Archive for the ‘Life’ Tag

Shards from the Boneyard

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In a word

a Man

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

broken

 

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

At rest

Good night, God bless

 

Beyond the sea of death

to shape the ships he loved

accidently drowned

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 always

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

Always content

 

Although dead

Lost to sight

Interred nearby

Passed away but not lost

Gone but not forgotten

Forever in our thoughts

Silent thoughts and tears unseen

Sacred to the memory

Always remembered

Lovingly remembered

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

 

Hope

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

Perfect peace

Ubique

Requiescant in pace

Love never ends

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This poem was constructed from fragments from gravestones in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery in East Finchley, London N2.

In the sea’s lips (Lakonia 5)

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.
Fare forward.
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.

IV

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
Perpetual angelus.

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Stella Maris : Star of the Sea

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.”

 

All Safe (Lakonia 2)

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Paris Match, n° 769, 4 Janvier 1964

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.

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The Salta rescue ship

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.

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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).

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letter of Wednesday 25th December 1963 from Marilyn Harris

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:

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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.

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edition of 3rd January 1964

Later in 1964 my grandmother recounted her experiences on Woman’s Hour on the Light Programme of BBC Radio. Here’s the transcript:

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It opens by detailing how all was not well on the Lakonia from the moment they boarded in Southampton.

Sinking of the Lakonia

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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)

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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…

Update 17/12/16:

“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.

PART 2

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