notice the signal From a destroyer. It required a burst From a machine-gun to close it. I am sure We shall require no such emphasis In this convoy but I should urge each master To make the business of lights a top concern, Particularly at the change of Watch. Men dropping in to a stuffy galley to make A mug of tea before going below Are the principal offenders. "Do not wait Till you are deep in fog before you stream Your fog-buoys. That is generally too late. [CENTRE]10
[Behind the Log, p. 11] Your next astern by that time has lost touch. Good seamanship and team-play should prevent Avoidable collisions in thick fog. "If you are new to convoy you may be Tempted to flash on at full brilliancy Your navigation lights when another ship Closes you. DON'T. You are as visible To him as he to you. Keep closed up. Keep Lights dimmed except in an emergency. "I shall say little here about the stragglers. The record of the losses says it much More clearly, and the escort cannot help You if you leave the family. They are good; They can work wonders but not miracles. "And now if you're uncertain of anything -- Emergency turns, for instance -- come and have A chin with me at the close of the conference. And to repeat, we're in this business all Together, and in it up to the neck: For my part, I am bloody proud of it. Good morning, gentlemen, and a good voyage." [LEFT MARGIN]N.C.S.O. "Questions?" [LEFT MARGIN]Chorus "Plenty." [LEFT MARGIN]Harvey Butt "I'm in the wrong position. Too far astern. I have a 12-knot ship. I want a place in first or second line To save me bumpin' into 6-knot tramps." [LEFT MARGIN]Jim Burdock "This convoy got no tramps." [CENTRE]11
[Behind the Log, p. 12] Butt "Well, all I know The last one had 'em, and I knocked the sterns Off three of them, and I was always goin' Full speed astern to save my goddam neck." [LEFT MARGIN]"John Knox" O'Flaherty "I could make 8 knots if I didn't have Such lousy coal. The bloody stuff won't steam. A half of it is gravel -- wouldn't boil A kettle: looks like salvage from a wreck Picked up from sweepings left on Sable Island." [LEFT MARGIN]Charlie Shipside "And I don't like my place -- gummed up between A couple of tankers. God, if I'm not fished I'll be run down." [LEFT MARGIN]Jack Doucette "Why should I be back there? Never did like the stern of columns. Suppose I'm in there just for picking up survivors. What do you take me for -- an ambulance?" [LEFT MARGIN]Jerry Payne "8 knots would tear the guts out of my tub. I haven't had a refit for three years. Can't execute a turn of forty-five degrees. We'll be colliding every fifteen seconds." [LEFT MARGIN]Robert Fitzsimmons "My pumps were out of gear when she was built; Still out of gear; complained a hundred times, But can't get any action." [LEFT MARGIN]Michael Saltaway "I have this To say. I only got one boiler workin'; And that one's on half-time -- the other half Is restin' -- and I've only half a crew." [CENTRE]12
[Behind the Log, p. [13]] [illustration] Destroyers . . . corvettes . . . cargo carriers . . . tankers . . . refrigeration ships . . . hybrid types
[Behind the Log, p. 14] [LEFT MARGIN]Norwegian captain, leaning heavily on native speech I kan ikke forstaa fordommt ord. How in helvete tink dey dat I kan Faa 8 knots ut of my old vaskelbalja. Har ikke hatt fullt mannskap for two year. I lar mig fan ikke fortelle what I Skal do. You go helvete alle mann." [LEFT MARGIN]N.C.S.O. "What did he say?" [LEFT MARGIN]'Arry Stubbins "'E says the bleedin' hinstructions Are fine and quite clear to 'is hunderstandin'." [LEFT MARGIN]Robin MacAllister "Nae, nae, he canna' thole thae English turrms. He'd ken a' richt, gin you gae him the Gaelic. I wad respeckfully suggest the wurrds O' the Generral Instructions be convairted Into a ceevilized tongue so that a chiel Micht hae nae doots. Noo, let me spik mi thochts." (Voices: "Now, what did he say?" "Noo's the day and noo's the hour." "Is this St. Andrew's Night?" "Pipe in the haggis.") [LEFT MARGIN]A Danish captain "No, no. He sess he do not ikke know One word. His vaskelbalja -- tub-tub, washtub, Das iss he mean his ship, can't make 8 knots. No crew mannskap full up for long long time. Ship had no refit since she left Bergen In 1894. He tol' me dat Himself. He not quite clear. He sess ve can All go to hella. Don't care damn. I got Complaints also. Want get dem off my chest. Goddam nuisance, I seh, dose para-a-vanes. Muss up de vurks. Crew don't like dem damn bit. [CENTRE]14
[Behind the Log, p. 15] Dey seh put hex on ship -- a buncha Jonahs. And more also I seh. No compass checks. Dose D/G coils play hell wid compasses. De gear get loose on deck. Dey come adrift." [LEFT MARGIN]Cyrus Bumstead "I don't want anyone to tell me how To run my ship -- been in the Services, Merchant and Navy, nigh come forty years. I was a Master when the most of them Were spottin' patterns on their diapers." [LEFT MARGIN]Mark Knee to Cyrus "I squeezed the Atlantic from my mitts before Those Juniors had their birthday buttons on." Captain, The Honourable Guy Brimblecombe "Well, sir, you needn't worry about my ship. She went through this before: she'll go again. She's in good trim. I have a splendid crew. Signals will be acknowledged to the letter, And in the sea tradition, I assure you." [LEFT MARGIN]N.C.S.O. "Now, gentlemen, since it is quite apparent That we are all in utmost harmony On the main grounds, it is just left for me To wish 'good-luck'. Never have I attended A Conference where there was such fine feeling Combined with insight and rare technical grasp Of the problems of a convoy operation. Let me congratulate you. May I now Invite you, on behalf of a great friend Of the R.C.N., to the Periwinkle Club At Lobster Point where you may hoist a couple to take the chill from the September fog." [CENTRE]* * * In a few hours from the time the blinds Were drawn upon the jags and the last lisp [CENTRE]15
[Behind the Log, p. 16] Against the universe and things marine Was but a reminiscence lapsed in rum, Those men were on the Bridge peering through fog And moving towards their ordered rendezvous. [CENTRE]* * * One half a million tons were in the holds, Cramming to the last precious cubic inch The slow-keeled merchantmen -- the sixty-six. No longer were those ships an industry Run for peacetime returns upon investment. They took their line positions for defence. Against them mainly was the warfare waged -- Bulk cargo carriers with box-like sections, Ship side to ship side and the main deck to keel, Carrying their gross of ore and coal and grain; The ships with 'tween decks running the full length; Tankers equipped with special pumps for oil; Refrigeration ships, holds insulated For storage of the perishable goods; And hybrid types that had their bellies full Of oranges, aluminum and lint. How desperate the strait which would commit A treasure of this price to such a journey! Where find a steward who would risk his name To close the page of such accountancy When every mile along the ocean highway Was calling for protection, and in calling Demanded life and life's expenditure? And here the call was answered with a guard Whose substitute for numbers was its courage -- Four terriers slipped from the Canadian kennel: But one destroyer, Skeena; three corvettes, Kenogami, Orillia and Alberni. [CENTRE]16
[Behind the Log, p. [17]] [illustration] . . . the asdic operator in his hut
[Behind the Log, p. 18] Upon their vigil hung the life of all, Of ships and men. Of sleeker, faster breed, The Skeena ranged a far periphery At thirty knots, now out of sight and now Closing the convoy as her nose tried out The dubious scents in narrowing ellipses. The slower guards kept closer to their broods, Pushing their way within the column lanes, Emerged to pace the port and starboard flanks Or nuzzled with a deep strategic caution The hulls of those whose tardy engine beats Brought down the knots of faster ships and made The gravest risk and worry for the fleet. They kept a special watch upon the tankers. No ships, no aeroplanes, no jeeps could stir Without this source of power and lubrication. Even the merchantmen must flank these ships, Herded like buffalo young inside the ring. [CENTRE]* * * [LEFT MARGIN]Commodore to signalman "Signal to pennants 73, relay To pennants 103, Stop Pouring Smoke!" [LEFT MARGIN]Internal murmurings "Look at it tossin' like a Texas twister. That smoke is blacker than an Afghan's whiskers. I'd like to tell that Captain of the Heads He should have stayed at home with the kind of job That suited him -- housebreakin' his Angoras." [LEFT MARGIN]Official "And pennants 114 is out of station." [LEFT MARGIN]Unofficial "That flappin' penguin from the Auckland Islands Has been a week on route, yet needs more time To get rid of that Newfie-Crowsnest screech. He'll lose it when he's doused. Get back in station, [CENTRE]18
[Behind the Log, p. 19] For if you don't, the canaries will stop singin'." [LEFT MARGIN]The Master's thoughts "I told those sculpins at the conference I couldn't make that eight -- a half a knot Above a six would blow my stinkin' boilers. I haven't had a cleanin' for a year, And there's a beach of sand inside the gears, And yet that bargee yells -- GET BACK IN STATION!" [LEFT MARGIN]Commodore "And pennants 74 by the Diet of Worms! He's waddlin' like an old barnyard merganser. Another hour by the way he's goin' He'll be out on the flanks duckin' his feathers, Or lost in fog and stragglin' back to Sydney. Keep pumpin' Morse into his ruddy blinkers." [LEFT MARGIN]The Master in question "I've got a twisted rudder -- like a corkscrew, And if that poopin' punk there on that flagship Imagines he's Paul Bunyan or the devil, Tell him put on his shorts and straighten it." [LEFT MARGIN]P.O. to galley-boy "Gallagher, did your mother tell you nothin' On the way home? Stop pitchin' gash in daytime. Handin' the convoy on a platter to the subs. As bad as smoke to give the trail away. Just one more bad tomato over there, And all the ships will quit this lovely Service, And you'll go with the galley, do you hear?" [LEFT MARGIN]Gallagher "Why won't that windpipe slitter tell me what I got to do with all that mouldy gash? 'Twas gash when it was brought aboard, 'twas gash When it was crated; now its maggoty. Can't eat it and can't burn it and can't dump it. I'd like to foul his beak in those tomatoes." [CENTRE]19
[Behind the Log, p. 20] North of the sixtieth, they had, it seemed, Found refuge in a sea-berth where the foe, Finding the chill enter his crop, might seek More southern fodder. Least of all the hazards Were winds and waves: for these the ships were built. Their bows could bull the heavier seas head-on. Their hulls could stand the shock beam-to. The keels Had learned the way to bite into the troughs: Such was their native element. The acts Of God were taken as their daily fare Received alike with prayers or curses. These Were as the dice fell -- whether luck of devil Or luck of God spilled on a shifting floor Close to the steady fringe of the Arctic Circle. For seven days and nights without attack! The asdic operator in his hut Had sent his ultra-sounds out and reported Echoes, but only such as might return As the dull, soft reverberation notes From seaweed or low forms of ocean life Or from a school of porpoises or whales. His hearing was as vital to the ship As was the roving sight in a crowsnest. His ear was as the prism is to light, Unravelling meanings from a skein of tone. Each sound might hold a threat, a Bremen slur, An overture to a dementia Of guns and rockets and torpedo hits Competing with the orders from the Bridge. He had to know that threat and not mistake it. For that his body was a sounding-board. Even his knees must feel it and his face Become a score for undetermined notes, [CENTRE]20
[Behind the Log, p. 21] As if a baton in his cortex played Wry movements on his neurones fiddle-taut, Twitched his reflexes into spasms, narrowed His pupils, kicked his heart into his throat. He had an instrument in his control Attested by the highest signatures of science. The echoes had traversed wide spans of time: -- Helmholtz and Doppler tapping to each other Through laboratory walls, and there was Rayleigh Calling to Langevin, he to Fresnel, The three hymning Pindarics to Laplace, And all vibrating from their resonators Salutes to Robert Boyle, halloos to Newton. And here, his head-phones on, this operator, Sleeve-rolled mechanic to the theorists, Was holding in his personal trust, come life, Come death, their cumulative handiwork. Occasionally a higher note might hit The ear-drum like a drill, bristle the chin, Involving everything from brain to kidneys, Only to be dismissed as issuing From the submerged foundations of an iceberg, Or classified as "mutual interference". The hopes were running higher the farther north The convoy steamed. Would this one get its break? The Arctic pressed into the human service, The Circle which had caught the navigators -- The hardiest in the annals of The Search, Willoughby, Chancelor, Hudson, Bering, Franklin -- Impounded them, twisted and broken them, Their ships and crews upon its icy spokes: This time through the ironic quirk of War Changed to an allied cordon sanitaire. [CENTRE]21
[Behind the Log, p. 22] The evening of the eighth day and a moon, High-sailing and impersonal, picked out The seventy ships, deriding the constrained Hush of the blackout. Was the latitude Itself not adequate watch? The sea was calm, Although with a beam swell the wallowing rate Was but five knots. The moon illuminated The Empire Hudson, leader of port wing, Loaded with grain, the Gypsum Queen with sulphur, The Winterswyck, the Garm, the Scania, Muneric (iron ore -- sink like a rock She would if hit), Bretwalda, Baron Ramsay, Gullpool, the Empire Panther and Macgregor, The Lorient, Arosa, Hampton Lodge, And others with the same high names and pennants, Carrying at the load-water line their freight -- Twelve columns of them in their blueprint stations. A half an hour to dusk the bo'sun's mate Had piped his strictest order -- Darken Ship. Thousands of sailors under decks were sealed As in vast envelopes. They ate and worked And slept within a world self-quarantined Against the pestilence of light by bolts, Bulkheads and battened portholes, for each cell Was like a tumoured brain, danger within, Danger without, divided from the world By an integument of iron bone. What chance for life the moment when a shell Trepanned the skull? What would release the pressure Of that stampede to reach the for'ard hatch -- That burial hole in the deckhead -- and come up When the plates buckled in the lower mess? [CENTRE]22
[Behind the Log, p. [23]] [illustration] . . . and a moon . . . picked out the seventy ships . . .
[Behind the Log, p. 24] Danger within? Could not the magazines By a raffle flirt of fate be made to turn Against the convoy, striking through the escort, With final undeliberated measure, When the oil tanks would join the magazines To the last ton, to the last gram of blunder? The fires that warmed the galleys could cremate: For oil and fulminate of mercury, Nitrated cellulose and T.N.T. And the constituents of our daily bread, Fresh water and fresh air, could by a shift, Sudden and freakish in the molecules, Be transubstantiated into death. Added to this might come the blows where friend Struck friend with utmost shoulder energy -- Blows just as murderous as torpedo hits Where in the darkness, executing turns, Or in the fog, the convoy ships would find Their plates as vulnerable as cellophane: Or from excess of their protective zeal The fighting units with their double rate Of convoy speed might plough their sinuous way Up through the narrow lanes and turn too sharp, Presenting their full beams across the bows Of leading merchantmen. Lucky they were If they escaped with nothing but a blast Of roaring basso from the Commodore's lungs -- "Those lousy, noisy, nattering sons o' badgers, Where do they think they're going -- to Miami, Harpooning porpoises or flying fish?" The Silent Service never won its name With fairer title than it did this night. [CENTRE]24
[Behind the Log, p. 25] Evening at half-past nine and a fresh sound, An instant octave lift to treble pitch From the dull datum of "reverbs" startled The ear. "An echo bearing green four-O, Range 1500." "Hold and classify." The ping-g-g with its death's head identity! [LEFT MARGIN]C.O. to Officer-of-Watch "Increase speed 250 revolutions." (Officer-of-the-Watch repeats, calls down voice-pipe to coxswain who sets engine-room telegraph to speed. The Engineer Officer-of-Watch acknowledges. His chief E.R.A. swings wheel-throttle-valve open to make required revolutions. Engine-room telegraph confirms to wheelhouse and coxswain calls up voice-pipe -- "Wheelhouse-Bridge: 250 revolutions on, sir." Bridge Officer-of-Watch repeats to captain.) The Skeena heeled to port on "starboard ten" To keep the target on the bow. "Steady On two-four-seven." (Harry one at the dip.) "Left cut on two-four-six. . . . Right cut On two-five-three." (Reporting Doppler) "Echo high and inclination closing." The range 1200. "Target moving right: Centre bearing, two-five-five." One thousand yards: "extent of target -- ten." Not ice this time but moving steel submerged -- Two hundred feet of longitudinal plate, Forged at the Krupp's and tested in the Baltic, Were answering the taps. "Stand by depth-charges." [CENTRE]25
[Behind the Log, p. 26] [LEFT MARGIN]Captain to Chief Yeoman "Take an emergency report to shore: 'In contact with classified submarine'." (Chief Yeoman repeats to W.T. office.) A crackle of Morse, and in bare space of seconds The warning goes to Admiralty, from there To allied ships in threatened area, And on the walls in Operations, where The swastikas and shadows of the U-boats Follow in replica the Atlantic movements, A red peg moves along the chart to plot The first of the disease spots that would pock The body of the S.C.42. Whatever doubt the eye might have imposed Upon the ear soon vanished with the signals. Jedmore reported two torpedoes passed Ahead. Muneric, fourth ship in port column, Attacked, dragged instantly, sank with her iron. The Commodore -- "Saw U-boat on port bow." Kenogami in contact with another, A third, a fourth. Suspicions which had wormed Their way along the vine were proved. The first Wolf-pack engagement of the Atlantic War Was on! A fifth . . . a seventh! They had trailed The ships to Greenland waters. Moonlight full, Without the mercy of clouds, had turned A traitor to the convoy, cancelling The northern length of nights. Like teal not yet Surprised to wing, the silhouetted ships Awaited leisured barrels from the hunters, And the warheads drilled them as from open sights. Orillia, detailed to sweep astern, Picked up the few survivors, took in tow [CENTRE]26
[Behind the Log, p. 27] The S.S. Tachee, badly hit but still Afloat: rockets were seen in midst of convoy: A signal from the flagship -- "Empire Hudson Torpedoed on port side." The triple task -- To screen the convoy, counter-attack, and then, The humane third of rescuing the sailors, Seemed far beyond the escort's hope or effort. To save to kill, to kill to save, were means And ends closely and bloodily allied. Hundreds of sailors un-lifejacketed Clawed at the jetsam in the oil and water. Captains and Commodore were well aware Of how a lame one in a chase could spatter With blood the entire herd. High strategy Demanded of the brain an execution Protested by the tactics of the heart. And there was only half an inch or less Of a steel skin upon the escort's hulls -- Not for self-safety were those ships designed. Just here the log with its raw elements Enshrined a saga in a phrase of action. "The Empire Hudson listing badly, crew And officers were disembarked. Someone Reported -- 'Secret papers have not been Destroyed, mersigs, swept-channels, convoy route, And codes, the CODES!' And as there was a chance The steamer might not sink, Kenogami Was ordered to embark an officer, Return him to the listed deck to find And sink the weighted papers -- which was done." This stark undecorated phrase was just An interlinear item in the drama, Three words spelling a deed unadvertised, When ships announced their wounds by rockets, wrote [CENTRE]27
[Behind the Log, p. 28] Their own obituaries in flame that soared Two hundred feet and stabbed the Arctic night Like some neurotic and untimely sunrise. Exploding tankers turned the sky to canvas, Soaked it in orange fire, kindled the sea, Then carpeted their graves with wreaths of soot. The sea would tidy up its floor in time, But not just now, -- gaskegs and rafts and mops, Oilskins, sou'westers, sea-boats, duffel coats Drifted above the night's burnt offerings. Only the names remained uncharred -- Muneric, Ulysses, Baron Pentland, Sally Maersk, The Empire Crossbill, Empire Hudson, Stargard -- Merely heroic memories by morning. The early hours of daylight drove the subs To cover though the escort knew that eyes, As sleepless as their own but unobserved Behind the grey-green mesh of swell and lop, Were following the convoy's desperate plunge. All knew that no restrictive rules would hedge This fight: to the last ship, to the last shot, To the last man, for fair was foul and foul Was fair in that mêlée of strength and cunning. Tirpitz and Fisher thirty years before Had scanned the riddles in each other's eyes. What was the argument about the belt That drained the sophistry of principles Inside a ring? "Hit first, hit hard, hit fast!" Tirpitz had trumped him with -- "Hit anywhere." And here today only one point was certain -- Sailors above the sea, sailors below, Drew equally upon a fund of courage. No one might gamble on the other's fear [CENTRE]28
[Behind the Log, p. [29]] [illustration] . . . they ate and worked and slept
[Behind the Log, p. 30] Or waning will. Commander Schmidt might flood His tanks and dive when something on his mirror Called for discretion, but in his own shrewd time He could be reckoned on to blow the ballast And frame that picture on the glass again. He would come with Botterschult and Rickert, Von Braundorff, Niebergall, Schippmann and Fritzsche. They knew their crews would never fail the switches Or rush the conning towers before the orders, Though the depth-charges pounded the blood vessels, Though combing rams just missed them overhead. In what proportions did the elements Combine to move those individual pawns Of power in their massed flesh-and-nerve formation Across a board? Grit human; bruinine; Habits that would not heckle a command, Obedience that sealed the breach of fear, A frenzy that would spurn the slopes of Reason Under a rhetoric of Will which placed Before the herrenvolk historic choices -- To scramble up a cliff and vandalize The sunlight or else perish on the ledges. These were the enemies the convoy fronted: Metal to metal, though in this arena The odds lay heavily with the pursuers, Even by day -- for what were periscopes At distance of three thousand yards, that reared Their tiny heads curved like swamp moccasins? What was their smothered wake compared with that Propeller wash, that height and drift of smoke, Those lines of funnels with their sixty hulls? And so it was a safe bet on the sub When at high noon one left her nest and sped [CENTRE]30
[Behind the Log, p. 31] Her charge right at the S.S Thistleglen, Dead at the waterline and full amidships. It took three minutes for the merchantman To dock her pigiron on the ocean floor. "There, there he is!" Seven cables from the spot Where suction swirled above the foundering, The periscope light-grey -- one minute only! The Skeena carried out a pounce attack Of ten depth-charges fired with shallow settings. The asdic trailed the sub proceeding north At three-knot speed. Kenogami confirmed Echoes. Depth-charges with deep settings dropped, The echoes ceased, and a great patch of oil Surfaced, and a huge bubble like a blister Broke, close to the position of explosions. "This time for keeps we pinged his bloody hide, sir: We've sent him down to join the Thistleglen." With this by day, what could another night Not call forth from the cupboard? Afternoon Wore on till dusk with that dramatic lull Which acted like narcotics on the heart, Yet put high-tension circuits in the brain. "The Sally Maersk went down with bread enough To feed an army for a month." "But what A job the corvettes did in rescuing Them all -- the fifty-four under that fire." "Most of the Baron Pentland too." "Her back Was broken though her lumber kept her floating." [CENTRE]31
[Behind the Log, p. 32] Could the same chance be taken the next night? An hour after nightfall and the convoy Had pierced the sixty-second parallel. Twelve shortened columns tightened up their gaps, All ships under instructions -- (You will not -- repetition -- Not break W.T. silence without deep suspicion of U-boat presence.) Owing to moon Rear ships of the port column were instructed To drop smoke floats should enemy appear On the port side. Each minute passed, each mile Northward were credit items on a ledger. And now quickening the heart, two friendly shadows, Corvettes, steamed into shape -- Moose Jaw, Chambly -- Two added to the four. But still the hope Was on evasion -- on the North -- to kick Them with their wounded heels and merge the spoors Within the Greenland-Iceland ocean tundras. And so the last night's vigil was repeated, Although more ominous the silences: More broken, too, the sleep as the ears buzzed Still with the dental burr of the point-fives, And the yellow cordite from the four-point-sevens Kept up its smart under exhausted eyelids. The average rate was lowered by three knots. The Tachee was in tow of the Orillia, Fumbling her rudder. From the Chambly's deck, Two miles away, the ships seemed fated targets. Silent and slow and dark as, clothed with crape, They journeyed on like mourners, having left The Saxon burial of their sister ships, And bearing on themselves the same contagion. The air was breathing out its prophecy. So was the water. There was mockery [CENTRE]32
[Behind the Log, p. 33] Within the sea's caress -- the way a wave Would clamber up the bow of the Moose Jaw, scout Around the shadows of the foc's'le, Tattoo the face of the Bridge and lazily Slither along the deck and then hiss through The hawse-pipes as the corvette dipped her nose To the slow anaesthetic of the swell. Mockery it was on face and lips and fingers, For, after her reconnaissance, the sea, As urging death with a forensic fury, Would shed her velvet syllables, return With loaded fists to thunder at the gun-shields, Trying to crack defence before the battle Was joined between the "patterns" and the "tubes." Eleven-thirty, and the navigator, His coat and boots on in his bunk, completes A nightmare with a steady mumbling curse. He thought the order was Abandon Ship -- It was an O.D. calling Middle Watch. He wakes, turns over, and again turns over, Yawns, stretches and turns out, proceeds to Bridge, Peers through the blackout curtains, and in dim Blue battle-light he squints and notes night orders, The toughest order of the toughest Watch (Maintain tail sweep from two to four thousand yards). He focuses binoculars to range The horizon arcs. "A lot of whales about Tonight." The echoes picked them up. Four hours! He has to fight that Middle Watch fatigue, And as the minutes crawl he sucks life-savers, Or cracks one on his teeth for company. A line of spray leaps up above the dodger [CENTRE]33
[Behind the Log, p. 34] And like rawhide cuts him across the face. Then, too, that phosphorescence on the sea Is easily mistaken in its darts, Flashes and curves for what the lookout fears. Two hours are gone: another two to go. (That wrist-watch ticks off hours instead of seconds.) His eyelids blink to ease the strain that falls Like mist upon a telescopic lens. A starboard lookout yell jerks back his senses -- "Torpedo bearing green-four-0." Lookout Recoils from an expected blow that does Not strike. "Damn porpoises: they always home In on the bow." (The navigating officer wipes the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve, tells the sub-lieutenant to take over for a few minutes as he wants to go to Heads. Then he calls to a stand-by.) "Say, Spinney, what about A mug of kye?" "Yes, Sir." Spinney had not Yet found his legs. Less than six months before He had been learning Latin and the class- Room smell had not been kippered from his system To him the ocean was a place of travel, A blue-green oriental boulevard Round unknown continents -- up to this year; And even to last night the illusion stayed, When for his benefit the Borealis Staged a rehearsal of the Merry Dancers Before the blood-red footlights till it paled The myth upon a tracery of starshell. [CENTRE]34
[Behind the Log, p. [35]] [illustration] . . . hundreds of sailors un-lifejacketed clawed at the jetsam in the oil and water
[Behind the Log, p. 36] He now goes to the galley, fills a jug With kye, picks up a half a dozen mugs, Stumbles, skates, splashes half of it on deck. Some drops of rain and sea-foam tincture it. Along the way a leading-hand of the Watch And a rheumatic coder cadge a drink, And by the time that Spinney finds his balance On the bridge only a soapy seawash greets The navigator's throat. "What in the name Of all buck goats is this? Where did you get This swill?" (He hands it to the sub to drink.) "Go back and fill her up again, And keep her clean." Spinney steps down from Bridge, Staggers, makes for the ladder, cracks the jug Against the signal-box before he slides, Reaches the galley and returns, tries hard To wean his legs from the quadrangle walk, Does a Blue Danube on the deck, and then Revokes his quondam heroes (what a bunch Of fools those ancients were to travel, Aeneas was the biggest ass on earth!) And flinging out his last accusative At what is limned on the horizon, he Remeasures his Virgilian cadences In terms of stresses gliding queazily Along the black ramps of the North Atlantic. At ten to four Lieutenant Snell takes over, And the two victims of the Watch slope down With brains of fog and eyes of fractured glass. Their legs go aft by instinct to their bunks, Their minds well in advance entering a coma Beyond gun-cotton shock or Gabriel's horn. [CENTRE]36
[Behind the Log, p. 37] 'Twas only in a stupor that O'Leary Recalled his reprimand. When did it happen? "Yeoman, you dropped no markers with that pattern. That's standing orders now -- smoke-floats to mark Areas attacked. Ever heard it? Don't you know Your drill? You'll be in my report in the morning." O'Leary gagged upon his chewing quid, Hiccupped, sending a spurt of nicotine And hydrochloric acid on the sea. "He said to me, said he, 'O'Leary, don't You know your drill?' -- Say, how the hell would I know? Nobody tells me nothing in this Navy." A bo'sun caught the Peggy with a fag. "Cripes, do you want to bitch this midnight show? That lighted butt is visible for miles, And on the starboard wing, too. Don't you know The one and only moral law of Moses Is never light a fag on deck at night? A law you got to learn while in the Service. A light can be machine-gunned by the escort. They'd ping your fag and teeth at the same time." [LEFT MARGIN]Peggy, out of earshot "I didn't light it on the deck. I cupped My hands and took three drags and that was all. That jockey groomed for donkeys thinks he's got The whole world by the tail in a down pull. When I get back to Civvy Street, I'll call him." O'Meara, Steele and Casey had a lot To say. They'd gab it when the day came round -- The day the Stargard reached her port -- but somehow The water and the salt got in their throats The moment when the Stargard took them under. [CENTRE]37
[Behind the Log, p. 38] The dark was sedative and irritant. How easy was it for an interval To muffle the senses with a hushed blackout, And the diminuendo of the run Could well delude the reason. This was not The rate that marked the fever of pursuit, And nothing from the decks was visible To show the way the trimmest escort unit Could be in shackles to a lubber keel, And have to be replaced in precious moments; Nothing to show how gyros and magnetics Could be ungeared by submarine explosions. For this was information undiffused Among the crew or countered by illusions, Or by resumption of the normal tasks. No one from the Ulysses lived to cite The witness of the E.R.A.s and firemen, Pounding the steel rungs in that inner trap When the torpedo struck her gas and oil. The drama of the night before was over. No headlines would record as news the toil, As stokers every hour took temperatures Of bearings, scribbled them on pads, transferred Them to the logs and then resumed their rounds To watch for popping valves, to check the flow By turning wheels when the full head of steam Was hitting the square inches of the boilers. There was no spotlight on the items when A leading seaman of the watch reported "The temperature of the sea forty degrees, The lowering falls are clear, boats off the pins, The watertight compartments are all closed." No one would mould the linotype for such [CENTRE]38
[Behind the Log, p. 39] A mass that might survive or not survive Their tedium of watches in the holds -- The men with surnames blotted by their jobs Into a scrawl of anonymity. Into a scrawl of anonymity. A body blow at the boilers would untype All differentiations in the blood Of pumpmen, wipers, messmen, galley boys Who had become incorporate with the cogs On ships that carried pulp and scrap to Europe. Desire invoking for the memory Amnesia for the nightmare that had passed, It might have been a run in peaceful times. The sounds seemed casual enough -- lookouts Reporting to the officers on watch, Got back the usual laconic answers. The turbine notes ran up from C to G And down according to the scale of speed. The scraps of speech from duffel-coated forms, Huddled beneath the after-canopy, Had by tacit agreement in the eyes Nothing to do with present urgencies. A rating "in the rattle" salved his mind By giving his opinion of a buffer, Casting suspicion on the buffer's birth And pedigree. His b's and g's and s's, Delivered through his teeth in confidence To the high winds and seas from A-gun deck, Had all the symptoms of a normal trip. Only the action-station gongs could jar That gentle wishful thinking -- and they did. Horse-power to the limit on the engines, Levied for scout assault and close defence, [CENTRE]39
[Behind the Log, p. 40] Was routed quickly to defence, for short Beyond believing was the interval Between the echoes and torpedo hits, Between them and the spotted periscopes. The Commodore reported, "Gypsum Queen Torpedoed and sunk." Alberni gets an echo, Five hundred yards, Kenogami confirming. Chambly and Moose Jaw get a definite kill With prisoners, and then a "probable". The peril of the night before was doubled. This time the subs had dived within the convoy, "Attacking from within the lines" -- the fear Above all fears, for, out to sea, the lairs Might be discerned and the protective screens Be interposed between them and the convoy. But now the hazards of the fight were weighted In favour of the foe. Seven or eight Out of the estimated twelve were there Inside or hanging on to flank or rear. Even blindly they could not miss -- on port And starboard bow, amidships, on the quarter. Upon the Skeena's Bridge the judgment fought With chaos. Blindness, deafness visited The brain. Through a wild paradox of sight And sound, the asdic echoes would not fall Within their ribbon-tidy categories. They bounded in confusion from the hulls Of tankers and corvettes: the ash-can sounds Were like those of explosions from torpedoes. Wake-echoes and reverbs, and quenching caused By pitch and roll of a heavy following sea, Had blended with the sharper pings from steel To give the effect of a babel and a brawl. [CENTRE]40
[Behind the Log, p. [41]] [illustration] . . . wrote their own obituaries in flame
[Behind the Log, p. 42] But blindness was the worst. To find the foe By starshell served indeed to spot the target, But carved in white the escort's silhouette. The need called for the risk. A megaphone Informed the Skeena that a sub was seen Between the columns seven and eight, its course Marked by a steady hail of tracer bullets. The Skeena tried to ram; the sub escaped To an adjacent lane and turned right angles In opposite direction to destroyer. The shelter of the dark was now a threat Holding collision as the convoy ships Made their sharp turn of forty-five degrees. Her fighting and her navigating lights Were switched on to identify the Skeena, Scratching the paint upon the merchant hulls, As orders pelted down the voice-pipe, helm And engines answering -- "Full speed ahead . . . Starboard twenty . . . Stop both . . . Half-ahead port . . . Half-astern starboard . . . Stop starboard . . . Half-ahead starboard . . . Full ahead both . . ." This was infighting at its grizzly worst. The issue grew more leaden as the night Advanced, and what relief could daylight offer Against the weary arithmetic count? The Winterswyck blown up, sunk with her phosphate; Stonepool torpedoed on both sides, gone down With general cargo and a fleet of trucks. And matching the confusion on the decks Was the confusion in the ether, ships Torpedoed, burning, sinking, hammering out Their cryptocodes. What listeners could sort them, Solve those recurring decimals of dots [CENTRE]42
[Behind the Log, p. 43] And those long dashes when the operators Screwed down the keys -- their last official acts To give the drowning wails of instruments? What rescuers could hurry to position? Only the fighting ships -- and they were fighting. Which one was that?" "A tanker bad enough, But not as bad as that; a flame that would Frizzle a glacier." "Aviation gas?" "It could create that light but not that roar, 'Twould cause stokehold concussion miles away, And wake up Julianehaab." "'Twas ammunition." The Garm and Scania with their lumber lost! Rockets observed from Randa and Benury -- The signals ceased -- both missing in the morning! The fourteen sunk and others just afloat, The remnant staggered on still north-by-east. [CENTRE]* * * Last night, the second night, and must there come A third? The ratio of loss had climbed Beyond all normal fears. The logs themselves Might not be legible on that third morning. So far the tale was grim enough -- but six Saved of the Jedmore's crew; eight from the Stonepool; Less than half from the Garm; six from the Stargard; Two from the Winterswyck; and a great blank -- The fate of crew unknown -- was logged for Scania, The Empire Springbuck, Crossbill, Thistleglen, [CENTRE]43
[Behind the Log, p. 44] Muneric and Ulysses. The third night To come! Those hammerheads were off there still, Hiding, biding. How many? How those freighters Foundered! How fast? Minutes or seconds? "Did You see the way the Crossbill took her dive? Her cargo steel, she went down like a gannet." "The Muneric beat her to it. A life-belt Would have no chances in that suction-hole, Say nothing of a man. I saw her blades Rise, edge themselves against the Alberni gunfire." Why should those phobias of speed, colour And shape belonging to the night alone Return to plague the mind in open daylight? Would those fires start again? A chemistry That would incinerate its own retort Raged round the Stonepool when she sank. Water And fire, water and oil, blood, fire and salt Had agonized their journey through nerve-endings To char themselves upon a graphite-grey Precipitate. Survivors from the Stargard, Who would for life carry their facial grafts, Told of the scramble from the boiler rooms, Up canted ladders and the reeling catwalks, Only to find their exit was the sea, And there to find their only exit from Its cauldron surface was its drowning depth. Where find the straws to grasp at in this sea? Where was the cause which once had made a man Disclaim the sting of death? What ecstasy Could neutralize this salt and quench this heat [CENTRE]44
[Behind the Log, p. [45]] [illustration] Spinney . . . does a Blue Danube on the deck . . .
[Behind the Log, p. 46] Or open up in victory this grave? But oil and blood were prices paid for blood And oil. However variable the time, The commerce ever was in barter. Oil Propelled the ships. It blew them up. The men Died oil-anointed as it choked the "Christ!" That stuttered on their lips before the sea Paraded them as crisps upon her salver. This was the payment for the oil designed To sleek the gears and punch the pistons in And over Alamein and Normandy. And blood mixed with the sea-foam was the cost Of plasma safely carried in the holds Across an ocean to a continent, There to unblanch the faces on the fields, There to revein the vines for fresher fruits In a new harvest on a hoped tomorrow; And over all, the purchase of the blood Was that an old dishonoured postulate, Scrubbed of its rust, might shine again -- Granted That what the mind may think, the tongue may utter. [CENTRE]* * * Three morning hours were gone and no attack. Were the U-boats destroyed or shaken off Or still awaiting night? What mattered it? What mattered the rotation of the earth? The clock had struck in seasons those two nights, And Time was but a fiddler off his key, Treading the youth through middle age towards death. From the lookout a signal -- Smoke ahead! Was it a surface raider? This would mean Extinction, still another word for sleep. The smoke took shape -- five funnels pouring it. [CENTRE]46
[Behind the Log, p. 47] Binoculars from the crowsnests and bridges Of all the ships, escort and convoy, swept The horizon: dots turned into lines, the lines To hulls and decks and guns and turrets -- five British destroyers making thirty knots. This was the restoration for the hearts Of fifty ships -- the maimed, the blind, the whole. Around them raced the fighters, plotting out Suspicious zones whenever asdic sweeps Reported doubtful contacts, searching far Afield, then closing to resume position On screen. And so the S.C.42, With mutilated but with fashioned columns, Covered the lap across the Denmark Strait With that same chivalry of knots which meant Rescue for hundreds in the Greenland battle. For with the battered Tachee still in tow Of the Orillia, they reached the two Most northern outposts of the Old World havens, Rock-armoured Hvalfjord and Reykjavik, Then took their southern stretch until the convoy Sighted Inishtrahull and there dispersed. And the fighting ships, miraculously unscathed, Proceeded to Moville, to Lishahally, Thence up the winding Foyle to seek their berths Around the crowded docks of Londonderry. [CENTRE]47
[Behind the Log, p. [48]] [blank]