The Voices © December 2010 Elizabeth Mills
The gentle waves lapped upon the shore. Jack sat on a rock and watched them, as he did every day. They weren't always so peaceful. Sometimes they were wild and angry, rising in towering, menacing surges, then hurling themselves, exploding against the rocks in heavy clouds of spray. He knew their every mood. He had seen them cold and grey like slate, and he had seen them glimmer like sapphires and diamonds in the evening sun.
He was old, now, but the sea had been the biggest part of his life since he was a child. Oh, those days when he had waited on the jetty with mam for his pa to return. Sometimes hours would pass before they saw the gyrating brown sails of the fishing boats, struggling against the tide and wind to creep carefully through the harbour mouth into the calm waters within. Then his father would step ashore, still swaying from the motion of the deck, sweep him up in his huge arms and hold him and mam close for wonderful long moments, before they walked home together.
As the years passed, Jack grew into manhood, and eventually went to sea himself. He became a fisherman, too, then a skipper. It was the life to which he had been born. And when the war broke out, of course, he took his sailing skills onto the fighting ships.
For three years he crossed and recrossed the Atlantic Ocean, protecting convoys from the enemy predators, seeking out the hunters and hunting them down. Submarines arrived, hidden and silent in the black depths, despatching their deadly torpedoes at the merchant ships. Though they hid beneath the waves, Jack developed a sense of their movements, felt their vibrations through the deck, smelt them in the air. Then, when he found them, he destroyed them. He was admired by the other commanders and loved by his crew. They knew they were safe with him, that he cared for them as brothers.
Jack smiled at the recollection, remembering the comradeship and the hardships, the celebrations and the heartaches.
Then, as they always did, the other memories returned: the two explosions that rocked the ship and threw everyone off their feet; the flames, red and gold that leapt out from below and burned your clothes from your body, and then seared your skin black in seconds; the dark, acrid smoke that whirled and choked; the creaking and crashing as the hull collapsed. But worst of all, he heard again the screams of his friends, trapped, burning, dying.
He lived again his desperate attempts to rescue trapped men, saw again the faces of the dreadfully wounded colleagues as he carried them to the lifeboat, knowing they would not survive. And, as he always did, he cried.
Charlie “Dick” Turpin, his First Officer, “Randy” O'Brien, the best radio operator he ever knew, Tommy Fielding, Albert Farrell, all gone. Brave men, who risked their lives time after time to bring the urgently-needed food and supplies from America to keep the nation going through that terrible war.
He heard their voices again, talking, laughing. They called to him from the depths, beckoning him. He longed to be with them once more.
As if in a dream, he stood up and began to walk. When he reached the line of foam that swept backwards and forwards at the water's edge, he continued, feeling nothing except the loneliness of his heart, hearing nothing but the voices of his friends. He did not stop when the warm waves brushed against his legs, nor when they lifted him from his feet. All he felt was the hands of Dick and Randy, Tommy and Albert, taking his arms and leading him back to the bridge of his ship, and he heard the cheers of the whole crew as he arrived, back where he belonged.