My fingers traced across the stones, exploring grooves where ropes had once been dry and taut
Securing the hull of the brigantine which lay like an elephant on its side, weakened and caught
And brought to land, its masts wrestled to the ground as rigging thrashed and whipped them well
They the unwilling, the press-ganged, the roughest that Teignmouth could muster into this Carib hell.
I heard their shanties, long learnt from Devon in stone cold churches with a wind that followed
In unison their private tongue that spoke of good ships with men whose lives the Navy had borrowed
So to bring to bear fear on King George’s foes, they who also sang deep of their Normandy and wives
Who lived in straw shelled hovels, where caustic sour cider formed their currency to survive.
They chanted and scrubbed the decking, fingers red from blistering tar and splintered planks took
Them unawares breaking gnarled thumbs like summer wind dried apple boughs which had fought
On ancient creaking stumps to stay aloft as ragged urchins swung and played the Cat-o-Nine together
Waiting for their turn to take the shilling, put on the billowing hessian and set sail away forever.
The battle had been brutal, spars broke throwing men screaming to the boiling sea and grape shot
Peppered marines who with bloodied cutlasses boarded the French to butcher and slaughter the lot
While officers implored that sails should be furled into the hot wind to move the creaking ship
Broadside so that cannons stinking of cordite could bark their fireballs into the sinking Hades pit.
Corpses slithered to the deep and in the awfulness of the victory won all matelots wept and knew
That foe and friend who together had braved the sea that day would find a peace that a very few
Could imagine and voices were raised in respect as the Tricolour was folded and placed by their dead
And their words stumbled from parched throats in memory of those lives cut short from the lead.
‘So its cheer up my lads, let your hearts never fail, for the good ship Bellerophon is about to sail’