Thursday, November 05, 2009

Great Great etc Uncle Patrick Henry

Colin Will has been clearing out some of his poetry books to give himself more room and to raise money for the RNLI. I "bought" three, including James Tate's Selected Poems and this poem spoke to me, because for those of us from hard-working peasant stock I'm not sure that it helps to know that six generation of your family were dirt poor. The fact that they survived as best they could, against the odds, to allow you to be here today is all you can be grateful for.

The narrator of this poem sounds like an arrogant teenager and they are never impressed with anything their parents, let alone their forebearers have done, but sometimes something a parent says will stick and you return to it years later. I think Tate may also be saying that history is usually written by the winners.

Great Great Uncle etc Patrick Henry

There's a fortune to be made in just about everything
in this country, somebody's father had to invent
everything--baby food, tractors, rat poisoning.
My family's obviously done nothing since the beginning
of time. They invented poverty and bad taste
and getting by and taking it from the boss.
O my mother goes around chewing her nails and
spitting them in a jar: You shouldn't be ashamed
of yourself she says, think of your family.
My family I say what have they ever done but
paint by numbers the most absurd and disgusting scenes
of plastic squalor and human degradation.
Well then think of your great great etc.
Uncle Patrick Henry.

My grandfather is our family's equivalent of Uncle Patrick Henry, and I have recently discovered that the Imperial War Museum now has a synopsis of his recordings with them, so if you think you have lived read on:

Hood, David Linley Smith


British private served with 2nd Bn Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on Western Front, 1915-1916; served as officer's batman with Headquarters, Fourth Army in France, 1916; served as aircraftsman with 2 Royal Flying Corps Repair Depot in France, 1916-1918; served as engineer aboard RFA Cairndale in Atlantic, 1939-1941 including sinking, 30/5/1941; served as chief engineer aboard RFA Gray Ranger in North Sea and Arctic, 1941-1942 including sinking 22/9/1942; served aboard RFA Dingledale in Atlantic, Mediterranean and Far East, 1942-1945

REEL 1 Background in Falkirk and Glasgow, 1898-1914: family; education; employment. Aspects of enlistment and training with Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in GB, 1914-1915: background to (underage) enlistment, 8/1914; failure of friend's father to get him out of the army,; reception at Stirling Castle; training in Plymouth, 1914-1915; interest of Lady Astor in troops; how he was befriended by experienced soldier. REEL 2 Continues: crossing to France, 3/1915; different regimental marching rates. Recollections of operations as private with 2nd Bn Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on Western Front, 1915-1916: joining B Coy; orders to move into front line at Loos; manning front line; burial parties; first use of gas masks; affected by own gas, late 1915; mining and counter mining; attachment to Royal Engineers mining company. REEL 3 Continues: alert for German spies; narrow escape from group of Middlesex Regiment troops looking for spies; listening post duties with canary; his rescue from asphyxiation in mine; sight of unit casualties from Festubert during hospitalisation; effects of sudden thaw, 3/1916; incident in which he was under shellfire. Aspects of period as officer's batman with Headquarters, Fourth Army in France, 1916: appointment as officer's batman; sight of Prince of Wales; his officer's duties at headquarters; attitude towards luxury at headquarters. REEL 4 Continues: background to transfer to Royal Flying Corps; plans for post-war employment; story of what happened to his commanding officer from 1916; leave in Scotland; news of death of relative on Western Front. Aspects of period as aircraftsman with 2 Royal Flying Corps Repair Depot in France, 1916-1918: training as mechanic; types of aircraft worked on; contact with aces; obtaining parts of Von Richtofen's aircraft; capabilities of Royal Flying Corps aircraft; memories of the 'Mad Major'; news of Armistice, 11/11/1918; further details of aces. Aspects of demobilisation and return to civilian life, from 1919: demobilisation, 1/1919; obtaining marine engineering employment on Clydeside, 1919. REEL 5 Continues: apprenticeship on Clydeside, 1919; post-war interest in British Legion; his political opinions after First World War. Reflections on service with 2nd Bn Argyll of Sutherland Highlanders on Western Front, 1915-1916: problems of lice in kilts; case of soldier arrested for desertion.

Recollections of operations as engineer aboard RFA Cairndale in Atlantic, 1939- 1941 including sinking 30/5/1941: his position with Royal Fleet Auxiliary; transport disruption, 2/9/1939; problems joining ship in Glasgow, 3/9/1939. REEL 6 Continues: convoy to Freetown, 9/1939; oiling duties in Freetown; last sight of HMS Jervis Bay leaving Freetown; electrical storms in Freetown, late 1939; problems with barnacles at Freetown; return to GB via Caribbean, early 1940; problems getting hospital treatment for wife; attachment of oiler to Force H in Gibraltar; previous experience of oiling HMS Ark Royal during her trials; attempt to decoy Scharnhorst, 4/1941; rescue of survivors of sunken merchantman. REEL 7 Continues: news of wife's death, 5/1941; belief of wife's Scandinavian relations that Germans would win the war in 1939; wife's escape from Denmark to GB early during the Second World War; second attempt to decoy Scharnhorst, 5/1941; preparations for emergency at sea; torpedoing of ship; abandoning ship; rescue of survivors; return to Gibraltar, 31/5/1941; return to GB. REEL 8 Continues: character of Glasgow's Ghost Train; his declining to give up berth to female US officer. Recollections of operations as chief engineer aboard RFA Gray Ranger in North Sea and Arctic, 1941-1942 including sinking, 22/9/1942: joining ship; sea trials; instructing US personnel in oiling, autumn 1941; plan to interfere with German shipping off Norway; his opinion of Polish forces; prior recollections of pre-war exercises in Bemuda. REEL 9 Continues: joining Convoy PQ17, summer 1942; collision with iceberg; orders to return to GB for repairs; fitting of new bows in North Shields; joining Convoy PQ18; fate of Convoy PQ18; start of return Convoy QP14; plan for ship to break from convoy for Scapa Flow; torpedoing of ship by U-435, 22/9/1942; provisions in ship's lifeboat and preparations for emergency. REEL 10 Continues: abandoning ship and rescue by HMS Northern Gem; return of survivors to GB; provision of public lunch for survivors in Glasgow; condition he was in on his return from Arctic; his opinion of wartime decorations and awards; conversation with newly appointed officer in charge of oiling at the Admiralty. Aspects of operations as chief engineer aboard RFA Dingledale in Atlantic, Mediterranean and Far East, 1942-1945: joining ship in Glasgow; oiling work of West African coast; contact with civilians in West Africa; arrival in Tokyo Bay, Japan. REEL 11 Continues: state of Hiroshima, Japan; Japanese preparations for naval defence of Kure; opinion of Japanese; participation in North African landings, 1943; second hand story of torpedoed San Demetrio and his encounter with the tanker's second officer; work oiling HMS Ajax; rescue of casks of unfermented wine from Algiers harbour."

The photo is of Trois Arbres Military Cemetery where my great,great uncle Andrew is buried. My grandfather had to read the telegram message about Andrew's death to his paternal grandmother, as she was illiterate.


Blogger Rouchswalwe said...

Reading brings out both tears and laughter. Amazing. And that was just part of his life!

12:44 pm  
OpenID sunnydunny said...

An amazing synopsis, A. Loos was a dreadful battle, the loss of life was awful, and for nothing. I've read about convoys PQ 17 and 18 - probably the worst in terms of lives lost. And while I can admire Tate as a poet, I'm uncomfortable with his sentiments in this poem. My ancestors were dirt poor agricultural folk, but no different from many others in Buchan at that time. They did what they had to do to survive, and that's enough for me.

10:28 pm  
Blogger apprentice said...

I took the narrator of this poem to be a teenager or a young man, and at that age one is usually dimissive of your forebearers. Plus it is an American voice about a family that maybe didn't deliver "the dream". But the last few lines that caught me, it's the sort of things that parents say, that you only appreciate years later. "You shouldn't be ashamed of yourself" ie you are your forebears/family.

On DLS, he refused to give his sleeper berth up as it was the first proper bed he'd had in months, and he was heading north to see my dad for the first time, havng just found out my grandmother had died 6 month beforehand.

1:30 pm  
Anonymous Webmaster at Historical RFA said...

The history of your uncle is amazing, please can you make contact at Historical RFA so that we may add your uncles history to our records.

12:17 pm  
Blogger apprentice said...

He was my paternal grandfather, and yes his life was amazing. Although he was a quiet man, who told us little of all of this, preferring to spend time on a small Scottish island, Bute, with a view of the sea from his windows.

1:09 pm  
Blogger apprentice said...

This should read:

On DLS, he refused to give his sleeper berth up as it was the first proper bed he'd had in months, and he was heading north to see my dad having just found out my grandmother had died 6 month earlier. My dad was 11, my grandmother was a chronic asthmatic, and she had a fatal attack two week before their home took a direct hit in the Clydebank blitz. Her death probably saved my father's life. My grandfather made arrangements for my father during a 48 hour pass and returned to sea.

1:21 pm  
Blogger Pat said...

What a guy! All that to cope with and 'lice in kilts.'
A classic example of the men alluded to in 'They don't make them like that anymore.'

4:24 pm  
Blogger BarbaraS said...

There's your poem: right in the last paragraph!

7:37 pm  
Blogger Crafty Green Poet said...

History is indeed usually written by the winners, usually the men too. I'm currently reading a history of mediaeval women, which aims to redress the balance somewhat...

It was lovely to meet you the other day. The bird you mentioned may well be a hawfinch and you're very priveliged if it was as they're very rare. You can check out the link at:

6:55 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

What a fantastic posting.
I am suggesting my husband reads it too.

11:03 am  
Blogger apprentice said...

Thank you all for being so interested in this post. I'm doing a lot of thinking about my parents just now, both have been dead for a while now and I suppose I'm re-examing things with the bennefit of hindsight.

4:12 pm  

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