Last moments of the Aragon
From Malta, after Christmas, in nineteen seventeen,
Seems like only yesterday but I was just nineteen,
On board the troopship “Aragon”, sailing off to war,
Wondering what the voyage and the desert held in store.
The Med. was stiff with U boats, but the Aragon seemed fine,
She had destroyers on each side and zigzagged all the time.
The sergeant said, “You lazy lot, for there is work to do,
I need some volunteers below, that’s you and you and you”,
“Give me just a minute lads, and then I’ll do my share,
For here’s one sweating volunteer who needs a breath of air,”
I ran towards the bows, who knows what made me move so fast,
The stern was blown apart, I heard the noise and felt the blast.
Young nurses in the lifeboats; I hope there’s room for all,
The Captain calls “Abandon Ship”, who needs a second call,
My army boots are first to go, they’re no more use to me,
And they’ll not be short of company at the bottom of the sea.
I blessed the baths in Battersea where I had learned to swim,
I’d been in many races, but this one I had to win.
Some died in the Aragon, and some died in the sea,
Some men reached the escort ship, thinking they were free,
A torpedo hissed beneath my feet, disaster struck again,
And the men that had been rescued died in water and in flame,
And I turn to thinking now that more than sixty years have flown,
Of those two hours in the water so far away from home.
Now I watch my four great grandsons in the local swimming pool,
They’re laughing in the water and they’re safe now if they fall,
They’re learning as their mothers and their grandma did before,
But I hope they never need it in another bloody war.
I hope they never have to see six hundred comrades drown,
Or have memories like mine of when the Aragon went down.
Maureen Jones, 1982
This week I have decided to show the war from the perspective of those who are the descendants of soldiers, sailors, airmen, nurses, doctors in fact all of those who fought in the two world wars. I discovered this author, Maureen Jones this week while researching.
This poem speaks of the plight of some young soldiers and nurses who were torpedoed. Women went out to all the “fronts ” as doctors and nurses some of the nurses very young not even twenty.
Maureen Jones’s grandfather was on the troop ship, The Aragon, on 30th December 1917, it was just about to enter the Egyptian port of Alexandria, when it was hit by a torpedo fired from a German submarine. It sank within twenty minutes. Of the 2700 souls on board 610 were drowned. Maureen’s grandfather lived to tell the story and her poem (which was written and is often performed as a song) records his experience and reactions.
This Poem really reaches out and grabs you where it hurts. It tells of the split second change from the normal sailing along in the convoy with destroyers on both sides and zig zaging away. Then suddenly with no warning all hell lets loose, explosion, fire, smell of burning oil, burning people nothing can explain how it would of felt, the ship is on fire the sea is on fire, noise screaming shouting whistles ships horns people running round in circles people in life boats people trying to get into life boats… people drowning people suffering burns broken limbs huge open wounds and you cannot help them, you want to help them but you cannot. Sadly some were just beyond help.
The day was just ripped away from them and they saw, heard, felt and smelt Hell.
The young man (Maureen’s grandfather) was alive because, feeling sea sick he had run forward to the bow of the ship to be sick at the moment the ship received the torpedo hit in the stern. Thinking quickly he removed his army boots realizing that they would only weigh him down.The sights and sounds he witness that day, two hours of his life burned on to his brain never to leave him. We could never imagine, only those who have been in a war at sea can know.
Imagine safety insight you hear and feel a torpedo pass beneath you in the water and sink your haven of hope the ship you were heading for. People on that ship only just saved from the fire, oil and wave find themselves back in the sea some injured,some dead some gone mad. Now there are the survivors of two ships in the water. Two hours in the water God know what going on around you.
I do not know what else to say, I was not there I cannot possible tell you. But Maureen’s grandfather can. May if you read the poem again with some of the eye shades of poetry removed. All I can do is say “Thank You” to all those generations who fought , died survived. God Bless Them we will not forget.
Below is another poem written by Maureen Jones about her husband’s grandfather’s medals which she took to have valued and explained. The expert referred to them as “Pip, Squeak and Wilf” medals.The poem is wonderful and explains perfectly how undervalued and almost forgotten and tucked away,the sacrifice made for us generations to come has become. The lines “”They made them by the thousand and they’re still quite common now, They’re maybe worth a tenner, their value isn’t high” Just says it all.People forget the medals represent a person, a life , their heroic deeds their sacrifice.
I have said enough, too much some would say but heed the truth do not forget them. I shall Maureen’s poem say it all. Thank you for reading .
Grandpa’s Medals (Pip Squeak and Wilf )
We took Great Grandpa’s medals to a travelling antiques show,
Just to have them valued, for we’d never let them go.
We told the man “They’re from the nineteen fourteen-eighteen war”,
We could tell by his expression that he’d seen them all before,
And, though polite and helpful, he looked unmoved somehow,
“They made them by the thousand and they’re still quite common now,
They’re maybe worth a tenner, their value isn’t high”,
So I resisted the temptation to poke him in the eye,
Put the medals in my bag and turned to leave the hall.
“They made them by the thousand,” I suppose that says it all.
Poetry Challenge #7 is to create a journal of links and your reactions to poems by established (living or dead poets.) Details are here. Example response is here. Mr. Linky for Challenge #7 is directly below: