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HMS Victory: The Ship They Can't Decommission.

Updated on April 13, 2011

What a sight a fleet of these great ships must have been!!

HMS Victory now, alongside in Portsmouth docks
HMS Victory now, alongside in Portsmouth docks
This great ship of the line in better days...
This great ship of the line in better days...

Britain was once a mighty power: no more.

As Britain further dismantles her war-machine, in the vain hope that hiding our head under the soil will give our enemies pause, this small poem tells of the flagship HMS Victory. The mighty - for its times - 104 gun, ship of the line, was launched in 1765, and has cost a fortune in repairs ever since.
She is most famous, of course, for having carried Admiral Lord Nelson - the chap who adorns the column in London’s Trafalgar Square - to success against the Spanish/French fleets in the battle of the same name. She fought in several more battles and undertook exploration.
Victory has remained in commision ever since. It was said that Admiral Hardy tried to get the ship sent to the boneyard in about 1850, but his wife hysterically demanded he rescind the order. This tale may be apocryphal, but it does indicate the ongoing affection the British have for the Victory and the regard in which they hold Nelson.
I wrote this small work about 20 years ago. My ideas on war have taken an, ahem, sea-change since, so please excuse vein of jingoism!

Hearts of Oak
by Diogense (R.E. Challen, from "Charged Partilcles")

Row of penguins fore and aft
At full salute; faint commands.
Rolling in the rising slop, Theseus*,
Overshadowing Nelson's ancient fort.
A hull like charcoal; yawning mouths
Belch no more against England's foes.

Columns of pilgrims shuffle nearer
Gazing at the rookery of spars
Starkly outlined against a sullen sky.
Feet stamping; hands in woollen gloves:
Not mere tourists, Britain's Hearts of Oak,
Here to savour the little man's triumph.

Up the gangplank, footsteps booming,
To the concrete feel of solid deck.
Wood like this is lost forever:
Oaks which twenty could not span
Beams which, at the waterline,
Provided defences two feet thick.

Grain that still sneers at mite and rot;
Dried and aged to the strength of rock.
Down, down, down they troop,
To the hallowed spot where he was lain,
Calling for yet more from his trusted lads:
"Could that stain be his blood, dad?"

Into the shadowed nook they peer -
"Did they really sleep in there?"
Caught up in the foolishness of war,
Legs, even eyes; I can see him now,
Like spent sap, his vital blood
Welcomed by the dry and dusty planks.

This little world apart, this ship;
A mere cork on a reddening sea.
Blue-clad corpses choking the bilges.
"England Expects," he had cried.
But could England ever deserve
The sacrifice of these young lives?

Tiers of tired and frozen cannon;
Primitive visions of fire and iron.
Sounds of battle covering the agony
Of crushed hands and missing fingers.
The juggernaughts still glowing red
Recoil, to crash and charge again.

"They called that 'grape-shot, son."
A heap of rusted ball and chain
That failed to twine elegantly:
Maiming, ripping along Spanish decks...
"Well, son, do you still want to be a sailor!?"
"Yeah,, can we buy some hot dogs?"

Listed copyright.


Please note.  HMS Theseus was a British aircraft carrier on which I razorblades I believe!


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