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Poems from Francis Kerr Young
The Ballad of Convoy HX84


On November 5th, 1940, the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer attacked Convoy HX84 in the Atlantic Ocean. Their only escort, SS Jervis Bay, was an old passenger liner that been converted into an armed merchant cruiser. To give the convoy time to disperse, Captain Edward Fogarty Fegen held the Scheer's attention by trying to ram the warship. Jervis Bay was sunk about a mile from her target and many on board were lost. Although five other ships met a similar fate, thirty vessels managed to escape. Captain Fegen received a posthumous Victoria Cross. Signalman Bill Danby, twenty-year-old son of Hamiltonian, Grandma Danby (now one hundred-and-one years old), did not survive the action.

Another heroic feat was achieved the following day: Tanker San Demetrio , carrying a cargo of aviation fuel, had been hit during the engagement and the crew hurriedly abandoned ship. Dawn found the ship afloat but still on fire. Fifteen men voted to row their lifeboat back to the burning ship where they managed to extinguish the blaze.

Chief Engineer Charles Pollard got the ship under way. Although the chart room had been destroyed in the flames, Second Officer Hawkins used a school atlas to help him navigate the vessel. They anchored in Rothesay Bay nearly two weeks later (November 16th), adding her vital cargo to the Blitz defences.

THE BALLAD OF CONVOY HX84
(for Grandma Danby)

From Halifax one cold, dark night,
some ships got under way.
Group HX84's sad plight
is quite a tale they say:
when merchant ships met Nazi might,
and it, the Jervis Bay.

Gone were the days of rich resorts,
and folk who sought the sun,
she'd plied the planet's pleasure ports,
her time was almost done.
The navy sadly lacked escorts
when war had just begun.

They fitted her with six-inch guns,
one fore, one aft, they say,
they were out-gunned these mothers' sons
who died with Jervis Bay.

The War had waged for but a year
on that November day,
a host of ships felt naked fear
on cold, cold seas of grey:
In wait, here lay Admiral Scheer
to fight the Jervis Bay.

This battleship had little fear
when stalking easy prey,
convoys were flocks of sheep to Scheer,
to slaughter, sink, and slay;
till one old ewe bleats, "Fegen's here -
aboard the Jervis Bay!"

"Convoy dispersing" signals say,
they flee like hell from here,
as Jervis Bay steams through the fray
to ram the mighty Scheer.
Poor Jervis Bay has gone below
as though she'd never been,
she's gone to where good sailors go
for berths in Fiddler's Green.
*

*Good sailors go to Fiddler's Green when they die, bad sailors go to Davy Jones' Locker.

Ships are foundering here and there,
a few ablaze I think,
men are drowning everywhere
in bunker C's foul stink.

That frightful cry: "Abandon ship!"
loud klaxons vent their spleen,
and ships begin their final trip
below, to Fiddler's Green.

The tanker San Demetrio,
becomes a ship of fire:
"It looks as though she's gonna blow!
The situation's dire."
Into the boats the crew all go,
or else she'll be their pyre!

Dawn came cold on a wintry sea,
the ship was still aflame:
A blazing ship? A cold, cold sea?
The choice is much the same.

So back on board climbed fifteen men
who bravely doused the blaze,
and brought her safely home again,
it took them many days:
And all because of fine seamen
as brave as Jervis Bay's.

This poem won second prize in the 1996 Grugin Award in West Virginia Poets Society annual competition and consequently published in the WVPS Anthology.


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