Old Man Navy - Poem by Charles Flesfader
Parade ground, Cerberus, one dismal, foggy morn,
Weather-beaten face, beneath a battered old hat
This man was “Navy; ” to the sea, surely born,
With swaggering gait, he left no doubt of that.
Three rows o’ ribbons up on his chest,
Telling that he’d been there, to hell and back,
Hammering Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo’s best
Even giving “Charlie” a serve too, this old Jack.
He was “Old Man Navy” mate, done the time.
Hard as nails, yet a father to us, funny sort o’ mix.
First put to sea in “Perth, ” dark days o’ thirty nine.
Saw him in the “Bat, ”years later, ‘bout seventy six.
“Canberra” and “Vendetta, ” too, countless ships b’tween
World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, almost everywhere.
Wasn’t an ocean he hadn’t fought, sailed or been.
Done the lot, “Old Man Navy, ” more than his share.
Despite being a man who had set so many guns firing
(He’d served in the turrets, earning a QA’s rate.)
He was a Man of few words, almost shy and retiring
And yet, leaving no doubt, he was Navy, mate!
Gunnery badges green with age and brine,
The buttons on his sleeve, hangin’ by a thread,
Head with a permanent fifteen degree incline;
How many young seaman been put to dread?
He told us “Pussers” was our new mum ‘n’ dad,
Focus on what’s ahead, boys, forget what’s behind.
Yet under that gruff exterior, I sensed he had,
A father’s heart, in his own way, gentle and kind.
His hair was once sandy, you could just tell,
With eyebrows, rusty, long and hanging down,
Tangled up in his eyelashes; “Bloody Hell! ;
No one’s this old; ” his nametag reads CPO Brown!
“Flesfader? Father’s name Arnold, ” his gravel voice barks,
“Black hair, red beard, HMAS Perth, nineteen thirty nine? ”
Is this a statement or a question, to meself, I silently asks
Answering in the affirmative, voice more a fearful whine.
“Yy…you knew me Dad? ” me voice gone even more shy.
“Portsmouth, England, son, I was an OD Second Class;
“No lower form of marine growth, ” was his curt reply,
He’d shipped with the Admirals, when they were “small brass! ”
“Whaddya think of yer father, boy? ” he next demanded of me,
Fear and trembling telling self, “better be careful, here! ”
Replying, “Nn..not a bad hand, Chief! ” Twas more of a plea!
“Just as bloody well for you, son, ” said he, allaying my fear.
He looked after me, like a son, from that day forth,
My own “Sea Daddy, ” first of several more to come,
Men who kept many a young blokes’ compass pointing north,
Old Hands, to us, often meaning more than a father or mum.
Chief’s messman one night, Old Navy calls me over,
To meet his mate, who struck fear into me, right away.
Tall and erect, Gunnery Instructor’s stance, ramrod straight.
“What on earth could he have to do with me, what will I say? ”
“Old Man Navy” ‘e opens up and says “Remember our first ship,
The Perth, and Killick of our Mess, old Arnie Flesfader? ”
“Well, his young bloke, here’s just joined us, taken the dip! ”
I swallowed hard, eyes watering, young heart fully astir,
And “Cordite” snaps to the “Ho! ”, making a right old show.
“Gunnery? ” he demands, more of a statement, than question put,
“Nn…no, Sir, Ee…engine Room, ” I says. “Blown it now, ” I know.
“Your father was Gunnery? ” his retort, saying something like “Bloody soot! ”
And it’s true to say that, ever since, I’ve never felt so proud, ”
Recalling them words, still reverberatin’ ‘round in me head,
To think, these blokes counted me one o’ their distinguished crowd;
Yep, “He’s decided to join us, ” that’s what “Old Navy, ”” had said!
Next leave I goes back home, to me childhood berth
And tells me Dad, ‘bout this new Sea Daddy o’ mine;
(Dad’s greatest love, never any doubt, was the Perth,)
“Strewth, Young “Bomber! ”” His face didn’t half shine!
Twenty Fifth Anniversary of his beloved ship’s loss,
On our way home, he broke down and cried, ,
Everyday of his life, he wore Perth’s cross
Never got over “her”, to the day he died.
Someone said he’d married somewhere along the way.
Stayed in for his twenty and one, to pay off and be
With the bride he longed for, every single day.
She died young; so, back to every sailors mistress – the Sea.
H told me he had a daughter he cherished, very dear
And the time came for him to bid us farewell, one day
Can’t recall if it was seventy nine or eighty two, the year.
But he moved up to be with her, at Hervey Bay.
You see, before I joined this “Family of Jack, ”
Dad and I never got along, too many a fight, it’s true;
I was wild, and he’d never cut anyone much slack.
But now, things was different, me in me suit o’ Navy blue!
I had been off the rails a while, headin’ for who knows what?
When, one night, Detective Sergeant Bass, gets me by the elbow-
“Caught in the act, ” ‘e gives me two options; “choose yer lot; ”
“Join up, or straight to jail - no 200 bucks, and no passin’Go! ”
Well, no prizes for guessin’ where I am, that Mondee morn?
Recruiting Office, lots a forms to complete, I passes the test,
Then on the train to Cerberus, a wakey later, havin’ me head shorn,
Marchin’ ‘round and ‘round, rifle drill, lectures and all the rest.
They pushed us to the limits, and then, way beyond,
Not a lot of time or things we could say we owned,
Somehow we got it together, forging a lifelong bond;
Boys becoming sailors - men - minds and bodies finely honed.
Sam Bass, “Old Man Navy” and the “Family of Jack”
Divine intervention, sparing me from a life of crime;
A second chance, setting me on the right track;
The best of mates, sailing the world, what a magic time!
And, the sense of belonging, of family true, has e’er remained,
For that beloved band, those still here, and those now gone.
Family for which a boy’s heart once sought and strained,
Found! Thank God! Memories to last forever, for the passing on!
“Old Many Navy; ” would it be, I’d rather be back, among his breed,
Facing the wildest tempest and storm, and war’s angry hue,
Than the world of much lesser men, corporate dishonesty and greed.
“Gimme the Boats, Jack, an’ the company of old mates, tried and true.”
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