My dad, Ernest Armstrong, joined the navy as a 16 year-old in 1937. He spent part of the war in the North Sea in motor launches . These were relatively small (up to 100 feet long), lightweight boats used for patrolling, air-sea rescue, anti-submarine work and general defence work. They would have gone out a lot at night-time.
I recently found his bible amongst my mum’s possessions, and to my surprise (I didn’t think of him as religious), I found it well used. One of the places it opened at readily was Psalm 77. I thought of his life at this point, perhaps with him seeking comfort and meaning in the bible during these difficult and dangerous times.
I wrote this poem to commemorate his experience, and that of so many other young men.
This poem is in my book ‘The Commitment of the Lark.’
The troubled North Sea, 1942
Verse 1 I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me.
Verse 16 The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee; they were afraid: the depths also were troubled.
Verse 19 Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known.
O Lord, thy sea is so troubled, so vast and dark;
protect we few as we cast ourselves upon thy sea tonight.
O Lord, look after our boat, Melampus (ML 1065);
keep our look-outs sharp, our engineer efficient,
our weaponry working;
and help our officer make the right decisions,
and not be too bold.
May the Germans not find us tonight before we find them,
for they will kill us if they can,
and we must try and kill them too.
May our engines continue to roar and throb
for the next twelve hours without cease,
making our heads ache.
O Lord, when we really need it, help us hit high speed fast,
keep our seventy foot launch driving through the waves,
twisting and turning,
making our bones vibrate with the hammering.
O Lord, please help our plywood hull keep out the waves,
even if it cannot keep out the German ordnance.
Help the enemy tracer miss our fuel tanks
so that we do not burn fiercely, lighting the night
until the dark waves quench us.
O God, help us return by morning
to this dreary east coast port that we love.
O Lord, spare me tonight, and the next nights;
I have a good woman to find and love and marry;
I have two sons who wait to be conceived.
We are a little afraid here, and troubled to our depths;
our way is in the sea, but we know not our footsteps;
O God, I cry unto Thee with my voice, even unto Thee with my voice;
O God, give ear unto me.