Thursday, 3 October 2013

Cyril Tawney - Ballads for the Navy

The Royal Australian Navy is about to celebrate one hundred years from when the first ships that were to make up the Australian fleet sailed into Sydney harbour, 4th October 1913.  Before that, the ‘Australia Squadron’ belonging to the Royal Navy had responsibility to provide protection for Australia.  That responsibility transferred to the Royal Australian Navy when it formed in 1911.  The ships that arrived in Sydney harbour in 1913 to a patriotic public welcome were HMAS Australia, HMAS Melbourne, HMAS Sydney, HMAS Encounter, HMAS Parramatta, HMAS Yarra and HMAS Warrego.  This weekend we are going to celebrate and re-live that event with 50 warships and tall-ships from nations around the world gathering for a fleet review in good old Sydney town.  Nothing like having mates over for a party!  If you’re wondering where I’ll be on the weekend, I’ll be in Sydney!  It’s put me in a right mood to post something Navy, something early Navy.  My contribution is crafted from direct experience in the Royal Australian Navy, but the influence comes from a pommie folk singer called, Cyril Tawney who sang fantastic ballads about the Royal Navy.  It shows we are in need of more naval poets to capture our unique Australian traditions – I shouldn’t have to be copying from the poms.
Anyway, for historic nostalgia at this time of fleet celebration I could think of no better verse than Cyril Tawney’s, ‘Flotilla No. 23’.  Cyril sings this to the tune of Lili Marlene.  It’s a poignant telling of what life and conditions were like on a destroyer assigned to Russian convoy escort duty in the North Sea.  I believe the words were written by a couple of officers serving in the Flotilla.  They would have to have been!  I’m sure anybody who ‘was there’ would be awash with the mood and emotion captured in ‘Flotilla No. 23’.
                                               Flotilla No. 23
(Cyril Tawney 1930 -2005)
Up to Kola Inlet, back to Scapa Flow,
Soon we shall be calling for oil at Petsamo.
Why does it always seem to be,
Flotilla No. 23,
Up to the Arctic Ocean,
Up to the Barents Sea.
When we get to Scapa, do we get a rest?
All we get is signals invariably addressed,
Savage, Scorpion, from your Com (D).
“What brings you here? Get back to sea.
Back to the Arctic Ocean,
Back to the Berants Sea.
Now and then we get, a slightly different job,
But it’s always screening around the same old mob.
Watching the “A” boys prang the Hun,
With never a chance to fire the quarter gun,
Up in the Arctic Ocean,
Up in the Barents Sea.
Once we lay in harbour, swinging round the bouy,
Waiting for the drifter, but still there was no joy,
In came the signal, weigh, proceed,
At your best speed, great is your need,
Up in the Arctic Ocean,
Up in the Barents Sea.
Over in our mileage, due for boiler clean,
When we’re not with convoys, there’s shooting in between
Now as you have surely guessed,
We do our best, but need a rest
Out of the Arctic Ocean,
Out of the Berants Sea.
Battleships and cruisers lying round in state,
Watching poor destroyers sailing out of Switha Gate,
They’re the ships the papers call “The Fleet”,
They look so neat, but have no beat,
Up in the Arctic Ocean,
Up in the Barents Sea.
What it is to have a crazy Number One,
All the boys are chocker although they’ve just begun,
The Wretched pilot sits and drinks,
The Captain thinks, the whole thing stinks,
We hate the Arctic Ocean,
We hate the Barents Sea.
My emotive memory of the Royal Australian Navy takes me back to when our ships used to do lengthy deployments ‘up top’ around Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.  From 1971 to 1974 a tripartite force made up of military units from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom were stationed in Singapore and Malaysia.  This force was known as the ANZUK Force.  It’s role was to ensure stability in the Singapore/Malaysia region following the full withdrawal of British forces.  Looking back, they were beautiful madcap days and we were sailors in the romantic tradition of sailors of that time.  Like ‘Flotilla No. 23’, I’ve tried to capture some of the mood and emotion of being deployed as part of ANZUK in my poem, ‘Up on the ANZUK Station’.  Happy one hundred years to the RAN.
2012.  My RN mates gave me a copy of a Cyril Tawney CD some time ago.  It had a song on it called ‘Flotilla No. 23’.  Cyril sung it brilliantly to the tune of Lili Marlene.  I carried it in my head for many years and wished I could capture some of the mood and emotion of time we spent at sea like the boys had in Flotilla No. 23 up in the Arctic Ocean.  It’s nice to be original, but then, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  So I started putting my own words to the tune.
                                           Up on the ANZUK Station
Serving on a Daring in the China Sea
Six months on deployment, then another three
My girl has met a soldier from, the infantry,
Now she’s ditched me,
Set me free,
Up on the ANZUK station,
Up top in the China Sea.
Transit through the Sunda, shape for Singapore,
Two days steady steaming, the Navvy finds Johore,
A big Yank ship with marines on board,
Has put ashore,
There’ll be fights galore,
Up on the ANZUK station,
Up top in the China Sea.
Battling with a ‘genny’ when it won’t excite,
Stand-by trips a breaker, we’re as black as night,
Our passage through the basin’s tight,
What a sight,
They all take fright,
Up on the ANZUK station,
Up top in the China Sea.
Hanging out with bar-girls when the work is done,
They ask for me you buy one drink, and it’s never rum,
Then through primed and loosened tongue,
It could be fun,
I’ll buy just one,
Up on the ANZUK station,
Up top in the China Sea.
An S.M.P in honkers, we should be on the town,
But COM-D’s joined the squadron, it makes the skipper frown,
The crew last night, they let him down,
In grog they drowned,
Disgraced the crown,
Up on the ANZUK station,
Up top in the China Sea.
Waiting for a mail run that they cannot find,
It could be at Osaka or in the Philippines,
The helo transfer snaps it’s line,
Our letters float behind,
In the churning brine,
Up on the ANZUK station,
Up top in the China Sea.
Bullshit whiskey-tangos we meet off the strip,
I’m the tail gunner, sits in a Jindavik,
And this here’s Mick, he commands the ship,
It’s his last trip,
Shrapnel in his hip,
Up on the ANZUK station,
Up top in the China Sea.
Bang away at targets with our four inch guns,
Set three degrees of off-shoot, but we manage none,
The Brits with their tow say the shootings done,
They cut and run,
We’ve only just begun,
Up on the ANZUK station,
Up top in the China Sea.
Powdered eggs for breakfast, powdered milk in tea,
The cooks add more saltpetre, to every recipe,
They kill appetites in their baine-maries,
Where we beat disease,
Pussar’s food succeeds,
Up on the ANZUK station,
Up top in the China Sea.
We make up our fresh water, you’d think we’re making gold,
Caught underneath the shower, when I ran it cold,
So I will be watching the vaps I’m told,
I’ll be the Chief Tiff’s moll,
Til I’m quite old,
Up on the ANZUK station,
Up top in the China Sea.
Wack-a-tack is bunked in, our mortar metadyne,
Along with chinkie tailors and a dozen dhobey lines,
A sub could attack us from behind,
Now we must decline,
So solly, not good time,
Up on the ANZUK station,
Up top in the China Sea.
Stokers drag their click-clicks up to the quarter-deck,
Off watch they act like tourists, paid to rubber-neck,
The bosun’s mate makes a sure-thing bet,
He will not get,
A soot blow yet,
Up on the ANZUK station,
Up top in the China Sea.
Back home to Sydney harbour in need of much repair,
A chance to spin our dits, to girls with golden hair,
But alone in the pub we sit and stare,
For they don’t care,
That we’ve been up there,
Up on the ANZUK station,
Up top in the China Sea.
                                               J. O. White

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