Archive for the ‘Life’ Tag
In a word
God’s finger touched him
Oh for the touch of a vanished hand
Into thine hand I commit my spirit
Underneath are the everlasting arms
Only to us a short time lent
Until the end of our days
Our lights have gone out everywhere
No morning dawns no night returns
A place is vacant
Our family chain is
A bitter grief, a shock severe
The shock was great, the blow severe
The cup was bitter, the shock severe
Tragically taken from us
Many a lonely heartache
When we are sad and lonely
This sad life of toil and care
Troubled in life
After great suffering patiently borne
Peace after pain
In the midst of life we are in death
Lay down thy head
I am not dead
but sleepeth here
I am not there
when sleeps in dust
A faithful friend lies sleeping here
who fell asleep
called to rest
entered into rest
for they rest from their labours
Good night, God bless
Beyond the sea of death
to shape the ships he loved
lost his life while saving a dog from drowning
He gave his life for one and all
Every restless tossing passed
Fell like warm rain on the arid patches of my imagination
So much of hopeful promise centred there
One of earth’s loveliest buds
A sweet flower plucked from earth
A loving sweetheart my only chum
I have loved thee
I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need
He loved in youth
to walk with me throughout my life
In death they were not divided
A short while apart,
together once more and never to part
together again forever
we’re together in dreams, in dreams
love never ends
She was an angel
A warm smile
In her tongue was the law of kindness
A devoted mother
Widow of the above
Breathe on her
May the angels take you
He did his best
By his good deeds you shall know him
Kind to all
Upright and just to the end of his days
A fond father and a kind husband
His merry spirit is with me yet
Your spirit lies within us
Lost to sight
Passed away but not lost
Gone but not forgotten
Forever in our thoughts
Silent thoughts and tears unseen
Sacred to the memory
Remembrance is the sweetest flower
Live on the memories of days that have been
I never wanted memories George
I only wanted you
The bosom of our lord
Where I have longed to be
But that we think of thee
I will fear no evil for thou art with me
I have fought a good fight
Life’s race well run
He was summoned
The lord gave and the lord hath taken away
Exchanged mortality for life
Wipe away all tears from their eyes
In my father’s house are many mansions
We would walk right up to heaven and bring you home again
I am the resurrection and the life
I am a thousand winds that blow
Until the day dawns
Joy cometh in the morning
Nothing could be more beautiful
Inwardly we are being renewed day by day
Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper
Peace be with you
Requiescant in pace
Love never ends
This poem was constructed from fragments from gravestones in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery in East Finchley, London N2.
This morning on Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time on BBC Radio 4 they discussed T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. I listened in my half-sleep and was reminded that a copy of it was sitting half-read about ten inches from head, on my bedside table. I finished it later in the garden, it being a mild and sunny winter’s day.
So today is the day of the tragic Lakonia fire – 22nd December. A copy of the 1964 Paris Match with the burning liner on the cover arrived this very morning in the post from France. I read the second half of Four Quartets and these lines from The Dry Salvages (1940) stood out…
And on the deck of the drumming liner
Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
You shall not think ‘the past is finished’
Or ‘the future is before us’.
At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial,
Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,
The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)
‘Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.
At the moment which is not of action or inaction
You can receive this: “on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death”—that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others:
And do not think of the fruit of action.
O voyagers, O seamen,
You who came to port, and you whose bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,
Or whatever event, this is your real destination.’
So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
On the field of battle.
Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.
Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory,
Pray for all those who are in ships, those
Whose business has to do with fish, and
Those concerned with every lawful traffic
And those who conduct them.
Repeat a prayer also on behalf of
Women who have seen their sons or husbands
Setting forth, and not returning:
Figlia del tuo figlio,
Queen of Heaven.
Also pray for those who were in ships, and
Ended their voyage on the sand, in the sea’s lips
Or in the dark throat which will not reject them
Or wherever cannot reach them the sound of the sea bell’s
To round off my Lakonia posts on this day of the disaster, remembering the 128 that perished and my two that survived, here is the conclusion (on the rescue ship) of my grandmother’s typescript narrative of the events which served as the basis for her A Survivor’s Story broadcast…
“Later, banded together in the corridor, we talked, cried and tried to comfort each other. No praise can be high enough for the Salta crew who were so kind and sympathetic and even gave their own food and clothing to the survivors.
When we arrived in Funchal [Madeira] I tried to thank one of the senior officers, the only one I could find who spoke English, but he turned and said: “Do not thank me, Madam, it is a sad day for all of us.” As we were waiting to disembark I was horrified to see the quayside lined with ambulances and buzzing with doctors, nurses and newspapermen. It was now one realised how many dead and injured we must have aboard. …
[I] would like to thank from the bottom of my heart all those who were so brave, generous and kind to us. After witnessing this experience I really believe that there is a God and if you are destined to live through anything such as this, then nothing can stop you.”
Picking up from Sinking of the Lakonia this photo, from Paris Match magazine, shows my grandparents after their rescue from the Lakonia. They are on board the ship that rescued them, the Salta (an Argentine vessel – see Update at bottom of last post), probably on Tuesday 24th December 1963.
Here’s a wider shot of the scene I found among the family papers.
This is the telegram (featured in last post) sent from that ship at 03:00 on Tuesday 24th December to my mother and uncle in my childhood home.
What I’ve discovered since first posting this telegram is that because my grandfather signed it “Daddy” my mother and uncle spent another 36 hours agonising as to whether the omission of “Mummy” signified held-back bad news. So do be careful when wording that all-important telegram or urgent text from some desperate situation. You can see such a text being composed in one brief shot of Clint Eastwood’s excellent new movie Sully about the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ plane crash – or rather plane landing (under desperate circumstances).
Here’s a letter my mother wrote to her rescued parents on Christmas Day, 1963 (no mention of Christmas or festivities).
Some stand-out sections:
“Monday was positively the worst day of my life. I can honestly say it’s the first time I have ever prayed”
“Today I had a heart-breaking phonecall from a lady in Cornwall somewhere, who told me what a saint and veritable tower of strength Daddy has been to her and so many others. She told me of his endless searching for the missing and how she is still hoping her husband is alive somewhere, perhaps suffering from temporary loss of memory.”
“My brother-in-law [Johnny Gee] phoned early on Monday morning to say your ship was on fire and sinking, little hope of survivors. I listened to each news and help sounded so far away, and completely hopeless. … Eventually we managed to get through to the shipping office only to be told they had no names of survivors. John [brother] and I just sat and looked at each other for 36 endless hours. Finally a friend’s mother phoned to say she was sure she saw Mummy standing aboard a rescue ship sobbing in Daddy’s arms.”
Here’s the cover of that Paris Match:
It already indicates that there may be a scandal behind the disaster. There was – both in terms of the condition of the vessel, and the competency of the crew and its practice and procedures. The story also made the cover of Life magazine.
Later in 1964 my grandmother recounted her experiences on Woman’s Hour on the Light Programme of BBC Radio. Here’s the transcript:
It opens by detailing how all was not well on the Lakonia from the moment they boarded in Southampton.
On 22nd December 1963 my grandparents lives changed forever. My grandmother started what she considered her second bite of the cherry of life. My grandfather watched rich men’s possessions float by him in the water and never again put any value on them (though he was always modest materially being from an immigrant working class background). The night of 22nd December 1963 was the night the cruise ship Lakonia went on fire and 128 souls were lost at sea. A Christmas cruise from Southampton to the Canary Islands turned into a terrifying brush with death.
Yesterday my brother heard a trail on BBC Radio 5 for a programme about the disaster next Tuesday morning on Five Live hosted by Adrian Chiles. Today I tracked down the production team in Salford to offer some of our family archives. As I start to delve into them I thought it would be fun to share the investigations and discoveries here.
First (above) is the telegram my mother received from my grandfather on Christmas eve confirming her parents were alive and safe. She had just had her first child (yours truly) and was settling in to her first home of her own (it cost them £4,000 if I remember correctly). JFK had been shot 5 weeks earlier.
The sender of that telegram is mentioned in this article from Life magazine (edition of 3rd January 1964)
That’s my grandma looking terrified on the left. Her husband was the “Ian Harris of London” referred to in the copy “the only man known to have taken pictures while on board the doomed Lakonia”. He worked for Picture Post (the British rival of Life with photographers like Bill Brandt and Thurston Hopkins). He was a scientist involved with the technicalities of printing photographs and a keen amateur photographer so his photos featured in the Life picture story were the work of a man in the wrong place at the right time with his omnipresent camera (now you know where I got the bug from).
More to follow as I burrow away…
“Salta” referred to on the telegram above was an Argentine ship which was heading west to Argentina filled with immigrants from Europe, which picked up my grandparents after dawn of 23rd December from their lifeboat. The passengers were hauled up one by one by rope after a landing stage the Salta crew had dropped was smashed by the lifeboat. My grandfather thought it would make a great shot but my grandmother forbade him as she didn’t want the indignity captured for posterity. He still seemed to regret missing the shot 36 years later when I interviewed him on film. He was wearing, by chance, a grey jumper he had been given in Funchal, Madiera after landing from the Salta in sea-shrunken clothes.