MV Staffordshire

Dawn came late that morning--late and leaden,
The troopship ploughing a rough and choppy sea,
And up on the deck we watched for the East to redden
The first light was coming of Nineteen-Forty-Three.

Charlie and Mac, and I, bleary-eyed and yawning,
Counted the war years, Forty,--and One,--and Two,--
Three New Year days, and a fourth one dawning,
And how many more (we thought) before we're through.

Asked I, in wonder, 'Where d'you think we're going?'
'Aye'n what's going to happen to us when we're there?' asked Mac.
'Let's leave it to Fate, and Luck,' said Charlie, knowing,
That many of us would never be coming back.

The sky was the Day of Judgement, only grimmer,--
A perilous sea--and England a week behind,
The West was ink and the East a feeble glimmer,
'Is this my last New Year?' was in each man's mind.

The ship rolled on,--we sighted land,--what splendour
A panorama of colour--Algiers, the view,
We wished to stay, but we all had a duty to render
So bound for the line, we bade the place adieu.


Now five months on, in May, not far from Tunis,
Crusaders still, and this is the time I write,--
Charlie and Mac, and others are GONE--How soon is
The darkness going to lift for Victory's light?

Ruins of ancient Carthage, stand before us,
Huns massed in thousands surround our final goal,
But soon, with God's will, we know that He'll restore us
Triumphant in this, our great role.

‘Written in the line, near Medjez El Bab, North Africa, by 5950427 CQMS, later CSM James W, 16th Bn The Durham Light Infantry on 8th May 1943 (Two years to the day from VE Day 1945)’.

A Soldier’s Thoughts (New Year’s Morning 1943--At Sea) by CQMS W ‘JImmy’ James

This poem has been transcribed from a 1945 typescript loaned to me by ex-CQMS W ‘Jimmy’ James, D Company, 16th DLI. Jimmy told me that the first part of the poem was adapted from a poem published in Punch magazine in 1942-43. ‘Charlie’ mentioned in the poem is Sgt Charles Bray, taken POW at Sedjenane in early March 1943, and whose wartime memorabilia also features heavily in this section of the website. ‘Mac’ is L/Sgt Francis McDonough who was killed at Sedjenane. As Colour Sergeant, Jimmy James dispensed the rum ration to D Company prior to their final, disastrous Sedjenane attack, at dawn on March 2nd 1943. He and Charles Bray didn’t see each other again until 1998! The evocative pre-war postcard at left depicts the Bibby Line’s MV Derbyshire, which was part of the same Christmas Day convoy as the MV Staffordshire. Aboard the Derbyshire were the 2/5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters.

Below, ‘Charlie, Mac and I.’ These enlargements have been taken from the 1942 D Company photograph. Charles Bray is immediately below. Jimmy James is sitting to the left of Francis McDonough.
MV Derbyshire
Sgt Charles Bray D Coy Enlargement
CQMS W James & L/Sgt F McDonough
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Next: Prelude to Salerno, by CQMS J ‘Jimmy’ James.